Review: Janelle Monae’s ‘Electric Lady’ impressive, but lacking
In a modern pop music landscape in which the single is king and hit-making producers are mostly free agents spreading their sound through vessel vocalists, Janelle Monae and her Atlanta-based Wondaland Arts Society stand out.
On Monae’s grandiose new album, “The Electric Lady,” Wondaland’s creativity is on full display. A continuation of a seven-part series that Monae and company introduced in 2007, the singer and a great mix of guests (Prince, Miguel, Solange, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding) again travel a fictional landscape.
Monae rolls through the album like fellow conceptualists David Bowie and George Clinton cloned into the body of a droid — one nicknamed the Electric Lady No. 1. It’s an impressive feat, thematically, and the kind of creative chance that too few high-profile artists are willing to take.
Musically, however, “The Electric Lady” lacks a center, as though Monae sacrificed sonic vision in favor of her narrative. As expansive and meandering as a concept album by Yes, Monae’s talent seems diluted by variety. It’s hard to tell where the human is. One minute she’s pushing quiet storm R&B (“It’s Code,”) the next she and her band are doing lounge music (“Suite V: Electric Overture”).
Excellent moments dot the record. “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes,” featuring Spalding, is a trippy, jazz-fused ballad. The more traditional “PrimeTime” features Monae teaming with Miguel for a steady love song. Though long and featuring a bounty of ideas, “The Electric Lady” is surprisingly slight.
“The Electric Lady”
Two stars (out of four)
Inside the business of entertainment
The Wide Shot brings you news, analysis and insights on everything from streaming wars to production — and what it all means for the future.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.