By Keir Bristol
Imagine you’re in a soul-blues nightclub in the early 70’s. It’s amateur night, and into the spotlight steps an alien, dressed in a black, well fitted tuxedo. The audience gawks in wonder at the creature, who after swallowing and taking a deep breath, grabs the microphone and begins to sing with a smooth, strong, velvet voice. The beat drops, the back up vocals pick up the slack, and the audiences begins to bob to the music, then to dance.
Janelle Monáe isn’t a newcomer to Earth’s music industry, but she certainly has a fresh sound. Monáe just released her third album, the ArchAndroid on Tuesday, May 18. For those who aren’t familiar with Monáe, she’s an adorable five-foot female with a pompadour, an amazing soulful voice slightly reminiscent of Lauryn Hill, and an alter-ego android named Cindi Mayweather who is being persecuted by her home planet for falling in love with a human. No, you’re not tripping. You read right.
The continuation of her second record, the “Metropolis: Chase Suite”, Mayweather/Monáe is recognized as the messiah of her people, or “The ArchAndroid”. The album screams, “Future musical!”, especially with the first single “Tightrope” featuring Big Boi, a funky James Brown-esque tune about focusing on your goals no matter what people say or do. The album also features Of Montreal, Deep Cotton and Saul Williams, and includes songs that range from old school soul jams (see “Locked Up”) to orchestral urban lullabies (i.e. “Neon Valley Street”) to trippy rock tunes (like “Mushrooms and Roses”).
While Monáe’s musical styles vary throughout the album, the truly admirable quality of the album (other than her absolutely fantastic voice) is the cohesiveness of the album. None of the songs sound the same, and yet they are all undeniably her own. Not to mention, every track adds a descriptive message or detail to Mayweather/Monáe’s story. With a concept-album like this, who needs science fiction novels?