Janelle Monáe – The Archandroid

The Archandroid, the debut album from former stage school kid and Outkast collaborator Janelle Monáe could well be the most eclectic album of the year so far. Mixing orchestral pieces, hip hop, soul, pop, psychedelic rock, folk and even a collaboration with Of Montreal into 18 tracks.

This could have made for an incoherent mess but it largely holds together amazingly well and is destined to be one of the most picked albums in the end of year lists come December. And, unless some pretty amazing albums come out in the next six months, it will feature high in the Neon Filler chart as well.

I despise Sean “Diddy” Combs. His image, his brand of aftershave (a fragrance called “Unforgiveable”!?!) and his dismal recorded output all grate. But to his credit he has signed one of the best new artists of the year to his Bad Boy recording corporation, a very smart move.

It is a sci-fi themed album, Metropolis visuals and a frankly barking story about Monáe being snatched back through time from the year 2719. It kicks off with the beautifully orchestrated ‘Suite II Overture’ before moving into the slicker modern RnB stylings of ‘Dance or Die’. I’m no fan of modern RnB, and my posting of the excellent single ‘Tightrope’ on our Facebook page got our first negative comment since we started it, but Monáe adds a spark and musical inventiveness that is so often lacking from the genre.

The album moves along at breakneck pace taking you through jazzy numbers (‘Faster’) into disco (‘Locked Inside’) before mutating into Nancy Sinatra for ‘Sir Greendown’. Following this brilliant set of surprising tunes we get the two big singles from the album ‘Cold War’, which is polished pure pop, followed by the aforementioned ‘Tightrope’, more RnB with a guest slot by Outkast’s Big Boi. Outkast are an interesting comparison point, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below being the last album I heard that genre hopped as successfully as this one.

Midway through the album (and I advise you to get the album in full and listen to the songs in order) we get ‘Oh, Maker’ where the song is a beautiful mix of Mama Cass style folk pop and 70s soul. This is impressive enough, but following it with the psychobilly sounds of ‘Come Alive (The War of the Roses)’ is just inspired.

There really isn’t a duff track on the album and the incredible versatility and eclecticism keeps you hooked in from start to finish. The collaboration with Of Montreal, ‘Make the Bus’, does jar a little as it is written and produced by Kevin Barnes which means that it doesn’t perfectly blend in to the album. This is a small criticism though as the song itself is typically brilliant, and the fact that Monáe chooses to collaborate with Of Montreal is just another point in her favour.

I could go on about the album and all the surprising touches at length, but uncovering the many sounds of the album is something you need to do and not read about. Janelle Monáe is a really exciting new talent and has produced what may well turn out to be the best album of the year.

9.5/10

Dorian Rogers, July 2010

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