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Album Review
The Archandroid

The Archandroid
by Janelle Monae


Review Date
8th August 2010
Reviewed by
Brannavan Gnanalingam

The hype for this album has been deafening, but for a reason, the album is just so damn good it’s ridiculous. Few albums show as much ambition and scope as Janelle Monáe’s that it’s hard to believe that (a) this album classifies itself as pop and (b) this a debut album. ‘Discovered’ by Outkast’s Big Boi (she performed a couple of tracks on Idlewild) and championed by Sean Combs and his record label, this isn’t simply a hip-hop album. It incorporates such a dizzying array of influences and references, it’s almost impossible to digest in a few listens. You could discover a random cascading piano or a Stevie Wonder chord progression on the fiftieth listen. But it never crumples underneath its dense weight – this is an effortlessly enjoyable album.

The album is based on the proto-fascist film Metropolis, a film in which class consciousness and science-fiction blended into an epic futuristic vision. The film’s conflicts stems from an android who incites the working class (i.e. the ‘Other’) to rebel – the film concluding that a strong leader was needed to unite the workers. Monáe casts herself as the android, but she’s one of the downtrodden - subverting the film’s Messiah figure. Rather than destroying the ‘Other’, Monáe seeks to give voice to the ‘Other’. While all this sounds like heavy stuff – the album is anything but. It features some of the best pop moments of recent years.

Following an orchestral overture, the album explodes into the ice cold funk ‘Dance or Die’ before the ridiculously brilliant track ‘Faster’ is blended in – the track could be used to get those peaceniks who refuse to dance at parties burn up the dance-floor. The tracks merge into each other as the album progress (the original idea was for four EPs to be released based on Metropolis). Another killer double-header is ‘Cold War’ (complete with Outkast’s ‘B.O.B’-esque digital drums and squealing electric guitars) followed by the wonderful ‘Tightrope’ which ushers in Big Boi and a genius horn section. One only has to look at Monáe’s performance on Letterman to see that the track would be wonderful live too. The Nilsson-esque ‘Oh, Maker’ showcases Monáe’s best vocal performance on the album (she shows she can sing too beyond simply dance, write great songs, and be generally awesome) and the freakout fuzz of ‘Come Alive (The War of the Roses)’ showed Monáe’s voice going nuts.

If anything, the second half of the album is not as strong as the first half (lacking the killer tracks the first half had). It also featured the odd interlude by Of Montreal (with whom Monáe toured), with a track which initially sounded like a Skeletal Lamping cast off, but has its own charm. It did feel a little incongruous. But with so many highlights – this is an album which pulls off everything from Debussy to Fela Kuti – this is a candidate for pop album of the year. Hell, it’s better than that – it’d be hard-pressed to find an album better than this released all year.

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