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REVIEW: Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid

18/05/2010

There has been much anticipation and speculation surrounding the release of Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid. After the release of Metropolis: Suite 1 many were hailing her as the saviour of modern soul music, a truly original artist not afraid to colour outside the lines, who was determined to create something truly original. Then came the bombshell. Yes, THAT bombshell. The musical grim reaper P.Diddy (Puff Daddy, Diddy … whatever) had affiliated himself with Ms Monae and would be overseeing the creation and release of Suites 2, 3 and 4. After a collective groan was released by Monae fans the dust settled and then … nothing. Many thought she would be lost in the Bad Boy void, never to see the light of day again, but thankfully late last year news surfaced that not only would we be getting a new Janelle Monae album, but we would be getting Suites II AND III together, on one disc.

After the short, but oh so very sweet Suite I there was always going to be a certain level of expectation surrounding Ms Monae. Her quirky, eclectic, theatrical stylings were so far removed from her contemporaries that it was inevitable that fans would expect a full-on masterpiece from her proper debut. Not that Janelle did anything to play down those expectations, the hype surrounding the release has been very high which could have set her up for an almighty fall. So … has she succeeded?

On first listen, I’ll be honest, I was a little disappointed (maybe disorientated is a better choice of word). The musical mish-mash, although expected, made my first listen a difficult and confusing one. Sure the main ingredients we expected are there in the form of the album’s RnB/Soul backbone, however we also have classical, funk, punk, pop, 6o’s psychadelia, afrobeat, rock … the list goes on. However there were enough tracks that grabbed my attention to warrant an immediate second spin. And so it went on, over the course of 3 or 4 days I must have listened to the album 10 times, each listen increasing my appreciation of Janelle Monae’s creativity, originality, artistry and all round brilliance.

Those who were drawn in by Metrpolis or hooked by first single ‘Tightrope’ may be in for a bit of a surprise. Sure Monae’s distinctive, eclectic style is still prevalent but the tracks here are not as immediately accessible as ‘Tightrope’ or ‘Violet Stars Happy Hunting’. Personal highlights for me were the ‘Faster’/’Locked Inside’ combo at the start of the album, the wonderful ‘Neon Valley Street’ (puts the current crop of RnB ‘Divas’ to shame) and the quirky ‘Make The Bus’ featuring Canadian punksters Of Montreal. What I really love about the album is that, after listening to it from start to finish you are still not quite sure whether you are listening to an album from 2010 or have accidentally picked up a soundtrack to some obscure 1970s sci-fi musical.

[AUDIO http://dl.dropbox.com/u/5198504/May%2010/13-janelle_monae-neon_valley_street.mp3%5D Neon Valley Sreet

Make The Bus ft Of Montreal

My only (slight) issue with the album was it’s length. 18 tracks is long for any album but for such an experimantal concept album, in my opinion, it would have been better  split into its respective suites as originally planned. Metropolis worked precisely beacause it was short, It told a story but left the listener wanting, and demanding more. This is a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things and the more I listen to it, the more I’m seeing the merits of 1 album vs. 2 EPs.

As already mentioned, the main talking point surrounding the album was the involvement of Diddy/Bad Boy Records, and how this would affect the finished product. Many thought he may try to water down Ms Monae’s sound but, credit where credit is due, there seems to be no evidence of that on The ArchAndroid. In fact I would go as far as to say that this album is even more fantastically theatrical/over the top than her previous release. I do suspect however that Diddy is the one behind combining Suites II & III. A single, 18-track album seems to offer better value for money than two similarly priced, much shorter albums, and I suppose that is all important if Diddy is to successfully market Ms Monae to a more mainstream audience.

After repeated listens I have come to the conclusion that whilst The ArchAndroid may not have reached the dizzying heights of ‘instant classic’ it is a fantastic album that will surely be one of THE highlights of 2010 (alongside Badu, YahZarah and newcomer Avery*Sunshine). Will the album be a commercial success? I honestly have no idea, there is definitely something for everyone here, but that may well be the albums downfall. However, what Janelle Monae has shown here is that when an artist is truly free in terms of artistry and creativity they can create something really special. Hopefully this album will pave the way for other artists to think outside the box a little more.

As an added bonus check out PINBOARDblog’s exclusive interview with Ms Monae below.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. 18/05/2010 1:01 pm

    Great review! I pretty much agree with everything you said. Having to listen to it more than once to fully understand and grasp it, Diddy’s involvement, the 18 track overload – all of it. And like you, I have concluded that actually, this album is pretty monumental. It’s epic. Something that’ll be around for a long time I believe.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. 18/05/2010 1:55 pm

    Solid review of Ms. Monae’s latest release. I certainly agree that the length is an issue with the album .. Once I got through the first suite on The Archandroid I was pleased with what I heard but certainly wasn’t as immediately impressed as I was with Metropolis. The second suite, however, I felt was a little too slow ..

    I certainly do need to go back and relisten to the entire album again!

  3. Jules permalink
    18/05/2010 2:40 pm

    18 tracks is relief for many of us Janelle Monae fans who have been dying for more since the first suite. This album is phenomenal in it’s inception and execution. The musicality and vocals in these tracks leaves my heart is a place I’d forgotten music could take it. Bravo and Kudos to Janelle Monae for chasing her dreams and making this happen for us. This album is JAMMING in more ways than way – 18 to be exact!
    Oh and about Diddy – I read this interesting article about their partnership in Vibe not too long ago. Basically he’s just obsessed with her talent and wanted to push himself to be involved in something else new and challenging creatively. I think he made a good move to say the least, lol. I believe JM is quoted saying – “I’m his boss” – LOVE That.

    Good review – thanks for sharing.

  4. Joselyn permalink
    18/05/2010 2:41 pm

    LOVE This album. Glad you’re going to listen to it again – because it is definitely ALL that and then some.
    I’ve listened to it at least 10x already and I’m still amazed.

  5. Lily permalink
    18/05/2010 2:41 pm

    In short, this album is a pure delight. PURE delight. GREAT JOB Janelle!!!

  6. Honey B. permalink
    18/05/2010 2:42 pm

    Janelle’s dope. Loving this entire album from start to finish.

  7. Honey B. permalink
    18/05/2010 2:43 pm

    Oh, and I agree with Speeakz, it’s definitely monumental.

  8. gladwell permalink
    18/05/2010 5:43 pm

    An amazing musical expression on so many levels…this is major music.

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