Album Review: Janelle Monae, The ArchAndroid

Janelle Monae

The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III of IV), (released May 18, 2010)

Janelle Monae’s studio album debut is finally here, and it reminds me of a movie. And that’s not just because of the album’s SyFy channel storyline: A robot’s journey to become messiah of an oppressed society.

Every year when the Academy Awards roll around, there is one film that you’ve never even heard of that wins a truckloads of awards. Sure, the summer blockbusters get all the hype and notoriety, whether they’re any good or not (bet on Drake’s album being this summer’s blockbuster in the music realm), but there is always one quiet independent film that turns heads. And when you finally check it out, usually nearly a year after it was released, you say to yourself, “How did I miss out on this?”

Don’t miss out on The ArchAndroid.

The album, divided into two suites, truly has a cinematic theme. Both suites open with a orchestral overture that spurs memories of John Williams’ themes. They just make you feel like something epic is about to happen. What follows is a sonic smorgasbord of just about every musical genre imaginable. Pop, rock, hip-hop, R&B, funk, soul, disco and even folk all meld together brilliantly.

You’ve already heard us gush about the frantic “Tightrope,” but “Faster” and “Cold War” are just as pulse-pounding. Those tracks, like everything on the album, features fantastic writing. On “Cold War,” Janelle warns “if you wanna be free/below the ground’s the only place to be/cuz in this life you spend time running from depravity/This is a cold war, do you know what you’re fighting for?”

And Check out the lovers quarrel on “Locked Inside”: “I’m locked inside a land called foolish pride/where the man is always right/he hates to talk but loves to fight/Is that all right?”

“Oh, Maker” and “Say You’ll Go” are treats for R&B junkies like myself. Janelle’s vocals are gentle and tender – never overexerting themselves.

Very few songs disappointed. The rock-inspired “Come Alive (The War of the Roses)” and “Mushrooms &Roses” certainly aren’t bad, they just weren’t my cup of tea. Both the wifey and Progressive Soul’s Desiree’ loved them. And while I enjoyed the sentiment, something about “Make The Bus” seemed a bit unfocused.
You’ll often hear critics claim that an album “transcends genres” or “pushes boundaries.” Those are usually exaggerations. This album crushes, rebuilds, and redefines those very genres and boundaries. The next time T-Pain and his clones claim that “singing” auto-tune is futuristic music, slap them and give them a copy of this album.

Actually, tell them to go out and buy it.

The ArchAndroid definitely won’t have the buzz that other albums will enjoy. But don’t wait until awards shows roll around a year from now to hear about how great this is. It’s a near cinematic masterpiece.

Best tracks: “Tightrope,” “Cold War,” “Oh Maker.” Add “Say You’ll Go” and “Locked Inside” too

4.5 stars out of 5


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