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Janelle MonŠe: The ArchAndroid

Janelle MonŠe: The ArchAndroid

Label:Wondaland Arts Society/Bad Boy
Release Date:2010

Janelle Monáe plays Pier Six Pavilion May 30 opening for Erykah Badu.

By Bret McCabe | Posted 5/26/2010

A pop world in which Lady Gaga passes for the experimental fringe might not be ready for the real deal. To wit: Janelle Monáe, the dancefunksoulR&B vocalist auteur who, at the tender age of 24, has crafted an album as driven as it is entertaining. The ArchAndroid--technically Monáe's second album, though her first with any serious distribution and publicity push behind it, following her 2008 EP Metropolis: The Chase Suite--aims for Prince's futuristic hybrid funk and, by gum, gets there. It's an 18-track, sci-fi concept epic that wants to dazzle for its entire 70 minutes, losing a bit of energy toward the end.

From the Swing Out Sister Sledge acid-jazz/disco-R&B combo of "Locked Inside" to the strange classical strings 'n' Vocoder falsetto of "Mushrooms and Roses"--a satin-sheets bedroom soul ballad where "all the lonely droids and lovers have their wildest dreams"--Monáe jets past Billy Preston's "Outta Space" and P-Funk's mothership, spends some time with Outkast's ATLiens, and then continues on to seek out new frontiers. Sometimes the album finds them--lead single "Tightrope" is turbo-charged J.B.'s funk, and "Dance or Die," featuring Saul Williams, pairs Monáe's nimble phrasing to futuristic Afro-beat--and sometime it's an overstuffed mess (the Of Montreal collaboration "Make the Bus" tries to Stevie Wonderfy Queen-y rock). Throughout, though, Monáe's vocal performances emotionally anchor an album that thematically orbits Octavia Butler futureworlds. Monáe's pipes are pyrotechnic, and even come the album's less frenetic tail end--the British folkie "57821," the merely pleasant "Say You'll Go"--Monáe's captivating presence might keep you from hitting the skip button. No idea if ArchAndroid can have the seismic pop impact of 1999--the album Mr. Prince Rogers Nelson hatched when he was only 24--but it makes one thing clear: Few emerging pop artists are in her same league right now.

E-mail Bret McCabe

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