Friday, July 16, 2010

Janelle Monae

Born in Kansas City, Janelle has already worked with huge names in the music world during her relatively short career; No Doubt, Big Boi, Diddy, B.o.B, and Lupe Fiasco among others. Janelle cites a number of diverse sources as her inspiration ranging from Alfred Hitchcock to Debussy to Philip K. Dick which all give her music a very large cinematic feel. Her debut album Metropolis features the adventures of Cindi Mayweather, an android that has fallen in love with a human. Another influence on her music was the 1927 groundbreaking sci-fi film, Metropolis by Fritz Lange; which is pretty apparent upon listening to the first tracks on her debut. She had planned on releasing her album in 4 parts on her website before being picked up by Diddy and Bad Boy. The Suite, as it was going to be, has had 3 of the acts released across her 2 albums so fans are left in a cliff hanger to find out how it all ends in her 4th act.

The whole idea of the sci-fi pop opera reminds me of Killroy Was Here by Styx and I think it makes the albums more interesting because it adds an element of storytelling to the music that you can connect with. There are threads woven through both albums that tie the story together. For example, on The ArchAndroid, there is a track titled 57821 which is the robotic designation for Cindi Mayweather and it is referenced initially in the song Sincerely, Jane on Metropolis and the track Sir Greendown, a boozy ballad full of liquid mercury that slips and slides through your senses on The ArchAndroid which is the surname of Cindi's love interest, Anthony Greendown.

Infused with the right amount of electronica, clever lyrics, and a score to rival many big budget films, both Metropolis and The ArchAndroid are must haves for anyone who appreciates solid pop music, a strong female protagonist and science fiction. Don't discount these albums as a concept that doesn't deliver. Janelle has the vocal chops to pull this off and you are not left disappointed. Not only is she telling a clever story, she is also using her platform to discuss ideas of a political nature ranging from discrimination to helping the helpless.

Many Moons (Metropolis) - Many children of the 70s will be able to immediately connect to this song as you will hear something at the beginning you know. You know you know it but you can't place it. I'll give you a hint.... 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12. During the Middle 8 on this song, she breaks into spoken word reminiscent of Michael Hutchence's turn in Need You Tonight. She was also nominated for a Grammy for this song.

Mr. President (Metropolis) - This is probably the most overtly political song and it was apparently added to the Special Edition of the album. It really doesn't fit the theme of the production but it is nonetheless spectacular.

The ArchAndroid takes her game to a much higher level. Everything is bigger, the production, the scope, the feel, the theatrics - all of it. She seamlessly moves from one genre to another from R & B to funk to cinematic scores to very futuristic and experimental and it all works. With each track, she ups her game and gives you more and more and you wonder where it all comes from but you are glad she is serving it up.

Opening to an actual Overture which fades into a breakneck pace of Dance or Die and Faster. On Dance or Die, Janelle's delivery is one of amazing quickness that could actually give Mistikal or Twista a run for their money.

Mushrooms & Roses is so psychedelic that you may actually feel like you are tripping while listening to it.

If you can't tell by now, I really can't say anything bad about either of these albums. Like I said earlier, I can't wait to hear how it all ends and hope she has more stories to tell.

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