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Even in today’s society, a science-fiction concept album like The Electric Lady can be a tough sell. If there’s one “Electric Lady” that can do it, it’s “Electric Lady No.1,” Janelle Monae, and she succeeds at making the album a musically astounding piece of work that also tackles some deep issues.
The concept behind The Electric Lady seems oddly similar to a Ray Bradbury work. The album returns to the utopian cyborg city of “Metropolis” used in Monae’s previous works, where Monae’s android alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather, A.K.A. “Electric Lady No. 1,” has become a messiah-like figure to the android community. It’s an incredibly creative theme that gives Monae plenty of room to work with musically. The album serves as the perfect platform to give us an understanding of the issues that the androids–the segregated minority in “Metropolis” –face, including gender politics and female alienation.
I’ve always been surprised at how often Janelle Monae’s work seems to fly under the radar, especially on The Electric Lady, as Monae’s attention to detail and creativity make the album an outstanding effort. From the tight, funky bass on “Q.U.E.E.N.” to fast pace and even faster rap on “Ghetto Woman,” Monae never loses control. Helping Monae with this are guest vocalists such as Prince and Miguel, as well as some fellow Wondaland contributors, and they all add subtle touches to the album to make the already tight production even tighter. It’s also astounding how well Monae transcends genres, jumping from jazz to pop-punk to gospel to ballads with ease, tying what would otherwise seem like a mess into one cohesive, 19-track masterpiece.
However, if you only listen to The Electric Lady for the sound, you’ll miss out on a lot. For a lady that appears so “robotic,” Monae’s lyrics are surprisingly human. Her desire to break out from the crowd is obvious, especially on “Q.U.E.E.N.” but she also covers a lot more, including sexuality, love, and abandonment.
[youtube id=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEddixS-UoU” width=”600″ height=”350″]
It may seem like an odd concept album, but The Electric Lady is the perfect platform for Janelle Monae to create an exceptional album and work some controversial topics into the music world. “Electric Lady No.1” will be one to watch in the coming years.