"The ArchAndroid" by Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe
The ArchAndroid

Bad Boy Records
2010

Review

Janelle Monáe seems to have an old soul. One that "gets" Motown-era R&B/Soul music with frightening accuracy. From the dance moves to the voice, to the track selection and accompanying instruments, it is as if she was born in the past, preserved in ice and thawed out today to give help to a genre that always seems like it's in a rut. She's here to give it a kick in the pants and to remind you of how it came to be in the first place. It's when the songs move away from this that things suffer a bit. At 18 tracks, a lot of the fat could have been cut - and most of the fat on the album is of the "let's be experimental" sort.

Tightrope is the song that got my attention. It was the video. Janelle's performance was amazing in that video. I mean, clearly, they were going for a classic Motown-era R&B music feeling. Well, Janelle as a singer is clearly up to that challenge and also manages to bring a new energy to it. It helps to have the Hip-Hop touches as well thanks to the always entertaining Big Boi. But my goodness can this girl dance! Just, excellent. Ditto for "Neon Valley Street", a song that has a great vibe to it and a general aesthetic that really plays into the strengths of Janelle.

The other standout on the album for is "Say You'll Go". "Say You'll Go" has a definite Michael Jackson influence that is also apparent on "Dance or Die" (mama-say-mama-saw). "Say You'll Go" gets my vote for best song on the album thanks to some poignant lyrics:

Love is not a fantasy
A haiku written in Japanese
A word too often used but not believed
When is the interaction of
The flood, the sea, the sky, the dove
Time arose to show but not our love

The album breaks down in a few places though when it moves away classic R&B/Soul territory (we'll give the pointless intro and mid-album overtures, as well as the WTF "Neon Gumbo"). "Come Alive (War Of The Roses)" did not impress me. I know it's supposed to be all like Rock influenced and stuff, but it sounds like musical music - and I mean that in a bad way. I mean, yeah, I get that this is a sort of Violet Femmes meets punk rock joint, but no. "Mushrooms & Roses" had me scratching my head as well...I'm not sure, but this song must be part of the "experimental" part of the album, and it does not work at all. You can't make a good song by muting your charismatic singer. Psychedelic influences or not.

It's like this, Janelle Monáe is a great singer who gets Soul music. Put her on a sparse, classic Soul track and you get great results. Put her on some experimental stuff that attempts to hide her voice in the name of album diversity and you get TEH FAIL. Thankfully there is plenty to love and little to make sad faces about.

3.667 out of 5

Track Ratings

1. Suite II Overture (02:31)
2. Dance or Die (feat. Saul Williams) (03:12) 4
3. Faster (03:19) 4
4. Locked Inside (04:16) 4
5. Sir Greendown (02:15) 3
6. Cold War (03:23) 4
7. Tightrope (feat. Big Boi) (04:22) 5
8. Neon Gumbo (01:37)
9. Oh, Maker (03:47) 4
10. Come Alive (The War of the Roses) (03:22) 2
11. Mushrooms & Roses (05:42) 2
12. Suite III Overture (01:41)Janelle_Mon-e_-_The_ArchAndroid_album_cover
13. Neon Valley Street (04:11) 5
14. Make the Bus (feat. of Montreal) (03:19) 3
15. Wondaland (03:36) 4
16. 57821 (feat. Deep Cotton) (03:16) 3
17. Say You'll Go (06:01) 5
18. BabopbyeYa (08:47) 3