Whether it’s German expressionist films or the “greaser” style of tuxedos and pompadours, living in the past has always been a part of Janelle Monae’s act.
With “The Electric Lady,” however, the past comes to the forefront with a funky soul album that brings to mind the 70s R&B scene.
The album still has its share of experimentation, occasionally breaking into a rap verse or slow jazz break. The overarching sci-fi theme present in her last studio album, and EP is also present here.
Continuing her concept album series based on Fritz Lang’s 1927 film “Metropolis,” “The Electric Lady” makes up the fourth and fifth parts of the story.
The album starts out like an old movie, with an orchestral number that segues instantly into the next track, “Givin’ Em What They Love,” a groovy, slightly dark jam that features Prince supporting Monae with his trademark high-pitched vocals.
The song introduces the stellar supporting cast Monae lined up for this album, which includes Erykah Badu on the lead single “Q.U.E.E.N.”
“Q.U.E.E.N.,” with lyrics like “while you’re selling dope, we’re gonna keep selling hope” is an individuality-affirming anthem that deserves its status as a single.
Monae’s anti-injustice rap at the end of “Q.U.E.E.N.” is the best part of the album. It’s an intense moment with not much warning, and it hits in all the right ways.
“Electric Lady,” the album’s title track, is a feminist anthem, describing the “electric lady” as a “modern day Joan of Arc” who isn’t afraid to do what she wants. The song’s jazzy beat and powerful vocals make the skit that follows the song seem to be there so she can catch her breath.
The 90s neo-soul sound is very prevalent on the record in songs like “Victory” and “Look Into My Eyes,” and these don’t feel as inspired as the other tracks. They certainly aren’t as memorable.
Monae said that she named her album after a series of female silhouettes that she painted, two of which appear printed on the album’s two discs. Her therapist had suggested that she name the series of paintings, she revealed in a recent interview with Billboard.
“I tried to come up with all these words, all the adjectives to describe the paintings … and the words that come to my ear were ‘The Electric Lady,’ and I started to think of a world where there were more electric ladies, there was a new breed of women,” Monae said.
Monae, always clad in her signature tuxedo and unabashedly rocking her pompadour, is definitely a new breed of woman, and her sophomore album is an excellent soul album, fusing old-school influences with a sci-fi theme and very modern pop sound. “The Electric Lady” will definitely net Monae a Grammy nod, if not a win.
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