The ArchAndroid

Janelle Monae

Wondaland Arts Society / Bad Boy Records, 2010

http://www.jmonae.com

REVIEW BY: Ken DiTomaso

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/10/2010

On her debut album The ArchAndroid, Janelle Monáe has crafted a futuristic soul/funk/rap/pop/R&B rock opera. The lyrics tell an epic sci-fi tale, and while I'm not about to delve into the story here, I'll just say it's great to see someone with actual talent attempting a project this ambitious. The lyrics are a huge step above your average boy-girl stuff, and the futuristic imagery never becomes cheesy or overbearing. The arrangements on this album are wonderful, and that's saying something, since several of the tracks prominently feature an orchestra and even a church choir.

The first five songs all fade into one another, making for one hell of an opener. Each track just comes at you with a barrage of hooks and danceable energy. On several of these cuts, Monáe seems to be channeling the spirit of Stevie Wonder, and I get a very similar vibe from parts of this album as I get from his classic records. Lead single "Tightrope" features OutKast's Big Boi, but even a hip-hop giant like him can't overshadow Monáe's groove.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Near the end of Suite II, there are a few weaker tracks. "Neon Gumbo" is back-masked nonsense, and "Mushrooms And Roses" is rather dull, but it winds the suite down well enough. If this was an album by anybody else, it would end here and we would be satisfied. But instead, we run head on into Suite III for another 30 minutes of music every bit as good as the first. Interestingly this makes ArchAndroid feel kind of like it's two different albums on one disk, and both suites work equally well when played on their own or listened to together.

Suite III is overall more laidback than its predecessor, featuring a few more ballads, including the epic "BeBopByeYa" and the pensive "57821." One minor gripe I have about Suite III is in regards to the Of Montreal showcase "Make The Bus." Don't get me wrong, it's a great song, but it sounds completely out of place here since it's way more Of Montreal than Janelle Monáe. It makes for a good preview of their upcoming album, but otherwise, it mostly just ruins the flow of this one.

Overall, I recommend this release a hundred times over. Go check it out now so you can tell your friends you knew about Janelle Monáe before she exploded all over the pop charts. This is a shoein for my Top 10 of 2010, and I'm already eagerly awaiting Suite IV. Finally, I may "only" have given this album an A-, but rest assured, Monáe's epic hairdo gets the full A grade.

Rating: A-

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© 2010 Ken DiTomaso and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Wondaland Arts Society / Bad Boy Records, and is used for informational purposes only.