Whether it is the recycled electronic beats of Top 40 dance hits or the banjo-plucking, foot-stomping crooning of singer-songwriters, there is a lot of safe, crowd-pleasing music out there. But "The Electric Lady," Janelle Monae’s eccentric and unabashedly fun album, is absolutely not safe music. This is not a collection of annoyingly catchy singles to be digested one by one over the radio. This is not music created by hired writers and copycat producers. This is a true, cohesive album, crafted by a woman who knows exactly what she is doing. Tied together with interludes by a futuristic radio host, "The Electric Lady" continues the story of Janelle Monae’s alternate, android-filled world from her "Metropolis" concept. This massive, 18-track album shows that Monae is unafraid to experiment.
And, wow, does she experiment. Whether it is the aggressive single 'Queen,' the old school boogie song 'Dance Apocalyptic' or the dark, tango-esque piece 'Look Into My Eyes,' Monae shines. She melds genres and musical styles in a way that always keeps the listener curious. More than half of her songs sound like they were written 30, 50, or even 80 years ago. Monae, for the space of each of these songs, manages to inhabit a different era completely.
Not only does she seem to live in these eras, but also she brings along for the ride one of the best-curated lists of guest stars since Kanye’s "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy." Prince fits perfectly into the second song of the album, 'Givin' Em What They Love,' a minimalistic jam that works as a great showcase for both singers’ incredible vocal work. Erykah Badu lends impressive vocal flourishes to the sharp 'Queen,' accentuating Monae’s spectacular vocals on the track. On their tracks too, Solange and Esperanza Spalding blend their style and voices wonderfully with Monae without overpowering her. In fact, the only guest star who may outshine the Electric Lady herself is Miguel, who swoops in to croon and woo in the sexy 'Primetime,' which is nearly guaranteed to play in bedrooms and on moonlit drives across the globe.
There is really no denying that Monae is a fantastic musician and a fantastic singer. At heart, she may be an R&B vocalist through and through, but there are so many other genres and ideas slipping in and out of this album that it is nearly impossible to address them all. I haven’t even touched on the energy of 'Ghetto Woman' or the grand, orchestral feel of 'Victory.'
Throughout the album, I was struck by how danceable many of these tracks are. This is not the grimy nightclub grinding that our generation is so familiar with. This is classy music from a classier time. This is music for boogie and swing dancing. Music for sultry tangos and Buddy Holly glasses. The music of young love, of spontaneity, of what might have been a better era.