Published Apr 25, 2018Prince. Brian Wilson. Grimes. Pharrell Williams. Any musician that could coax a collaboration out of one, let alone all of those legends must be an icon in her own right. That'll be the instant consensus listening to Dirty Computer, an LP so irresistibly danceable and irrefutably topical that it'll also leave generations of up-and-comers clamouring to team up with Janelle Monáe.
The Kansas City artist's new LP isn't merely memorable for its guests, though. As thrilling as it is to hear Wilson's Pet Sounds-ish "ooh's" accompanying Monáe's crooning on the title track; as grin inducing as it is to hear Purple Rain-worthy guitar fretting on "Make Me Feel"; as illuminating as it is to hear her gel with the pop chart-friendly Pharrell on "I Got the Juice," Monáe never lets those superstar collaborators overshadow her.
Wondrous as all those team-ups are, the Grimes-assisted "Pynk" is the winner. From its distinctively minimalist, ping-pong bouncing bridge, to its radio-ready, guitar-rife sing-along chorus, the song has enough dynamic elements to make you hit "replay" again and again. Sonics aside, the lesbian romance euphemisms in its lyrics give "Pynk" an added dimension, especially when those lines cleverly turn from tantalizing and playful to empathetic and universal ("Pink like the sun going down / Pink like the holes in your heart").
Other lyrical high watermarks include Monáe's irresistible rapping on "Django Jane," ("Running out of space on my damn bandwagon / Remember when they said I look too mannish?"), the left wing rallying cry on closer "Americans," and the matriarchal fables on the sparely strummed "So Afraid." Even "I Got the Juice," Monáe and Williams' ploy for the pop echelon, has some pointed political lines among all the sexy fun beverage puns, mainly: "If you try to grab my pussycat / This puss will grab you back… Give you pussy cataracts." The song is also a master class is mass appeal craft, sporting an insatiably simmering Latin rhythm and textured synth work, making it a winner for both the dance floor and car stereos.
But of all the mentors who lent a hand on this LP, Dirty Computer's overall spirit is most akin to Prince's output. Aside from the staccato guitar fretting on "Jane's Dream," and the funky come-ons on "Make Me Feel," which all exude the Minnesota titan's tantalizing essence, there's a deeper tonal throughline and grander ambition that help Monáe's latest stand strong alongside the likes of Sign O' the Times. With Dirty Computer, Monáe isn't afraid to get political, encourage empathy, explore her sexuality and have goofy fun, often doing all that and more in the same song.
It's a shame he passed before having a chance to see Monáe release her strongest LP yet. Regardless: the Purple One would've been proud indeed. (Wondaland Records)