Janelle Monáe Electric Lady

Janelle MonáeElectric Lady
Janelle Monae's The Electric Lady arrives fully formed, in a delightfully conceptual way. When someone of Prince's pedigree elects to guest star on your album, you know you're doing something right. Continuing on the sci-fi, dystopian, Afro-futuristic, R&B world-building of 2010's The ArchAndroid, Monae once again tackles sexuality, gender and social empowerment issues in an automated and allegorical fashion — though the eyes of android avatar Cindi Mayweather. Reading between the lyrics, lines like, "Am I a freak because I love watching Mary," "exploding in a bathroom stall" or "Robot Love is queer" lay out a powerful sexual subtext that Monae simultaneously owns and remains cryptic about. This is arguably as much a rock album as a soul project and, at 19-tracks, the sophomore opus is gloriously sweeping and cinematic in scope. The Prince-guesting track, "Givin' Them What They Want," lives up to its title, romping guitar stomps and all, while "Q.U.E.E.N." and "Electric Lady" (starring Erykah Badu and Solange Knowles, respectively) both take advantage of a "women who run the world" funk-soul vibe and Monae's exceptional ability to outshine and complement the guests. The '80s, pseudo-reggae-style vibe of "What an Experience" doesn't quite stick the "authenticity" landing, but the mainstream, pop-friendly "Can't Live Without Your Love" and Esperanza Spalding-starring "Dorothy Dandridge Eyes" more than make up for it. Spotless in execution, The Electric Lady musically reaches for the future, yet is firmly beholden to the past. "I'll reprogram your mind," she intones on "Q.U.E.E.N.," which is effectively the hook for Monae as an artist and the project as a whole. Existing in layers, The Electric Lady revels in its polarity. The overriding statement, however, is that Janelle Monae has arrived. (Bad Boy)