It feels like many moons since Janelle Monáe (official website) broke onto the independent music scene with her EP, Metropolis, Suite I: The Chase in 2007. Three years later, fueled by plenty of critical praise, fan support, a 2009 Grammy nomination and a deal with Diddy's Bad Boy imprint, the diminutive powerhouse presents her full-length debut, The ArchAndroid.
I love it.
The ArchAndroid contains parts two and three of Monáe's four-part "Metropolis" concept. And while the concept (and Monáe's trademark black and white uniform) may be too precious for some, the album's genre-bending magic is hard to deny. Monae's voice had been comparisons to Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys (most notably on the album's slower songs), but The ArchAndroid's sound belongs to Monáe alone.
After a trademark orchestral intro, The ArchAndroid jumps into a tightly edited trio; "Dance or Die," "Faster" and "Locked Inside" are full of the radio-friendly energy we previewed with first single "Tightrope". The rest of the disc morphs from Doris Day-flavored pop, new wave, jazz, hip hop and psychedelic rock; produced like a soundtrack from a film or musical.
Monáe's voice, part delicate songbird, part rockstar, handles each permeation with ease. With only brief appearances by Saul Williams, Big Boi, Of Montreal and Deep Cotton, The ArchAndroid captures her talent in full bloom. The biggest knock I can give the album is it's about three tracks too long. And there are a few songs I like less than the others. But I can't blame Monáe for wanting to give her all.
Major kudos to The Wondaland Arts Society who has guided Monáe's vision impeccably since the beginning of her "Metropolis" project. It's a great case study in how independent artists are concentrating more on well-executed art direction (brittany bosco and Rahbi come to mind as examples of other indie artists with a dedicated approach to their musical identity).
The ArchAndroid is sure to garner critical praise and awards along the way (Grammy are you listening?) The biggest challenge may be radio airplay. Black /urban radio, still stuck in a payola-esque era of brainless programming, is a wash. (Seriously, are there any innovative artists who listen to Radio One?) However, pop/dance radio stations would do well to add songs from The ArchAndroid to their playlist.
I'm giving the disc an A for a promise fulfilled.