The most ambitious and challenging album of the summer might end up being the sophomore release from the little known pop sensation Janelle Monae. She's far from being a household name but has spent the past seven years building the support of artists like Big Boi, Saul Williams and Sean "Diddy" Combs.Monae's debut album, The Audition, followed by her 2007 concept EP, The Metropolis (Suite I), was the birth of Monae's amorphous pop concept that is fully played out on her new album, The ArchAndroid.
The album follows a loose tradition of afro-punk, funk and pop music from the past 40 years. As if George Clinton's mothership traveled through time and collected the sounds of Sly Stone, Michael Jackson, Prince, James Brown and Grace Jones. But The ArchAndroid isn't all R&B and pop, there is more. Monae jumps genres with songs like "Come Alive (The War of The Roses)" which sounds like the soundtrack to an animated musical, and "57821," a dreamy folk ballad with sounds from the mid sixties.
What's challenging about The ArchAndroid isn't the music or production, but Monae's ambitious effort to create an epic 18 track album. She takes her time getting to the story of her android world, and just when you think her world makes sense, Monae shifts focus with an upbeat single like "Tightrope" or "Cold War." The android world is exciting at first brush, but she may be asking too much for newly converted fans.
Monae's most redeeming quality, next to her hypercreative persona, is her voice. With The ArchAndriod she establishes her talent as a vocalist and songwriter. It's her voice that has pushed her into the mainstream and helped her gain the attention of her music industry stakeholders like Combs. So enjoy the sci-fi fantasy while it's here because a more mainstream Suite IV is a likely next step for Monae. The AnchAndroid is out now on Bad Boy Records.