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Axis Bold As Love: Janelle Monáe’s “The Electric Lady” Album Review

We’ve been orbiting Janelle Monáe’s cosmos since Metropolis  where she morphed into Cindi Mayweather, an android who falls in love with a human named Anthony Greendown. The cyborg-themed anthem followed the singer as she flexed her musical muscles and showed the world that Hip hop, pop, soul and rock can all live in harmony on one track.  “Sir Greendown” was a futuristic hark back to the Penguin’s “Earth Angel” and the political themes were clear as in “Mr. President” and “Many Moons.”

ArchAndroid shot us further into Monáe’s orbit, revealing an even more rule-defying songstress whose vocals could flow easily on top of Latin beats (Locked Inside), 70s folk (57821), and garage rock (Mushrooms & Roses) all the while sounding like the funk-ship broke the sound barrier.

Monáe pulls from all genres like a professional, vintage shopper. Nothing is wasted. What she borrows, she borrows well. The past is the future and the future is the past and The Electric lady  is no different. The 19-track album (co-executively produced by Diddy and Big Boi) is an old soul record bouncing off the tunnels of a X-wing Starfighter. And if there was any remnant of self-doubt or adolescence on Metropolis or ArchAndroid, then The Electric Lady  loudly whispered, “It’s okay, girl. You got this.” With a supporting team of Electric misfits including Prince, Solange, CeeLo Green, Esperanza Spalding, and the undeniable Erykah Badu, permission to land has been granted.

But Monáe’s self-affirmations are not horded.  Monáe is speaking to anybody who’s ever been marginalized. She even addresses the folks who accuse her of being too mainstream: “They be like “Ooh, she’s serving face!” And I just tell em, “Cut me up, and get down”.

The first track off The Electric Lady, Suite IV- Electric Overture sounds like a 70s spy theme and like most of Monáe’s tracks, there’s a strong encryption:

She has arrived/Her crown/Has a story/14 soldiers marching round and round her/I don’t wanna be a slave again/No I don’t wanna be a slave/I’m electric girl/From electric world/And I only want to bring you love.

Monáe moves seemlessly through worlds from an 80s-like, feminist anthem “Electric Lady” (featuring Solange), to love songs like “Can’t Live Without Your Love” that soars like a devoted Toni Braxton-Anita Baker ballad.  If you were craving a 70s love duet, you got it with “PrimeTime” featuring Miquel. The spirit of Stevie Wonder (another from Monáe’s collaborative crew)  gets down in “Ghetto Woman,” a testament to poverty and endurance and an homage to a mother’s strength.

“Our Favorite Fugitive (Interlude)”, where guest callers call into address Cindi Mayweather feels like a direct commentary on questioners of Monáe’s sexuality, one caller proclaiming “Robot love is queer!”

In a recent interview on “Sway In The Morning,” Janelle was asked about her sexuality and she said:

Women are amazing and so are guys. There’s nothing wrong with being bisexual. There’s nothing wrong with being lesbian or gay. I am an advocate. I have friends who are in same-sex relationships and I think that love has no sexual orientation. Love has no religious belief. Love is the purest and most important thing we can possess for ourselves and for others. I’m such an advocate for love and I think you should be able to love freely.

The 70s has married the future with The Electric Lady giving us all permission to get free. The future is now. And there’s no time like the present.

Raise your flag, Ms. Mayweather.  We salute you.

About Kristen Damasida

Writer and Photographer for Virago Magazine, Kristen grew up listening to vinyl and highlighting the dictionary. Her work has appeared in IrockJazz.com, The East Harlem Journal, Boston's Culturehive, the Ithacan and other publications. Her love of music cannot be eclipsed by her love of words. She's been coined the "Akira Kurosawa of Blogs" by such people as herself. An aspiring musician, she has a serious penchant for peach-flavored anything, multi-tasking, slow-paced thrillers and dreams of going back to South America, laying on the beach, and drinking from a coconut.

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