Album review: Janelle Monae - 'The Archandroid' (Atlantic/Bad Boy)

The tux-clad crossover hip-hop siren with the sci-fi fetish makes her play for UK shores

Album review: Janelle Monae - 'The Archandroid' (Atlantic/Bad Boy)

8 / 10 Last year, after taking in a Grizzly Bear show, Jay-Z said indie could teach hip-hop a thing or two. It was a pivotal moment, but for the wrong reasons – the pathetic fervour around his suggestion showed that supposedly open-minded music lovers still see the two sounds as segregated.

The woman who’s going to right this ill-conceived notion with a behemoth of a crossover was discovered by Big Boi, and is signed to P Diddy’s Bad Boy label. But wily tux-clad Janelle Monáe isn’t the usual bimbo you’d affiliate with Diddy. Seeing the potential of a deal with Combs, they shook hands, Monáe retaining creative control. He doesn’t put in so much as a skit on her debut record.

Not that there’d be room for one amongst its bulging 18 tracks. ‘The ArchAndroid’ is suites two and three of a complex intergalactic, Afrofuturistic narrative about Monáe’s messianic android alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather, although the story pales against the musical bounty on offer. ‘Tightrope’ puts a futuristic spin on The JB’s’ whip-smart funk, while the tempered croon of ‘Sir Greendown’ makes like a classy ’40s Hollywood OST. Her seemingly limitless vision can sometimes overflow, as on the jarring Of Montreal ‘collaboration’, ‘Make The Bus’ where Monáe gets lost in Kevin Barnes’ cloying kook. Elsewhere, though, she gets it spot on, particularly vocally – her theatrical training is evident and she can rap with the best of them. If at times her experimental phrasing sounds detached, it’s important to remember – this is her debut album. Her ambition is flabbergasting, let alone that she executes it with bundles of fun and a fizzing personality.

‘The ArchAndroid’ is less a marriage of genres, more a sonic orgy, nor is Monáe some kind of saviour… yet. Jay, consider this a lesson learned.

Laura Snapes

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