“Young, black, wild, free, naked in a limousine,” Janelle Monáe sings on the breezy but soaring electro-pop of ‘Crazy, Classic, Life’, setting up a manifesto for the record that follows: to live life liberated, in every way possible.
From Brian Wilson’s divine vocal harmonies on the celestial title track to the sensual slap-in-the-face of ‘Take A Byte’, Monáe is flexing her muscles with far more brazen conviction than on her already fearless, high-concept funk-opera debut ‘The ArchAndroid’ and its genre-smashing follow-up ‘The Electric Lady’. Monáe has often been concerned with sci-fi in the past, but this record feels very much like a battlecry against the harsh and bewildering reality of now – dancing through the bullshit and emerging a champion on the other side.
The “celebration of creation, self-love and pussy power” of majestic Grimes collab ‘Pynk’ is the album’s centrepiece, showcasing her knack of letting go while declaring total control. Among the wailing guitar heroics of ‘Screwed’ ft. Zoe Kravitz, she preaches: “Everything is sex, except sex – which is power. You screw me and I’ll screw you too – you know power is just sex? Now ask yourself who’s screwing who”. Elsewhere, the bouncing bomb pop-banger ‘I Got The Juice’ (with Pharrell Williams) pulses with sexuality while sending a clear warning to any objectifiers living in the shadow of a certain tiny-handed bastard: “If you try to grab my pussycat, this puss will grab you back.”
“His spirit will never leave me,” Monáe has said of her friend and collaborator Prince, who had helped her with sounds for the album “before he passed on to another frequency”. Sure, he lent a synth-line to the undeniable behemoth of ‘Make Me Feel’ (the greatest of her hits to date), and the gospel-funk power ballad of closer ‘American’ is the politicised blood descendent of ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ – but this record isn’t a monument to His Royal Badness. It’s one of the greatest artists of our time carrying Prince’s baton into the new world.
She’s got The Purple One’s punk, mad-scientist approach but creates a world all of her own. Throwing in rap, soul, pop, R&B, space-rock and whatever the hell she wants with her fearless message, Janelle Monáe doesn’t believe in walls or limits: this is a fluid celebration of freedom, raging and raving against the oppressors. In fact, only one label sticks – icon.