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

Last year, after taking in a [a]Grizzly Bear[/a] show, [a]Jay-Z[/a] 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 [a]Janelle Monáe[/a] 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. [b]‘The ArchAndroid’[/b] 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 [b]‘Sir Greendown’[/b] makes like a classy ’40s Hollywood OST. Her seemingly limitless vision can sometimes overflow, as on the jarring Of Montreal ‘collaboration’, [b]‘Make The Bus’[/b] 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.

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

[b]Laura Snapes[/b]

[i]What do you think of the album? Let us know by posting a comment below.[/i]

Click here to get your copy of Janelle Monae’s ‘The ArchAndroid’ from the Rough Trade shop.