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The Electric Lady
Janelle Monáe The Electric Lady
Released 6 September 2013

Roman GianArthur, Janelle Monáe, Nate Wonder
Label Bad Boy
Length 67:35
Genre R&B, pop, soul
Website www.jmonae.com

The concept album may be an outdated form – along with the album, some might say. Though anybody listening in on 2010’s The Archandroid would have heard a new star being born in the shape of the irrepressible Janelle Monáe. Or should that be in the shape of her sci-fi android alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather.

Billed as Suites IV and V in the continuing intergalactic story, The Electric Lady offers up another mélange of mind-bending pop, soul, funk and hip-hop. The conceptual detail in the album, though, merely acts like a frame on which Monáe hangs her music and songs. It enhances the enjoyment for the listener without ever being the full picture. Snippets of a robot radio call-in show pop up in between songs with shout-outs to the droid rebel alliance, and such like.

Suite IV is by far the more exhilarating and innovative of the two, with guest appearances aplenty. Prince joins in to duet and play guitar on the positively sizzling 'Give Em What They Love', Erykah Badu and Monáe get their funk-freak on in 'Q.U.E.E.N', while Miguel turns up on the laid-back soul ballad 'Primetime'. That said, there’s never any doubt this is a Janelle Monáe gig. The Kansas City native’s force of personality ensures her star shines brighter than all, especially on the calypso-infused pop of album stand-out 'Dance Apocalyptic'.

Another thread weaving its way through the album is the message of female/minoirity empowerment. There are songs named after a couple of fellow trail-blazers - Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, and Dorothy Dandridge, the first African-American nominated for an Oscar. The Spice Girls’ faux-feminist posturing, this ain’t.

However, where Suite IV excites in its inventon, too much of Suite V is bland and generic. 'Ghetto Woman', and its perfectly layered soul-funk, is one of the rare gems. Duds like the Jackson 5-light of 'It’s Code' and the limp 'Victory' let the quality control slip dramatically though. The album’s running time of sixty-eight minutes means a fair few of these duller tunes could do with being trimmed.

Part of David Bowie’s brilliance through his career has been his timely ability to kill off characters who no longer served his needs. Monáe has one more instalment to go in her planned Metropolis series, and judging by Suite IV here, there seems to be enough jet-fuel left in the tank to pull that off. After that, she will surely have to dream it all up again.

Until then, this album can serve as the rallying call it is for girl-bot-freak-power around the world. And beyond.

- Cian Doherty