Bow To the Queen: A Remarkable Pop Album


Janelle Monae is making Kansas City proud, authoring & masterminding most of the epic LP in question. I won’t hedge any bets here: The Archandroid is surely one of the last frontiers of truly original pop/R&B/rap music. And it is such a delight because of this young woman.

In one person, we have multitudes: the encyclopedic genre gumbo of Beck; the hook and image savvy of Kanye West; the bold studio experimentation and individuality of Outkast; a versatile and inimitable vocal approach like Bjork; occasionally prog-like melodies and structures; and she can tie it all together like Prince with a sense of restless energy countered by tasteful restraint. I like that she’s simultaneously naively brilliant and maturely wise.

Okay, so I’ll be grounded and realistic for a second. This is a futuristic, diverse soul LP like no other. And it isn’t perfect, just outstanding in its context. Even the best records this long run out of distinct ideas at the end & overrepeat, but it’s not a terrible problem in this case. Every song is so inspired and stuffed full of sounds and melodies that it can’t help but please. And while the concept is very odd, it never overrides things & is campy enough to avoid pretension. On the other hand, it’s central enough that it’s not just a gimmick.

The quirkiness of this album is also a sort of double-edged sword: Monae’s approach is so NEW and fresh that any attempt to be influenced by or branch off of it would sound too similar and pointless. It’s sort of a wildly creative, celebratory dead end. It doesn’t matter; in the moment, this is a totally classic recording. After a couple listens, it may begin to seem like a hyperactive, overly academic and incoherent musical exercise. But if that keeps it from being boring, inadequate and unremarkable, I sure don’t mind.

I have a feeling, however, that The Archandroid will hold up over time. It isn’t just that Janellle makes the current solo soul singer-songwriter trend (A.K.A. 4S, I guess) novel & personal. She does it with conviction & ambition. And it’s not just that this is a young musician cleverly journeying through modern music history, it’s that she’s clearly knowledgeable about it and writes simple yet entertaining tunes which fit her aesthetic perfectly.

Either way, this LP is a revolution in and of itself. Like most of the best music of the last 25 years, it’s an example of blending and contrasting the sounds of pop music’s heyday in a flashy, unpredictable, and hopefully idiosyncratic way. This decade, I was starting to run out of hope that there would be any more unique personalities, tasteful talents, intelligent multitaskers, or competent experimentalists on the musical scene as we know it. Modern mainstream music was creatively dying a slow death, but now I have hope. I have an example of what I’m looking for: fearless discovery, a bold aesthetic and a lovely presentation. Maybe, just MAYBE, The Archandroid is finally the future.

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