Although “The Archandroid” is Janelle Monae’s first full-length album, its majestic scope feels like it sprung from someone who’s lived nine lives. And the concept nature of the record — inspired by Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” — flies in the face of an industry more resigned to pushing singles downloads than supporting album-oriented artistry.
Monae’s hyperactive imagination and her ability to channel formative schools of pop into her own epic vision have made “The Archandroid” the best reviewed contemporary release of the year, according to Metacritic.com. “To say it’s ambitious feels like damning with faint praise,” wrote the Guardian’s Michael Cragg, “its sheer musical scope — from the James Brown funk of ‘Tightrope’ to the English pastoral folk of ‘Oh, Maker’ — is spellbinding.”
According to Spin, Monae is “clearing a new path for black female entertainers.”
Monae speaks of her creations as “emotion pictures,” and cites Stevie Wonder as a model. “He’s the only artist that I’ve ever cried to the majority of his songs,” she says. “That shows that music has the power to touch a very vulnerable place, and reminds us to create music that brings us all together, and lets us know that we’re all human.”
But the benefits of “The Archandroid” as a whole are too exhilarating to avoid, with stylistic influences ranging from R&B, funk and hip-hop to glam, rockabilly and even classic MGM musicals.
“There’s lots of new ideas that I’m excited about capturing,” says the 25-year-old shape-shifting dynamo known for her androgynous dress and sky-scraping pompadour. “But I still feel like I have to help preserve some of the many things that have helped music become a medicine and an inspiration for others.”
An outsized talent in a diminutive 5-foot frame, Monae is self-aware enough to speak of her own “superpowers” and those of the Wondaland Arts Society, an Atlanta-based collective whose “Imagination Inspires Nations” campaign was fueled by the positivity of then-candidate Barack Obama’s “yes we can” presidential run. (Wondaland also posits such whacky notions as “we believe women are much smarter than men and strive to act accordingly.” Okay, maybe not so whacky.)