Janelle Monáe: The ArchAndroid Review (Four Takes)

It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on The ArchAndroid by Janelle Monae.

Dessa Darling (Doomtree)

Janelle Monae participates in a powerful trend: women making weirdness sexy. Nicki Minaj, Monae, and yes, Lady Gaga—all move their heads like robots, wear [super]weird shit, and generally operate outside the couple of standard deviations we chalk off as ‘normal behavior.’ I like Monae’s aesthetic. Clips of her live performances blow me away. So it was a disappointment that her new disc didn’t move me. The album felt more like an impressive exercise—featuring the range of ways in which she could use her voice, a wide array production styles, and varied sound palates.  I suspect I’m in the minority in this position, and I hope so. I’d like to see Monae become even more successful, even if her latest work didn’t strike a chord with me. As her album garners its first reviews, I’ll be practicing the robot-head-thing in the bathroom mirror, trying to figure out how they do it in the major leagues.

Mayda Miller (Mayda)

Based off of my own identity and experiences, I am most attracted to art that pushes boundaries and/or is at least honest to the creator in the current climate, trend and environment of the world. As I listened to Janelle Monae’s latest album, I felt as though she was narrating scenes based around a Cinderella-like ballroom. Big band sounds with funky, hip hop dance numbers twisted with little psychedelic and symphonic turns weaved gracefully throughout the disc. To put it bluntly, I enjoyed this album. Every song told a story that introduced the next creating a nicely focused piece. Although a bit long, I felt ArchAndroid stayed fresh from track to track mainly due to Monae’s vocal abilities, themes, and instrumental choices.

Kyle Myhre (Guante)

92/100

It may seem counterintuitive, but the catchiest, most engaging pop music is usually the weirdest.  Think of “OK Computer,” “Mama’s Gun” or any of OutKast’s albums; “pop” might not be the first genre label that comes to mind for this music, but it’s hard to deny that these albums succeeded in the mainstream not despite their willingness to color outside the lines, but because of it.  And while it may be high praise, Janelle Monae is an artist in this mold.

The OutKast comparison is particularly apt—not just because Big Boi appears on the album and helped give Monae a foothold in the industry, but because both acts are able to combine an outer-space funk aesthetic, pure technical talent and wild ambition into final products that are undoubtedly impressive, but also approachable, catchy and fun.  “The ArchAndroid” is equal parts Dungeon Family funk, Disney movie soundtrack and… I don’t know… Prince-in-an-opera-about-robots?  It’s a beautiful train-wreck of styles and sounds, and Monae herself comes across not unlike her character in the concept album: engineered to be perfect, but with a fierce rebel streak.

“Tightrope” is easily the strongest single track, but the album as a whole—even the interludes—is breathtaking in both its overall quality and its ambition.  The pop music world has no shortage of good singers, good producers and good songwriters, but ambition and vision are very rare things.  And those qualities make “The ArchAndroid” the first “must-listen” album of the year.

Jon Behm (Reviler)

96/100

In my humble opinion, Janelle Monáe’s The ArchAndroid is without a doubt the most fully realized musical masterpiece that we have seen this year, and possibly even this decade.  I have no reservations when I say that the young artist’s debut full length knocked me off my feet and I have yet to fully regain my balance.   The ArchAndroid isn’t just any old R&B album – it’s a concept project, a science fiction opera that incorporates funk, rap, soul, and psychedelic rock to paint the vivid and frightening world of post-apocalyptic Metropolis.   From the orchestral overture to the noirish styling of record closer “BabopbyeYa,” ArchAndroid delivers a never ending spin of creative flourishes, left hand turns (English folk? Classical music?) as well as a wealth of untamable pop hooks.  While standout tracks “Tightrope” and “Cold War” are (deservedly) being praised as the record’s first singles, I would venture that the bizarre psychedelic R&B of “Mushrooms and Roses” make it the record’s best track.   But really pretty much every song on this album could be a single in one of several different genres, which more than anything is a testament to the fact that this is as close to a perfect pop album that we have seen in a great while.  Our parents’ generation may have had Pet Sounds and What’s Going On, but with a monument like The ArchAndroid to claim as our own, I think that our generation is doing just fine.

      1. Janelle Monae - Cold War

Janelle Monae:          Buy__________Myspace__________Site

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12 Responses

  1. jonbehm says:

    Haha – my favorite quote:”George Clinton has to smoke crack to perform this powerfully” 🙂

  2. solace says:

    great album.

    maybe a few songs too long, but oh well.

    interesting that you love ‘Mushrooms & Roses’ so much Jon. unfortunately for me, while that song is interesting, i can’t get over the underwater/weird vocal effect & production to fully embrace that one.

    ‘Locked Inside’ is my favorite song by far

  3. Guante says:

    Because I wanted to keep it short and I really did love the album, I didn’t mention some of the things I didn’t like. I agree that it might be 2-4 songs too long, and though everything is good, everything might not be absolutely necessary. I love the original plan for 4 EPs (this album is #2 and #3 mashed together); I think that would have worked a little better. Partly because the album IS so good, it can be a little exhausting.

    I also didn’t love all the lyrics– some of them feel like first-drafts, but that’s par for the course for most songwriters these days. But they’re good enough, just not mind-blowing. She also say “schizo” a couple of different times which is just kind of juvenile, I think.

    But VERY high hopes for the final chapter of this quadrilogy.

  4. jonbehm says:

    Really solace? I love Mushrooms and Roses weird vocal effects and that guitar is some pure Jimi Hendrix shit. An the strings too? Love it

  5. solace says:

    different strokes as they say…

    wish i did, but the effects grate on me to the point of almost getting a headache

  6. Wowzer Jon, maybe I need to listen a few more times. First few run throughs, I thought she was aiiight …….

    And I shall listen more, I do love her Andre 3000 imitations.

  7. jonbehm says:

    Haha – well it’s my turn to pull the metacritic card – ArchAndroid is currently tied for the top ranked album of the year over there.

    I realize everyone doesn’t feel the same as I do but for me after only three or four listens I was already pretty sure that this might become one of my all time favorite records. I didn’t even mind the length

  8. solace says:

    as much as i do like the record, it’s just not a style of music that i love unfortunately, therefore i doubt i’ll listen to a ton after this summer really.

    but there’s often cases where i appreciate an album more than I actually outright enjoy it personally, so it’s nothing new.

    i’m not surprised one bit at all the love she’s getting.

  9. critics loved Macy Gray too.

  10. jonbehm says:

    Does this mean that Janelle Monae is going to be in the next Spider Man movie?

  11. Miffed says:

    Dessa’s review was just catty and didn’t give insight to anything other than the fact that she should hang onto her ego.

    “I know where it goes, it goes down.”

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