Janelle Monae - The Archandroid (Suites II and III)

Antonio Rowe 30/10/2010

Rating: 5/5

Concept albums that are incredibly ambitious but ultimately tailored to make a connection with the mainstream masses are often thought as a nostalgic ruin of the 'more exciting times of music' (60's/70's/80's). Where the creative minds of David Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Kinks and The Who etc. were allowed to roam free without any of the constraints of label big-wig, the fruits of these labours often being met with critical praise and successful record sales. However in more recent years, albums that are unified by a theme or narrative have begun to make a slow-burning comeback, with both Green Day and Arcade Fire releasing LP's that had bold reoccurring ideas but still managed to strike a flame with the music-buying public. Janelle Monae's The Archandroid (Suites II and III) carries on breathing a much needed gust of fresh air into what is widely perceived as a work of the past.

This 18 track LP carries on with the narrative/concept that was established earlier on in Monae's debut EP Metropolis (Suite I: The Chase) where listeners were introduced to the futuristic time setting of 2719, and the tale of a mass-produced android called Cindi Mayweather who becomes an fugitive, once threatened with 'death' by the powers that be as a result of falling in love with a human named Anthony. The Archandroid continues in following the plight of Cindi whose now become a messianic android trying to free a race of fellow cyborgs who are being oppressed by a secret society where freedom and love are banned within the android community.

Now if that isn't ambitious I honestly don't know what is, but the truly great thing about this LP is the manner in which Monae manages to communicate these outlandish ideas in a way that is both experimental and accessible, with her sonic being an eclectic mix of the true greats - the aforementioned David Bowie, Prince, James Brown and Michael Jackson etc. For every orchestrated cinematic score like the strikingly beautiful duo 'Neon Gumbo' and 'Sir Greendown' there's a straight-laced melodic futuristic r'n'b/pop/funk stomper like 'Cold War', and it's this balanced tipping of the scales, so the speak, that stops the listener feeling like they're listening to an album that's straying into territories that are either too watered down or 'out there', thus widening the album's demographic.

Whilst this album as a whole is daring and inventive there is a clear distinction between the two suites, with Suite II being the section where the more instant and tuneful songs are held like recent single 'Tightrope', and Suite III being the place where Janelle's creativity is allowed to flourish like the 8 minute plus epic 'BaBopBye Ya'. And even when Janelle stretches too far, which she does (see Of Montreal collaboration 'Make The Bus'), all is forgiven mainly down to the fact that she's one of few who possess the guts to go there. But why wouldn't she? She has a extremely empowering relationship with hip-hop mogul Sean Combs, where she maintains 100% control over her artistic works with Mr Diddy's only beneficial factors being the knowledge that he'll be the one noted in history to give Monae's star a financial boost and an assumed slice of profits.

The Archandroid is an album where futuristic eclectic tracks flow seamlessly into one and another, creating an 4th dimensional realm where Monae's elaborate and astonishing ideas are given room to breathe and grow these still be revealed to the listener after countless listens. It's a debut that goes against the grain and is all the better for it.