released May 18th, 2010

from the album - Tightrope

from all music

Growing up, Janelle Monáe (born Janelle Robinson) felt constrained by the limited resources offered to her in her greater Kansas City, KS, home. When she finished high school, she moved to New York to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy with the intention of pursuing musical theater, but in 2004, after performing in a couple of off-Broadway shows and realizing there weren't the roles available to her that she wanted, she moved to Atlanta to try her luck there. She soon joined a band and began touring the local college circuit, where she eventually got in touch with her future partners in Wondaland Arts Society (a collective/label that looked to promote experimental arts) as well as OutKast's Big Boi. The rapper was so impressed by what he heard of her that he put two of her songs on his 2005 compilation, Got Purp?, Vol. 2. Monáe also showed up on OutKast's 2006 soundtrack, Idlewild, even appearing in the video for "Morris Brown," and in August 2007 she released the first of an originally planned four Metropolis installments, or suites, an EP entitled The Chase, a concept piece revolving around a character named Cindi Mayweather and the year 2719. The album — which melded cabaret, hip-hop, rock, and soul — was well received, which helped bring the singer into the radar of Sean "Diddy" Combs. Rumors about a signing were finally confirmed in March 2008, when Diddy officially announced Monáe as the newest member of his Bad Boy roster. Monáe promised that the move was not going to compromise any of her artistic integrity or creativity. A re-release of The Chase, featuring bonus content, appeared in August 2008, while the second and third suites of Metropolis were issued together as components of 2010's The ArchAndroid.

album review

Any misgivings about Janelle Monáe's Bad Boy deal are nullified by the briefest contact with this, an extravagant 70-minute album involving more imagination, conceptual detail, and stylistic turnabouts than most gatefold prog rock epics. Credit Bad Boy's Diddy for allowing Monáe to fully explore the singularity on display through Metropolis, Suite I: The Chase, and work with her Wondaland crew on a bigger budget. The ArchAndroid not only picks up where The Chase let off, but contains both the second and third Metropolis suites in one shot with no discernible “let’s make some hits now” intervention. The packaging alone -- the elaborate crown, the inspiration listed beside each song, etc. -- provides much to process. Liner notes from the vice-chancellor of the arts asylum at the Palace of the Dogs, Monáe’s residence, outline the (possible) situation fleshed out in the songs. In short, Monáe was genoraped in the 28th century, sent back to the 21st century, and had her organic compounds cloned and re-purposed for the existence of ArchAndroid Cindi Mayweather, whose directive is to liberate Metropolis from a secret society of oppressors. Understanding all this stuff enhances the enjoyment of the album, but it is not required. A few tracks merely push the album along, and a gaudy Of Montreal collaboration is disruptive, but there are numerous highlights that are vastly dissimilar from one another. “Tightrope,” the biggest standout, is funky soul, all locomotive percussion and lyrical prancing to match: “I tip on alligators, and little rattlesnakers/But I’m another flavor, something like a Terminator.” Just beneath that is the burbling synth pop of “Wondaland,” as playful and rhythmically juicy as Tom Tom Club (“So inspired, you touch my wires”); the haunted space-folk of “57821” (titled after Monáe’s patient number); and the conjoined “Faster” and “Locked Inside,” packing bristling energy with a new-wave bounce that morphs into a churning type of desperation worthy of Michael Jackson. Monáe might not have much appeal beyond musical theater geeks, sci-fi nerds, and those who like their genres crossed-up, but no one can deny that very few are on her creative level. She can sing, sang, and scream like hell, too.

Track Listing

1 Suite II Overture Irvin, Irvin, Joseph, Robinson 2:31
2 Dance or Die Irvin, Joseph, Robinson ... 3:12
3 Faster Irvin, Joseph, Robinson 3:19
4 Locked Inside Irvin, Robinson 4:16
5 Sir Greendown Irvin, Joseph, Robinson 2:15
6 Cold War Irvin, Joseph, Robinson 3:23
7 Tightrope Irvin, Joseph, Patton ... 4:22
8 Neon Gumbo Ellenaj, Etan, Kcuc 1:37
9 Oh, Maker Irvin, Joseph, Robinson 3:47
10 Come Alive (The War of the Roses) Irvin, Joseph, Parker ... 3:22
11 Mushrooms & Roses Irvin, Joseph, Robinson 5:42
12 Suite III Overture Irvin, Irvin, Joseph, Robinson 1:41
13 Neon Valley Street Hart, Irvin, Joseph, Robinson ... 4:11
14 Make the Bus Barnes 3:19
15 Wondaland Irvin, Joseph, Robinson 3:36
16 57821 Irvin, Joseph, Robinson 3:16
17 Say You'll Go Irvin, Joseph, Robinson 6:00
18 BabopbyeYa Irvin, Irvin, Joseph, Robinson 8:47