Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer

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Posted May 16, 2018 by in r&b
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Rating

Overall
 
 
 
 
 

3.5/ 5

Details

Genre: ,
 
 
Label: , ,
 
 
 
 
Genre: Pop, funk, R&B, soul
 
Producer: Janelle Monae, Nate Wonder, Chuck Lightning, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Nana Kwabena, Roman GianArthur, Jon Jon Traxx, Wynne Bennett, Jon Brion, Mattman & Robin, Organized Noize
 
Label: Wondaland Arts Society, Atlantic, Bad Boy
 
Format: Digital download, compact disc
 
Time: 48:42
 
Release Date: 27 April 2018
 
Spin This: "Screwed," "Make Me Feel," "Take a Byte"
 

Pros:

Naughty sex explored, more personality and decent tracks for the most part from beginning to end
 

Cons:

Not as gargantuan in sound and style as The Lady Killer and The ArchAndroid; sounds like funky breezy pop is the stronger focus here
 

Sexy, informative expedition is a good trip for Monae, even if it loses some of her edge

by J Matthew Cobb
Full Article

Sexy, informative expedition is a good trip for Monae, even if it loses some of her edge

janellemonae-album03Like Janelle Monáe’s previous saga suite (Metropolis, The ArchAndroid, The Electric Lady), the album’s arc of Dirty Computer, her third solo album, falls in line with a concept album narrative. This time, her focus is on a character trapped in a naughty computer, splurging in a world of deviant exhibition, no-borders sex and risky behavior. There’s some detours into hardcore retrospectives about our gloomy world — like the declarative “Crazy, Classic, Life,” where Monáe proclaims her human value in the face of haters across a palette of appealing ’80’s pop (“I am not America’s nightmare/I am the American dream, just let me live my life”). She also plays up the flirty computer imagery, with “Take a Byte” being the greatest of the manifestations. “My random access memory wants you to come again,” she echoes with her come-hither sway. This brilliance of education while using the terminology of modern tech is a vital part of her body of work. But inside the concept album medium this time around, Monáe focuses even more on her queerness and sexuality, without fear of retribution, while echoing woke commentary. She comes alive sexually, going where “Q.U.E.E.N.” left off. And she gets down and naughty, slinging her vagina with the cockiness of her wilder R&B male counterparts.

“Screwed” is where the album hits its sexual climax. With Zoë Kravitz aboard, she paints a picture of exotic hedonism (“wanna get screwed on a holiday…in a matinee…at a festival…like an animal”).  It sounds like Carly Rae Jepsen trapped in an Apollonia 6 bedroom. She also draws up a strange parallel of the current state of America, but the pileup of sex overshadows most of that. And it bleeds right into “Django Jane,” a track that feels like a summoned reprise, beats and all. Here Monáe suits up as the sassy militant #blackgirlmagic rapper while forcing the vagina power narrative even further: “We gon’ start a motherfuckin’ pussy riot/Or we gon’ have to put ’em on a pussy diet.” She mentions the ArchAndroid saga, after letting her ego dream up mountaintop accolades (“Already got a Oscar for the casa/Running’ down Grammys with the family/Prolly give a Tony to the homies”).

Let’s set the record straight. Prince is indeed a musical inspiration of Janelle Monáe. You can feel it here. The late legend even appeared on her last album, the overlooked The Electric Lady, but don’t believe all the hype that’s being purported by pop-up critics. This is not a Purple Rain, as one writer so painfully tried to proclaim. While the scope of Dirty Computer feels frisky and churns like a girl’s take on “Darling Nikki” inside a “Computer Blue” world, it misses the mark of being a colossal crossover event. It barely gets funky and fails to conjure the explorations of rock and everything else that so majestically defined the ArchAndroid trilogy. It’s not all that imaginative either. What it manages to achieve is the swell of kink that Prince exhibited, but that’s about it. While Prince screamed, belted and exercised almost every component of musicianship, Monae’s voice remains ladylike on this round, only getting thick and tough when it’s time to rap. Sure she’s singing some very ambitious stuff this time around, but it’s not quite the otherworldly type that documented her precious works. Instead, it sounds way too familiar and even pedestrian, something we’re not quite expecting from her.

Let’s also point out that Dirty Computer does do what the Purple One did in his early stages: exploring the depths of sex (see Dirty Mind). But her grasp for genre play seems to be a little less focused. It’s playful funk and pop, but the blurring of genres — something Prince did perfectly and what Monáe did so well with the ArchAndroid saga — is lost this time. “Pynk” is a cute earworm, but doesn’t ring with rapturous glory. “Make Me Feel” is Prince-lite, using throwback synths, the minimalist instrumentation on the verses like “Kiss” and a highly-repetitive chorus that seems like a cheat move. “Don’t Judge Me” is a neat neo-soul journey escape, but comes off like a Quiet Storm B-side. “Americans” may be her greatest ascension to Prince on this disc. It sounds like Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” stuffed into “Let’s Go Crazy.” The messaging is also transcendent for today’s world, touching on some earthy Strange Fruit-like poetry (“Uncle Sam kissed a man/Jim Crow Jesus rose again”). But the funky beats and the lack of hard instrumentation gives off a queasy cheapened R&B feel. It’s probably the loudest complaint of the whole album. It’s as if Monáe is reaching for the ear of pop radio while sacrificing some of her grit. Certainly, there’s a good dose of lyrical bang and attitude, but the power of the music seems lacking.

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About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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