The classification of ‘R&B’ really has been thrown back and forth over the past few years. In the late 90s/early 2000s, a period some regard still as one of the defining and golden ages of the genre, it seemed US urban artists thought hard about their work, and rarely released unpolished material.
Fast-forward over a decade, and it seems R&B artists, nay, even urban artists as a genre classification itself, have effectively ‘sold out’ in many parts, entwining with subgenres of other music classifications, mainly, unfortunately, EDM. If you’ve been reading this site for a while now, you’d probably feel accustomed to the fact we’re not the biggest fans of EDM over here, and it’s seemed to us that since the heightening of the style in recent years, R&B artists have been ‘chasing paper’ and using beats that they know will help appeal to the mass-market, vs actually having any personal integrity.
Probably one of the few artists to break free of that mould recently has been Frank Ocean with the impeccably wonderful Channel Orange (the follow-up to his 2011 breakthrough mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra). Surprisingly, an artist who I would never have put in the ‘impeccably wonderful’ bracket has also returned with a body of work so strong that every listen becomes more and more encapsulating, and thusfar making you hope that ‘real R&B’ is going to soon make a return.
The artist and album in question, if you hadn’t realised from the title, is Janelle Monáe’s new LP The Electric Lady.
The whole body of work oozes class, and Monáe has invented a world harking back, in parts at least, to the funk-filled 1970s, whilst ensuring this is an album for the 21st century. The fact that the Kansas-born singer even uses ‘Overture’ in two of her track titles, helps to shape the idea that this is not a run-of-the-mill R&B record.
The album in its entirety feels completely different to her breakthrough LP The ArchAndroid; a sense of maturity befalls from the word go. Whilst Tightrope may have bought her commercial attention, Monáe has metamorphasised into a sassy and matured artist; she’s clear in her approach, and to put it bluntly, knows just how to make fucking good music!
Following on from the prelude Electric Overture, Monáe’s Prince-esque Givin Em What They Love, sets the tone for the album – lyrically-focused and beat-driven. Moving into the singer’s duet with Erykah Badu, Q.U.E.E.N. is probably the most commercial the album goes, yet this is no bad thing. The track is strong, and was worthy as the first release. Surprisingly, it’s debatable whether Badu was actually needed, such are Monáe’s vocals THAT strong.
The iPod generation will instantly fall in love with title-track Electric Lady, however whilst it’s by no way the strongest track off the LP, it’s far from an album filler. It harks back to simpler times where En Vogue ruled the female R&B airwaves, with a strong climax toward the end.
Primetime, a downbeat duet with crooner Miguel is a beautiful ballad, however does seem slightly out of place in such a funk-filled album.
However, We Were Rock and Roll brings the tempo up a notch again. Regardless of the tempo of the tracks, both this and Primetime do seem very ‘standard’ R&B, which, whilst may be thus strong on other artist inclusions, just seem slightly out of place on such a futuristic album.
Dance Apocalyptic, Monáe’s most recent single, is bang on point, and listening you can hear instant influences from Tightrope as well as, bizarrely, the musical Grease (listen and you’ll see where I’m coming from!)
It’s clear from this album that Monáe doesn’t give a shit about what people are thinking, she’s writing and performing songs from her own perspective, and hey, if you enjoy it, then embrace it.
Look Into My Eyes takes a wonderful 1920’s approach, a feeling akin to Lina’s hidden treasure Playa No Mo.
Ghetto Woman sounds as fucked up and as crazy as Outkast’s Ghetto Muzik; a wonderful slice of strong instrumentals that brings elements of Bowie and Prince together to form something so incredible that it’s a shame it’s been pushed to the back half of the album. It’s safe to say that both Ghetto Woman and Givin Em What They Love are my favourite tracks off this album.
You can’t help but think Monáe knew what she was doing when she decided to close with What An Experience, The Electric Lady has well and truly been a sci-fi-like experience. What she has done with this album is nothing short of intriguing; a futuristic album, fusing together elements of soul, funk, R&B and hip hop that will well and truly stand the test of time.
Electric Lady is set for a 10th September release, and can be purchased by clicking on the iTunes link below. Fans can also get a pre-release listen to the album in its entirety after the jump: