Top positive review
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4½ stars - An innovative, invigorating, and entertaining debut.
on August 12, 2008
Flash back to the summer of 2006. I'm lazily sitting on my couch watching music videos as the day passes me by. All of a sudden, the new video for Outkast's "Morris Brown" came on. There were talking walls, moving pictures in frames, walking television sets, ferris wheels, flowers and a sun with real faces, a marching band popping out of the hood of a car, and a bright pink bulldog... yet, for some reason, I simply could not seem to take my eyes off this one woman. Even before I found out anything about her, I was captivated with her exotic look, her charisma, pure star power, and energy. I thought to myself, 'this woman is just too spirited to be one of those average video girls.' A year or so later, I found out about Janelle Monae and realized that she was the woman. Instantly, I knew I had to buy this album.
Janelle Monae is unlike anybody else in the business. (Diddy was smart to sign her to Bad Boy. Let's just hope he handles her correctly). Her background in performing arts is clear and she never fails to entertain; even her thank you's gave me a few chuckles. Her voice is unbelievably strong; she could be an opera singer or on Broadway if she wanted to. Her style is fresh and unique. Picture Prince, Outkast, and Gnarls Barkley having a jam session on planet Mars. She uses a live band, which gives her material that much more energy. Her songwriting is out of this world. Literally. She is one of the absolute most exciting new artists I have seen in a long time and she has a promising future ahead of her. This debut EP is a great way to start a career.
Since we are, sadly, in a society where many people simply download a few songs off of each album, Monae has decided to break barriers and release her material in suites: a group of about five-to-seven songs that come out every four months or so. This is the first of four suites in the Metropolis series. But what fun is an album without a concept? In 2719, a city called Metropolis exists. It was once a euphoria, but soon, it was taken over by Wolfmasters and the city became corrupt with conflict and social problems. Android No. 57821, also known as Cindi Mayweather, has fallen in love with (gasp) a human named Anthony Greendown. Isn't that sweet? No! It's against the rules of her society and once the Star Commission catches wind of her little crush, they come searching for her with intentions to kill, hence the subtitle, The Chase.
"March of the Wolfmasters" is a short, spacy and theatrical introduction to the story. Janelle gives a speech as a member of the Star Commission, asking for help from other androids to have Cindi caught, disassembled, and recycled immediately. Up next is the first single, "Violet Stars Happy Hunting!," told through through 57821's point of view. She is running and running up Neon Valley Street, trying to not get caught. She also introduces herself; "I'm an alien from outerspace/ I'm a cybergirl without a face/ a heart/ or a mind." Her vocals flare, and the production is simply perfection. There is a kicking drumbeat that'll most certainly make you dance. The end of the song blends seamlessly into the next track, "Many Moons," making it almost seems like the second movement of one single piece. With a staggering, rhythmic organ riff and an undeniably catchy call-and-respond hook, the track is packed with creative energy. She takes a break to list the problems with the society she lives in and then a lullaby-like chant brings an end to the episode. "Cybertonic Purgatory" is a quick little interlude, but it is just as good as any other track. It seems to me that at this point she has been caught and is trapped in a lonely, echoing cell. In an operatic tone, she sings to her lover, saying they will see each other soon. A vocoder is used to add to the futuristic effect. As much as I love all the songs included on this set, my undisputed favorite is the closing track, "Sincerely Jane," which is an all-too-true social commentary. Backed by an orchestra, pulsating brass, and the occasional clapbeat, Monae lays all her emotions on the line. One line says, "I see them spending money on spinners/ but won't pay college loans." (Something is telling me that Metroplois might be and extended metaphor for America. Hmmm). Two tracks have been added to the end of this special edition: "Smile" and "Mr. President." They are both great tracks, but the only problem is that they don't really fit in with the rest of the album and its theme. In these last two tracks, she jumps out of the character of Cindi and is just Janelle. It shows her versatility, which is excellent, but it ruins the atmosphere and concept a bit. It's not that big a deal, though. "Smile" is a sparse ballad with excellent emotional and vocal delivery by Ms. Monae. "Mr. President" is a simplistic, funky groove begging for social change and progess. The lyrics are very well-written, no clichés here, luckily.
The bottom line: I cannot explain how glad I am that I found out about Janelle Monae, and you will be, too; she is a truly creative artist on the rise and she could change the industry. While this EP is brief, it is one hundred percent quality and has provided me with more inspiration, entertainment, and musical enjoyment than almost any other artist in the industry has given me these days.