// Album Recommendation

Janelle Monáe

The Electric Lady

(2013)

"Ooh, you shock it, shake it, baby
Electric lady, you're a star
You got a classic kind of crazy
But you know just who you are."

The Electric Lady Album Cover Janelle Monae

There’s something very refreshing and inspirational about a young artist with a very broad knowledge of old music and music history in general. It’s a testament to the singer’s eclectic taste, creative ambitions and great passion for his or hers chosen profession – a depth and driving force beyond mere chart positions and lucrative commerciality. Maxwell and Alicia Keys belong in this category. And so does Janelle Monáe (as indicated by the gorgeous late ‘70s/early ‘80s retro album cover). In the charming liner notes to the 27-year-old singer’s second album, The Electric Lady, she lists the artists that inspired each track and listening to all these songs, even more influences are revealed by way of various little details and musical ideas. Monáe and her collaborators, producers Sean “Diddy” Combs and Big Boi (of Outkast), create a diverse and mesmerizing sound collage consisting of Funk/Funk-Rock, Soul, R&B, Pop, French House and Easy Listening. As if that wasn’t already an impressive selection of different musical genres, The Electric Lady’s opening track, Suite IV Electric Overture, recalls the cinematic soundscapes of Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western soundtracks, and Suite V Electric Overture channels ‘50s/’60s Exotica maestros Les Baxter and Martin Denny.

Givin Em What They Love - a tough, Prince-inspired track - features the great man himself, displaying his distinct guitar style and sharing vocal duties with Monaé. Even though Prince doesn’t feature on Primetime, the song still brings to mind the iconic Funk legend’s minimalistic arrangements and slick production (think How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore). Q.U.E.E.N., guest-starring Erykah Badu, is reminiscent of ‘90s R&B group En Vogue, albeit with a rap feature, and brass and “Ba-Ba-Ba-Bum”-backing vocals that evoke The TemptationsPapa Was A Rolling Stone. We Were Rock & Roll is an irresistibly catchy Pop song that has “radio hit” written all over it, and Look Into My Eyes is a tribute to the atmospheric Easy Listening ‘60s Pop of Shirley Bassey. If I hadn’t known It’s Code was a Janelle Monáe song, I swear I would’ve thought I was listening to Jackson 5, that’s how much her lead vocal sounds like a very young Michael Jackson. The funky Ghetto Woman emulates the sound of Stevie Wonder’s Fender Rhodes keyboard, and Can’t Live Without Your Love is a heart-warming fusion of ‘70s Soul and late ‘90s R&B. On Sally Ride, a passionate Monáe frequently phrases like Alicia Keys, and the dreamy Dorothy Dandridge Eyes, a slick mid-tempo track, has a little bit of a smooth, jazzy vibe to it. The Electric Lady closes with What An Experience, a ballad based on a programmed Sexual Feeling-inspired rhythm track (this Marvin Gaye song also inspired The CommodoresNight Shift).

Whether Monáe’s album title was inspired by Con Funk Shun’s 1985 R&B hit single Electric Lady is unknown, but it’s interesting that the girl pictured on the vintage funk group’s LP of the same name looks a lot like Monáe does on her own album cover. Regardless of all of Monáe’s many artistic influences, she’s very much a unique, skillful and intelligent artist in her own right, and The Electric Lady is an ambitious, accomplished work of art, the most gratifying R&B-flavored album since Alicia KeysThe Diary Of Alicia Keys.

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