If you’re anything like me, your first inclination will be to roll your eyes when you hear the gonzo sci-fi narrative that drives “The ArchAndroid,” (out now on Bad Boy/Wondaland) the full-length debut album from one of the most buzzed-about recording artists of the last few years.
The concept is this (as best I can tell from the labyrinthine liner notes): The protagonist is a present-day sanitarium resident who is actually from the year 2719. In the dystopic future, she was kidnapped by the oppressive rulers of Metropolis who stole her DNA to create an artificial being named Cindi Mayweather. She was then forced into a time tunnel and transported here. Back in the future, and unbeknownst to her creators, Mayweather is actually the mythic ArchAndroid destined to free the populace from The Great Divide.
You’re eyes are burning into the ceiling right now aren’t they? Believe me, I get it. The whole project screams pretentious art school/sci-fi geek mess. And at a gargantuan 18 tracks, we’re in epic fail territory because only a truly revelatory talent could pull off a concept album this crazily ambitious.
Well, it is my distinct pleasure to introduce you to 24-year-old visionary Janelle Monae, the truly revelatory talent behind what will certainly be my number one album of 2010 and is quite possibly an all-time classic.
I know that’s big talk, but I honestly haven’t heard anything in years that rivals “The ArchAndroid” in scope and skill. Every time it ends I want to start it again purely because it overflows with songs that demand to be listened to, danced to, loved to and dissected. Whether this is due to or in spite of the over-the-top concept is frankly irrelevant. In the end all you’ll care is that the project comes together like a Swiss clock.
The music is rooted in funk and soul but from there it blossoms in every direction, effortlessly spanning orchestral (“Suite II,” “Suite III”), afro-electro (“Dance Or Die”) “Off The Wall”-era Michael Jackson (“Locked Inside”), Hendrixian psychedelia (“Mushrooms & Roses”), melodic pop (“Oh Maker”), art rock (“Come Alive”) and Shirley Bassey-style movie music (“BabopbyeYa”).
Monae’s outstanding vocals bridge the distances between tracks while her immense talent as both songwriter and melodicist keeps the entire thing from collapsing under its own weight. Who cares if the storyline is a cyberpunk fever dream, the bottom line is that this is popular music creation of the highest order.
Monae has earned every kudo that I guarantee you is coming her way this year. I absolutely cannot recommend “The ArchAndroid” strongly enough.