Album review: Janelle Monáe - The ArchAndroid: Suites II & III

Album review: Janelle Monee - The ArchAndroid | Random J Pop
After hearing Janelle Monáe had signed a distribution deal with P. Diddy I confined Janelle's chances of releasing a full length into oblivion. Because we know how P. Diddy rolls: shit don't roll unless he's on the wagon. But thankfully Janelle's first full length album (a combination of 2 suites which were originally intended to be released separately) is here.

The ArchAndroid gives you a strange conflict of thoughts on an initial listen. You feel the album is not being what you were expecting it to be, but a likewise realization that this album is exactly what it should be, and that Janelle was never going to do anything else.

The ArchAndroid pretty much takes off where Metropolis left off: giving us tales of life, loss and belonging over a backdrop of 60's stamped funked and soul. With a full length album to mess around with, Janelle is able to go deeper with her sound and variate it across more tracks. The 60's throwback sound has been done many times in recent years. Amy Winehouse's Back to black album brought the big 60's sound back spectacularly, showing it could indeed capture new audiences, whilst resonating with older ones. As with Winehouse, Janelle gives her songs a real sense of genuineness. The songs do not sound like an artist trying to do 60's soul and funk, they are songs of an artist doing it. I wasn't expecting the album to be so 60's focused from start to finish, but I love how Janelle ran with the idea. The 60's lends itself well to drama and storytelling; being so vocally driven and with a focus on live instrumentations giving the songs a real sense of feeling and vulnerability which can easily get lost on more electronic steered songs. Janelle was clearly up on things. And the cohesiveness of The ArchAndroid signals that Janelle had this all mapped out from the start.

The ArchAndroid throws you right into the funk, but not before a grand sounding overture - the exact same one we heard in the teaser trailer for the album. It's a lovely sounding piece, which incorporates melodies from a couple of Suite II's songs. Something you obviously don't realize until you hear the melodies within the songs for themselves.

"Dance or die" is pretty much the recited section from The Metropolis suites' "Many moons"; blown up, magnified and turned into a full song, which segues straight into "Faster": one of the killers on the album hands down! It's funky, it's fly, it's the absolute shit. If you do not fall for this song, then there is something seriously wrong with you. Every time I hear it, I just want to grab a tambourine and dance in a way which one could only describe as having wild convulsions. "Faster" is 3 minutes and 19 seconds of brilliance, made even better than it's shoehorned onto the "Locked inside". A song which I can only describe as Michael Jackson meets Stevie Wonder. When the snare rolls came in at the start you're half expecting "Rock with you" to kick in! "Locked inside" makes me want to put on some shades, throw on a plaited wig with some beads and just moonwalk. It goes without saying that if you like some MJ and Stevie, you will dig this song completely. The amount of soul and throwback in this song is bananas. Once the guitars start, you know it's going down. The vibe continues with "Oh Maker" which channels Stevie Wonder through and through. This marks the first song in the album where Janelle really does take it there with the vocals. It's a shame you're made to wait 9 tracks into the album to hear Janelle sang, but it's better late than never.

Things slow right down for the first time on "Sir Greendown". Short, but oh so sweet. If you liked Janelle's stunning rendition of "Smile" on her Metropolis album, you'll love this. Janelle's vocals are perfection and the song is beautifully haunting. I'd throw a bitch some Grammy's for this song. Seriously. It's absolutely stunning!

Mid way through the album things get funky again for "Cold war" and "Tightrope". The first song which came to mind when I first heard "Cold war" was Gnarls Barkley's "Going on". Both songs share that fast, dark, soulful urgency; with a backdrop that makes the artists sound as though they're being chased by the music. It's a shame Janelle didn't shoot a video for this song. I always preferred it to "Tightrope", which is one of the songs on the album I play the least.

The later half of the album which marks Suite III still contains the strong 60's vibe, but is much more trippy. Weed heads looking for a soundtrack to burn to should look to this section of the album. The trip hits you smack between the eyes with the Janelle and Of Montreal collabo "Make the bus". Of Montreal completely take over the song to the point I thought I was listening to a bonus track from their Skeletal lamping album. The song is cool, but it sounds a bit out of place on the album. The distinct lack of the lady herself really does make you feel like an Of Montreal song was snuck into The ArchAndroid's tracklist for no reason. Janelle goes acid trippy on her lonesome for "Wondaland". A song which makes me think of Teletubbies, Powerpuff girls, Unicorns, candy rain, Godzilla shooting rainbows out of his eyes and yellow brick roads. Listen to he song and tell me you don't see what I see. I dare you! Trippy as f**k, but a great song because of it.

Janelle slows things right down for "57821" (which Metropolis fans should recall is the number for Cindi Mayweather) which sounds like a John Lennon composition with hints of The Stranglers. The song acts as Suite III's equivalent to Suite II's "Sir Greendown" (who is also sung of in "57821"). It's wonderfully ethereal. Both beautifully enlightening and melancholic all at the same time. An absolute beauty of a song. "BaBopByeYa", which sounds like a 007 film theme. MGM could even get away with calling the film BaBopByeYa too. Why not? They called a film Octopussy.

For all the good songs and highlights, The ArchAndroid does fall off on a couple of occasions. "Come alive (The war of the roses)" is garbage. Janelle screams over a tirade of electric guitars and fast percussive drums, and at no point does any of it work. The whole thing is a noisy mess. "Mushrooms & roses" is equally bad. It is just a difficult song to connect with because it feels so all over the place, and Janelle's vocals are so overly affected. The irony of the albums' two weaker tracks having roses in their titles, but smelling more like shit. The ArchAndroid could have done without both songs and been better for it.

Vocally Janelle sounds seasoned and completely comfortable within the songs. She sings like she's been singing for a period of years which span twice her own age! And it's great to have a new chick in the game whose voice is so captivating and holds songs together. But Janelle doesn't really sing as much as you want her to. Chances are if she did, we'd moan that she tried too hard. I personally felt like I could have done with just a couple more songs where Janelle is really pushing her vocals more. But what she does with her voice on this album is formidable. She turns every vocal take into a performance, almost like a voice actor: a willingness to bend and morph her voice to capture a moment within a song so that you feel as though you're never listening to the same voice twice.

The ArchAndroid was a weird album for me to take at first, because I didn't feel like I was able to connect with it as much as I did The Metropolis suite - despite The ArchAndroid being a full length offering with more for me to sink my teeth into. But after a couple of listens, the magic of the album began to come through and I finally got it. The ArchAndroid may not click with you instantly, and you'll probably listen to it once and think Hmmmm But the strength of Janelle's creativity and her vocal performances is what will make you stick with this album until it does click. And once it does, you realize just how good the The ArchAndroid is. A great album full of creativity and heart - two things which many albums tend to lack these days.

Album highlights:
■ Dance or die
■ Faster ★ J's fave
■ Locked inside
■ Sir Greendown
■ Cold war
■ Tightrope
■ Oh, Maker
■ Wondaland
■ 57821
■ BaBopByeYa


  1. really well written review...kudos to the writer to recognize the magic of Wondaland and Monae's formidable talents! You are right: it's they album that get's you.

  2. Kudos for getting a review out so soon! :D I was really looking forward to hearing what you thought of it, since I know you were really looking forward to it. Did it meet your expectations? I remember you having hiiiiiigh expectations.

    It sounds like a must buy for me, and I can't wait!

  3. Just listened to a few of the tracks. OMG @ "Locked Inside"! This girl is bringing back memories of Off The Wall. Bliss!

    I'll give it a full listen on the 18th! :)

  4. lol It usually takes you years or months to do reviews! This one, before the album was legitimately released! You really like this chick.

    And, so do I. I remember hearing songs from Metropolis on my iPod shuffle during a road trip in 2008. I was mesmerized. I'm going to scope this little gem out soon.


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