This album was a long time coming, much longer than the three years since the super R&B freak Janelle Monáe released The ArchAndroid in 2010. No, this was forecast in 1968, when Jimi Hendrix had a supernatural vision about the different emotions, sounds and motions of an “electric woman” who waits for you and me.
Jump now to 2013. “You’ve got that special kind of crazy, but you know who just who you are,” sings the high-haired heroine on the title track to the wondrous The Electric Lady, a 19-track conceptual LP made of its time, way behind it and ahead of it, too. “You’ve got the look the gods agree they want to see.”
The Electric Lady, set to take off on Sept. 10, but streaming online currently, is sci-fi, fun, feminist and funky. If the gods agree upon Monáe, so too do the special mortals Prince (on the strutty rocker Givin’ Em What They Love), Miguel (on the silk-sheet sway of Primetime), Erykah Badu (on the female empowering Le Freak-y workout Q.U.E.E.N.) and Solange (on the cowbell-tinkling party-starter of Electric Lady).
Monáe riffs on the controversial cover of Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, which, against the guitarist’s wishes, featured a bevy of nude women in various reclining poses. The Electric Lady, in purposeful contrast, sports a collage of fully-clothed clones of Monáe.
The album begins in action-adventure style, with Suite IV: Electric Overture, a grand soundtrack-styled orchestration straight out of Ian Fleming’s (post-feminist) world. As in “Bond, Jane Bond.” The intro track slides into Givin’ Em What They Love, where a tuxedoed Monáe is sharper than a razor and not afraid to die, just like “the man in the eye.”
Highly smart radio-spot interludes continue the science-fiction fascination of Monáe and her futuristic fugitive personas of ArchAndroid and 2007’s extended play Metropolis: Suite 1 (The Chase). Indeed, this album offers new chapters, with the android super-heroine Cindi Mayweather not only recognizing her excellent powers, but owning them.
It’s not all far-out stuff though. Monáe suspects like Daft Punk figures, that robots and everyone else wish to lose themselves to dance.
As for time travel, we hear sizzling Eddie Hazel guitar-fashioned weaponry more than once. Ghetto Woman recalls seventies-era Stevie Wonder, except that where his Village Ghetto Land is all dead ends, Monáe preaches hope and empathy.
It’s Code recalls the littlest Michael Jackson, who never could say goodbye.
Unfortunately, Monáe also has trouble leaving. The album fairly limps to the finish with sappy sentiments and mediocre half-jazzy R&B. But the last track is What an Experience, and that should sum up the thoughts of many listeners. Hendrix sang of a magic-carpet ride awaiting in 1969, and cautioned us not to be late. And Monáe, this young, gifted creature, is right on time.