Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

9 May

Dirty Computer is quite a shift to the left from an already innovative artist. It takes Janelle Monáe out of her comfort zone as the Archandroid Cindi Mayweather and back into her own skin. Electric Lady already set something of the direction of this album, but committing to it fully was a brave move for Janelle Monáe and one that has worked extremely well.

It’s a perennial shame that Janelle Monáe’s music doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Her genre-bending sound is unquestionably unique, but despite “Yoga” briefly flirting with crossover appeal before Jidenna truly broke out for himself with “Classic Man” and a quick cameo on the summer hit “We Are Young” with fun. she has yet to find an audience of the size that her music deserves. Now however, after a successful sojourn in acting and possibly the friendliest of her albums, she seems poised to correct that circumstance.

This may be a little more approachable than her Cindi Mayweather trilogy, but the musical ability is still undeniable. Her range of talent is still shocking four albums into her career. The ability to switch from full-bodied pop to a light rap and back adds a delicious variety to the sound. Her switch over the bass is the best part of the already great “Crazy, Classic, Life.”

Additionally, she’s delved deeper into the funk of Prince, who sadly died while mentoring this exact album and the dirtiness and sexiness that results is absolutely excellent. “Make Me Feel” is exactly the kind of music that Prince would have made were he still alive and the up-beat pop of “Screwed” is much better for the funk running through it.

In fact, there is very little in the form of exceptions to the high standard of music here. The singles in particular are all fantastic. “Pynk” is very clever pop that takes the completely unexpected and makes it feel natural and similarly the sheer musical scope of “Django Jane” is impressive. I simply love the storytelling of “I Like That” and its beautiful chorus.

Her soft politics are a welcome addition to the album. The messages of inclusivity gain a lot of weight due to Janelle Monáe herself and the stakes she brings to the table. Lines like “I am not America’s nightmare, I am the American dream” are all the right kinds of assertive. While there is nothing particularly groundbreaking in what she has to say, given the rest of politics and music right now, I’m not going to complain.

The one complaint that I do have about this album though is just in the lack of an absolute stand-out song like “Many Moons” or “Dance or Die.” Her voice is a little more restrained than in her early albums and I also miss the big brass of before. However, were it not for the strength of her previous albums, this would be a deeply unfair criticism.

This is an excellent album and well worth your time. Seeing Janelle Monáe quite so confident is inspiring and I’m really excited to see what comes next in this new phase of her career.

@murthynikhil

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