Reviews

Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer: Album Review

Janelle Monáe arrived with a mission on this album; and the delivery is damn near flawless as she channels Prince with all the attitude and lyrical content of a global megastar on this her third studio album, ‘Dirty Computer’.

This album has been five years in the making since Monáe brought out her dystopian sophomore project ‘The Electric Lady’ in 2013 and it was so intriguing to see the musical avenues she would go down next. This album was the next step and, well, it is absolutely bloody incredible.

The album begins with the title track Dirty Computer, a song about life and how we are all computers who begin and end in the dirt. As well as this it can also look at the idea of sexuality and how it is represented in modern life, particularly with how it is seen as “dirty” or wrong, much like a virus on a computer. These two themes work not only for this song but also remain a constant throughout the album. Not to mention the fact that the opening track has guest harmonies by The Beach Boys’ own Brian Wilson, now that is how you start an album.

Next up is Crazy, Classic Life where we see Monáe at her most confident, embracing herself along with millions of others who just want to be free spirits, away from all the harsh judgments of society in regard to race, sexuality and gender. This has a really empowering feeling surrounding it and makes the song mean so much more than just feeling good about yourself; it becomes a wider issue and shows Janelle Monáe as somewhat of a prophet, using her platform to preach the message for the common people of the world.

Take A Byte is the third song on this and it focuses in on revolutionary groups of women, true trailblazers for feminism and female pride, including the Queen of Sheba and Eve from the Book of Genesis. The play on words brought together by the title looks at Eve biting the forbidden fruit but replacing ‘bite’ with ‘byte’; computer jargon which is a unit of digital information. The modern world comparisons with the earliest times possible on earth is a very clever concept taken from Monáe as she sees just how much, or little, has changed in such an immense amount of time, questioning whether or not more needs to be done.

Jane’s Dream is, much like Stevie’s Dream later on in the album, an instrumental track which helps the album flow seamlessly from song to song. The song title references a character called ‘Jane 57821’, who is an android portrayed by Janelle herself in the accompanying “emotion picture” alongside this album which by the way, is equally as brilliant as the music on the album and made me love this thing even more, appreciating it as a true art form.

Track five is titled Screwed and not only does it feature  Kravitz, the daughter of rock legend Lenny, but it is also the best song on the album. Using the word “Screwed” as a double entendre, Kravitz and Monáe look not only at the sexual innuendo of the term, but also use it to describe the current state of America; sampling Prince along the way. I absolutely love the way this song is brought in as well as the way it flows seamlessly into the next songs, quite frankly this back-and-forth funk anthem is a sure to be classic. Without a doubt my favourite song of the year so far.

Django Jane flows in next, the second single released prior to the release of this album. An all-rapped track full of character and attitude, Monáe showcases the pride she feels as a black woman in America, stating that Django Jane is in fact a spirit within her that will never die. Her flow is ice cold and the whole song fits like a glove in the track listing, particularly when the string section included in the song play the melodies from the previous song; absolutely stunning.

After that incredible rapping display we get PYNK featuring Grimes, forming a powerful duo of two of the most talented females in the music industry today. The song shares certain thematic and structural similarities with Aerosmith’s song “Pink” with Steven Tyler himself gaining a writing credit; with Grimes and Janelle adding their own unique twists onto it, looking at the word pink in terms of it’s connotations, both sexually and socially. Both work wonders on this catchy track and add yet more layers to this thought-provoking album.

The lead single Make Me Feel is fantastic, I don’t really need to say much more but there has been an intriguing discussion to come from it, mainly from its influences. I’ll be blunt, it sounds like the exact sort of thing Prince would have brought out in his prime, it has all the sexy soul and funk necessary to be a Prince hit but his spirit has been channeled by Janelle Monáe here with impeccable delivery. The guitar licks are heavenly and Janelle’s vocals are on point, an ideal and iconic single.

Track nine excited me greatly when I saw the tracklist, predominantly because it featured a certain Pharrell Williams which seemed a perfect fit for an album like this one. Let me tell you this, I Got The Juice is all I wanted and more from these two, both delivering brilliant verses with strong flows and a message of empowerment. This is a very sexually driven song as you could probably have guessed but it comes across in such a strong and powerful way that you can’t help but admire it, particularly in the bridge when Janelle brings us an iconic line: “if you try to grab my pussy cat, this pussy grab you back”; of course a response to the now infamous line Donald Trump said about the same topic.

Much like on Make Me Feel, track 10 (I Like That) is a tale of Janelle’s pride in her appearance and upbringing, despite the constant knockdowns she has received from society. She also addresses her sexuality and all the question marks surrounding it, implying that people should just be left to their own devices and to like what or who they like. It has a beautiful beat style with gorgeous harmonies and Janelle herself dominates vocally, providing one of her strongest performances on the whole album. The rap/singing combination flows with seamless harmony and makes the track feel like a wider experience than if it were just one or the other.

Track 11 is titled Don’t Judge Me as Janelle takes a wider look at her relationship not only with her and her fans, but also throwing the media into that equation. The personal attitude and feelings displayed on this song is a far cry from what we heard before and it is a major factor in a song like this one, where Janelle wants nothing more than to speak her mind on people who both support her and try to drag her down. This new avenue of personal emotions in her music is looked at mainly in this song as a question posed by Janelle to see if her fans or the neutral media will appreciate her for her true self rather than a corporate robot.

The aforementioned Stevie’s Dream is next on the track list and is a spoken word piece by Stevie Wonder, an icon of black culture and one of Janelle Monáe’s idols. It looks at love and the beauty of it, whether that is in a platonic relationship or just the general love of a thing. Stevie mentions God, Allah and Jehovah to embrace all cultures and states that no matter who shows it, love is beautiful for everyone.

So Afraid, the penultimate track on the album, is a very vulnerable cut and poses as one of the most raw songs Janelle Monáe has ever released, discussing anxiety and comparing it to the “bugs” and “viruses” of society; another link to the Dirty Computer album title in which real and virtual life coincide. It is an anthem which will help so many people realise they aren’t alone if they have any vices or hesitations about falling in love, and that negative thinking is just a natural habit of life. The song’s overriding message, in my opinion, is that there is no reason to be ashamed for feeling uncomfortable or anxious and that accepting these emotions happen to everyone.

The album’s final track is an ode to America’s racist habits and traditional values. It is called Americans and is a direct address to anyone who lives their life with these racist ideologies ingrained into their mindset. Janelle does something that is indicative of some of the all time great musicians in this song where she sings about pressing and important issues with negative connotations, but still manages to make an upbeat track with slick production. It is very Bowie, Prince, Marvin Gaye-esque so she is in solid company in that regard and well it is a huge way to end the album.

Summary

I cannot speak highly enough of this album, I could talk forever about the empowering messages and the lyrical content, just like I could about the glitzy production and bopping beats; but I will leave you with this. Janelle Monáe is a maestro the music industry and this album has confirmed that, she has moved ahead of just about all of her contemporaries with a seminal masterpiece of an album. Dirty Computer is a biblical experience and if any album were to possibly beat it to my album of the year list then it would have to be one of the albums of the decade, it is that good.

10

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