Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer
Janelle Monáe is an interesting figure. She do damn near anything: rap, sing, produce she is one of those across the board performers who give you just enough to keep you intereested. The influence Prince played in her last album, Electric Lady, gave her immense street cred but with all those things going for her Monáe still has never had an all out hit. This album reaches more towards the middle while still maintaining her artistic style. "Screwed" featuring Zoe Kravitz is the most clear Prince-wannabe on the record: highly sexual but with an undeniable pop bend. The only problem is Monáe's sweet voice makes the whole thing seem a bit false. The idea that "everything is sex and sex is power" seems like it should be right, but the delivery feels like two people playing a game at being sexual rather than fully embracing the reality of it. You also expect something more from the production with heavy hitters like Grimes and Pharell involved and those moments do come through, but it isn't consistent. On "Django Jane" she says "que the violins and violas" and the track shifts into this really vivid and beautiful flowing track with trap drums holding everything up. This moment comes too late though, by the time something incredible happens you are damn near through the track. It really is the track with Grimes "Pynk" that really sets things off on this album. It is slow burn pop masterpiece worming it's way into your ears in this really fantastic way and conveying a message that is more than just right on the surface. In a Rolling Stone interview Monáe described herself as pansexual a line that has gotten her a great deal of media coverage, but that narrative is not something she pushes on the album. The fluidity of her sexuality is imbued in the music, not something she needs to continue to beat us over the head with.
"Make Me Feel" is another Prince inspired romp, but this time it feels like it engages in something more Monáe, bigger and bolder sounds than the first part of the record has. The second half of the record feels far more diverse and complex than the first, like the early tracks were made to please some general public who were never going to get it anyway. The second half has this freedom that the first just doesn't. There is a lightness and effervescent feel to tracks like "I Like That" that is simply undeniable. She still seems to be missing that all out banger hit even with all the art and beauty surrounding this record. It doesn't have that same "holy shit" moment like Frank Ocean's Blond did, and it really needs it. The music is very pretty but it doesn't blow your mind, as much as she likes to talk about it. Still Dirty Computer is likely Monáe's best work to date and has her finally hitting somewhere close to the potential that her voice holds. She might not be reaching the levels that Prince has set, but she's getting there and she is getting ever closer to a place where her true greatness resides. Dirty Computer is not a last step, but a first step on a really interesting journey. Only time will tell where that journey takes Monáe, but it's likely the Purple One will still be looming large.
8.0 out of 10