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This sci-fi soul explorer doesn’t do things by halves. Her latest double album forms the fourth and fifth instalments of a seven-part cycle inspired by Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis. You don’t need to know these are the continuing adventures of the messianic android Cindi Mayweather, however, to admire the audacity, heart and exuberant musicality of her vision.
The playbook leaps from 1990s R&B (“Q.U.E.E.N. featuring Erykah Badu”) to Motown-doing-the-charleston (“Dance Apocalyptic”), then from splashy cod-reggae (“Electric Lady featuring Solange”) to a moony Hawaiian would-be Bond theme (“Look into My Eyes”). Proggy guitar breaks are liberally smeared about. The mercurial Monáe’s true identity is “fugitive” [(although a voice in one interlude posits that “robot love is queer”)].
Still, when brands such as Beyoncé and Rihanna dominate the market so monomaniacally, a little mystery feels refreshing. The 27-year-old from Kansas is certainly a more chaste spirit [– the slow jam with Miguel, “Primetime”, more gooey than gratuitous]. That, too, is rather novel. [As is the absence of thuddingly predicable EDM basslines, which might give mainstream radio pause for thought.] Earnest and zany, Monáe is a talent to cherish.
The Electric Lady
(Atlantic/Bad Boy Entertainment)