Upon hearing the first single from Janelle Monáe’s latest album, “Make Me Feel”, my first reaction was, “wow, that sounds a lot like Prince”. Which shouldn’t be surprising, considering Prince came up the last time I reviewed a Janelle Monáe album, which Prince actually appeared on. So it’s not a stretch to assume that since The Purple One’s passing, he’s been on the minds of a lot of R&B/pop artists of Monáe’s sensibilities, which kind of brings up an interesting idea.
Which is… are there some artists that are so influential that even their deaths have the power to shape the current musical landscape? Considering the way David Bowie’s death seemed to have a pretty huge impact on the rock community – and in turn the way a lot of bands have sounded or approached eclecticism in the two years since his death – I’d say yes. Because as I mentioned, that seems to be happening with a lot of R&B artists with Prince as well. Not that he hadn’t already had a huge impact when he was alive. But death seems to have the power to push that kind of resurgence. I mean, this is a little morbid, but would we even have gotten Bruno Mars if he hadn’t latched on to the sounds that Michael Jackson made famous around the time he died?
That said, Dirty Computer isn’t arguably Janelle Monáe’s best album merely because it’s a giant Prince sound-alike. But I think it’s great because it embraces one of Prince’s hallmark ideas – that you should feel free to let loose and be your innermost self on record, no matter how freaky that innermost self might be. I don’t like to pry too much into artists’ personal lives when reviewing a record, but Monae recently defining herself as bi/pansexual. Which is something you probably could’ve gleaned just from listening to this record.
She seems completely liberated in a way that she never quite sounded on her earlier releases, and Dirty Computer is all the better for it. “Crazy, Classic, Life” is a pretty direct rallying cry for the album’s “anything goes” ethos, while the album musically is similarly a grab bag of all sorts of styles and genres. Then there’s the world-weary hedonism, which is exhibited in a song like “Screwed”, with its refrain of “you fucked the world up now. / We’ll fuck it all back down.” Admittedly, none of this is stuff that wasn’t already there bubbling underneath Monáe’s music during the Obama years, it’s just been forced to come out in a way that’s more immediate and more thrilling than ever.
Favorite Tracks: “Screwed”, “Make Me Feel”, “Americans”