April 27, 2018 Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer (Album Review)
Considered one of the most highly anticipated new releases of 2018, Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer finally arrives on Friday, April 27, 2018 through Bad Boy Records. Her third overall studio album, Monáe’s latest effort comes five long years after her chart topping The Electric Lady, leaving the average fan to wonder, why the long gap in between LPs? Well, if anyone has been paying attention, they would understand she is not your average performer, and because she is so diverse, Monáe is always looking to broaden her horizons.
Nominated for Grammys in 2009, 2011, and again, in 2013, Monáe is a singer, songwriter, producer, actress, model, but perhaps her strongest attribute, is being a free thinker. Uniquely her own, through her music, Monáe not only moves bodies physically, but also engages the mind emotionally. Unafraid to tap into societal issues, she openingly and honestly talks about race and sexuality, among other hot topics. Not merely doing so for the sake of shock value, Monáe sincerely wants to help make a difference and Dirty Computer certainly makes a statement.
A 45 minute plus musical oasis, the work behind Dirty Computer has been ongoing for some time, and at one point before his tragic passing in 2016, Prince was actually working with Monáe on the sound of the record. Taking that into account when listening to the album, the process developed from there, while Monáe, among a list of talented producers, honed and shaped the distinct textures of the record.
Also to include a theatrical screening of a emotional picture, the work behind Dirty Computer really has been in motion for 3 years. In between it all, Monáe’s roles in films such as 2016’s Moonlight and Hidden Figures shined brightly, perhaps adding even more excitement to the release of her new full-length album because of the much deserved extra attention from outsiders. That in mind, Dirty Computer is truly a conceptational idea which is a metaphor for those who are on the outside of what is considered ‘normal.’ A relative term, Monáe conveys a message of pride for those who feel they are alien to what society tells them they should be. Sometimes misconscuided as ‘dangerous’ by the mainstream, does her message fly high or get lost in translation?
Well, if you enter with a clear mind, ears and heart open, you will see and hear Monáe’s vision clearly. Fourteen tracks in total, with carefully placed interludes, it opens magically with the title-track that lays the groundwork for what is to come. While less than 2 minutes in-length, “Dirty Computer” is lush with vocal harmony, and why not, after all it does feature The Beach Boys’ Mr. Brian Wilson. Trippy and capturing, it invites you to dive into Monáe’s cyberspace carefree.
From here, songs such as “Crazy, Classic, Life” has a fitting theme that looks to squash any stereotypes while conveying the idea of personal freedom. This is while “Take A Byte,” in a seductive matter, invites you to indulge without fear. Indulge in what? That is up to you to determine, but that is also the beauty of it. Then funkying it up some, Zoë Kravitz joins up with Monáe for the mesmerizing “Screwed” which combines more carefree attitude with beautiful synth and guitar. That undertone continues on the album’s second single, the more Hip Hop laden storytelling “Django Janes.” Bold, Monáe pulls no punches in her flow about frustration with society looking to paint us with the same brush while using the same color. Rationally we all know nothing is ever truly black and white.
Interestingly enough, the album’s latest single, “Pynk,” directly follows, and while more Pop than “Django Janes,” it is an equally telling piece about humanity. That is right, while some may look at it as a female empowerment track, which may be true, it is also about all of us. Soft and smooth, Monáe works with Canadian’s Grimes, while interpolates Aerosmith’s 1997 song “Pink,” creating a colorful song that will stick with you. Bunching the singles together in a collective theme, that is before the very first single from Dirty Computer, the more harsh, electronic “Make Me Feel,” evokes a sexually intense vibe by nature.
Past the point of no return, more than halfway through into the happily infected computer that Monáe creates, has her message been conveyed clearly yet? Is it one of feminist, sexually liberty, and ethical pride? Well, yes, but please look beyond these trigger words. It is most importantly a message about humanity and how we should not look at one another as a carbon copy of ourselves. Instead, we should celebrate the differences we share. This can be heard even more on songs such as the individualist “I Like That,” the affectionate “Don’t Judge Me,” the vulnerable “So Afraid,” abefore the telling finale of “Americans,” which outlines the uglier side of taught behaviors.
Overall, no one should really be offended by Janelle Monáe’s Dirty Computer. This is not a message about starting a riot and burning cities down, it is a message about laying to rest differences and uniting as one human race. Beyond the theme, sonically it is a delightful record – unifying Synthpop, R&B, Soul, Hip Hop, Funk, and Rock into one carefully carved hybrid. Brave and exceptional, do not try to erase this hard drive because CrypticRock gives Dirty Computer 5 out of 5 stars.