Posts Tagged ‘old school’

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Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid (album review.)

May 23, 2010

I literally don’t know where to start with this review.  Comparisons have been made to James Brown (the lead single “Tightrope” has a funky, dirty bass and backchat with Monáe’s band), Judy Garland (“Oh, Maker” features a stately purity of voice in its verses, only to give way to a joyful exaltation of a chorus, and is one of the album’s highlights) and even Erykah Badu (Monáe sings with a knowing voice, sometimes sounding wise well beyond her years while not even connected to this cosmos).  But Janelle Monáe is undeniably her own woman: crazy hairstyles, performing in black-tie tuxedos, employing ethereal instruments coupled with double-time beats, composing her material in suites… It would be audacious enough if it didn’t succeed, if Monáe were above her station with this Metropolis, 28th century high-concept shit.  But she’s not.  Although at times The ArchAndroid feels a bit like it’s overreaching, the vast majority of it is exciting, mindblowing and more than a little bizarre.  This makes it one of the boldest releases to come out in quite a while.

I’m not going to attempt any detail of the story behind this album; it’s only vaguely important to the running order of the songs.  In very brief, Cindi Mayweather was an android who fell in love; the cyber-hunters were invited to hunt her down; she has since discovered the ArchAndroid helmet which displays the city of Metropolis on the top – yep, that’s the album cover above! – and has transformed from pariah to messiah for the robot population of Metropolis.  Monáe creates a textured evocation of this hyper-space reality within her music, and it’s appropriate that The ArchAndroid sounds nothing like anything else in current popular music.  However, its melodies are still catchy, its production tricks are still appreciable (although the music sounds far removed from anything Sean “Diddy” Combs would touch, Monáe is signed to his BadBoy imprint, whose releases normally display impeccable production values – if, at times, little else), and the meanings behind the inventive, often poetic lyrics (from “Say You’ll Go” – “Love is not a fantasy / A haiku written in Japanese”) go beyond the specifics of the Metropolis concept to speak more generally of love, society, and human emotions and situations.  In other words, Monáe hasn’t concept-ed herself into oblivion; the songs can still have meanings to each individual listener, which is important because we still need to relate in order to truly engage with the music.

Moving to the specifics of the music on The ArchAndroid, it’s a hefty album, comprising two suites that are much weightier then Monáe’s The Chase EP; that disc had three songs which were swift, exciting and irresistible.  The special edition had two extra non-concept tracks; a plea to the President for social consideration, and a beautiful, restrained cover of Nat King Cole’s “Smile”. Monáe may not be a vocalist in the same way as Beyoncé, Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera, but she has an extraordinary control of her instrument, and displays its versatility when songs require it (similar, in a way, to Toni Braxton or Sade).  On The ArchAndroid, Monáe alternately displays grace (“Oh, Maker”), subtlety (“Sir Greendown”), uninhibited release (“Come Alive (The War Of The Roses)”) and an old-school sensibility that fuses scat, Broadway and Latin rhythms (epic closer “BaBopByeYa”).  Suite II (the first suite of The ArchAndroid) is generally more immediate and accessible to the uninitiated listener: after a classical intro (although its concept hangs together flawlessly for most of the album, the instrumental interludes may be slick but they are still unnecessary filler!), Monáe gets straight down to business with the help of spoken word artist Saul Williams for “Dance Or Die”.  Beats fibrillate below Monáe’s haughty poetry, and before the listener knows it, the song segues into “Faster”, into “Locked Inside”…; before you know it, you’ve reached subdued ballad “Mushrooms & Roses” and Suite II is nearly over.

The seamless melting of one song into the next is a neat production trick, but one that we have seen before.  It has its risks, since the listener has to pay attention to his iPod, CD player or media player of choice in order to determine where one track ends and the next begins.  If the songs are dull, they risk totally going over the listener’s head.  Luckily, the majority of The ArchAndroid has enough memorable hooks, production tricks and bizarre sections to stick in the mind and merit repeat listens.  Suite II is far stronger than Suite III for this however; Suite III, although shorter, is much denser and ethereal. Although Suite II had some lovely slower material (“Oh, Maker” and “Sir Greendown”), Suite III seems weighed down by the lack of upbeat or midtempo songs.  “Make The Bus” is an ok effort but hardly lives up to the breathtaking pace of Suite II; “Wondaland” seems altogether too precious.  However, Suite III comes into its own as it reaches its conclusion: “57821” (the serial number of the robot Cindi Mayweather) begins to engage the listener with its subtle, undulating backing, before the majesty of closing tracks “Say You’ll Go” and “BaBopByeYa” unfurls.  In all, Suite II is stronger and more addictive listening, but Suite III has its moments despite its more downbeat demeanour.

Why does it all work? It’s beyond me, as Janelle Monáe seems to have thrown everything and the kitchen sink into this album – in terms of lyrics, vocal approaches, production tricks, musical genres, concept… It’s a miracle that it doesn’t sound overblown, desperate or self-important, but for the most part – it doesn’t.  Only on “Wondaland”, “Mushrooms & Roses” and “Neon Valley Street” does Monáe sound a tiny bit like she’s faking, stalling while she scrabbles for a new idea with which to blindside us.  The vast majority of The ArchAndroid is not only severely impressive, but sounds genuine.  Which makes Janelle Monáe a hugely talented, innovative young woman, and one of the best new artists to emerge in recent years.  Take a listen to The ArchAndroid and prepare to be both mentally and aurally stimulated.

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Joe & Ginuwine concert.

October 17, 2009

Last night, Davina, Deena and myself went to the Bristol O2 Academy to see Joe and Ginuwine.  In short, we had a really good time!  Here are some photos:

It was a really good night (despite the fact it was finished by 10pm)!  Both guys’ vocals were on point, Ginuwine did a nice tribute to Michael Jackson that was celebratory without being cheesy (basically they played some MJ songs while he hyped the crowd without singing along or anything like that), and Joe pretended to leave and then came back and performed “No One Else Comes Close” on acoustic guitar, which was the highlight of his set (along with an extended version of “I Wanna Know” – bliss!).  A couple of niggles:  Ginuwine did not perform any of my favourite songs of his, except for “Pony”.  I know that it’s important to perform newer material, especially for the younger kids in the audience who may not know his older stuff, but “When Doves Cry”, “What’s So Different” and particularly “So Anxious” are too damn good not to perform.  And they were big hits back in the day!  This is the second time I’ve seen him live… I’m thinking of sending him a message and letting him know.  Does anyone know his twitter?  He’s coming back to Bristol in December (which is really good! He must like it here 😀 ) with Tank and Tyrese to do some TGT stuff… I will probably go and see him again!

Joe looks a lot better in person than he does in his photos, and he did do my favourites: “I Wanna Know”, “No One Else Comes Close”, “Stutter” and “Where You At”.  However, when he did “Where You At?” he said “This is old school!”  Isn’t it only a couple of years old? Hardly what I would consider “old-school”, especially since he did “I Wanna Know” (which EVERYONE sang along with, and he extended it – it was epic!), “Stutter” and “All The Things (Your Man Won’t Do)” – one song that is even before my time and which I am going to download this very evening.  Honour the older songs in your catalogue – especially when some of them are more soulful and bump harder than the new shit that passes for “R&B” these days.  But I was really pleased with his performance – his voice was really good and I’m glad he did such a good job of his songs old and new.

A final question – what’s with wanting a sweaty towel? Ginuwine trailed his towel over him and then threw it into the crowd, which cause the predictable mini-scuffle (at least he didn’t lose his ring like last time at Panache, when the security had to jump into the crowd and bounce everyone out of the way looking for it)… I don’t understand.  Is the person who gets the towel honestly not going to wash it, just because it has Ginuwine’s sweat on it?  That’s kinda gross.  I don’t get it… not even if it were Mariah Carey’s towel would I be that manic.  Le shrug.

But I had a good time, and wanted to share it with y’all – especially as I haven’t updated for a little bit and I don’t want you to think I’m neglecting y’all! I appreciate you reading and I don’t forget it.  Thankyou 🙂