Janelle Monae’s Funky, Free-Thinking ‘Dirty Computer’ Celebrates The Misfits And Weirdos

05.02.18 4 months ago 2 Comments

Uproxx Studios / Atlantic Records

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The sci-fi rock opera of Janelle Monae’s earliest work has ended, and what’s replaced it is bold, brilliant, and some of her best work yet.

The rebellious saga of “ArchAndroid” Cindi Mayweather provided a fun and compelling metaphor but it also worked as a distracting abstraction, distancing Monae from both her message and her listeners. Where the focus should be the music and the urgent thesis of those albums, a listener could get lost trying to piece together the plot and how each song relates to the fiction, rather than their personal meaning to the listener and to Monae herself. We don’t listen to music solely to be entertained or diverted for an hour, we want to feel it, we want to be part of the story. While the Blade Runner, Metropolis-esque narrative of The Electric Lady and The ArchAndroid were interesting hooks, they had the unfortunate side effect of cluttering up the listening experience. No more.

With Dirty Computer, that gilded layer isn’t so much subtracted as it is sublimated; instead of making the high concept part of the pitch, Monae has partitioned the sci-fi themes to the accompanying “emotion picture” that hit Youtube as a companion piece to the album, letting the music stand on its own. Rather than speaking as Cindi Mayweather, Monae is singing for herself, and it makes all the difference.

Now there’s no ambiguity behind the lyrics of Prince-influenced dance jam “Make Me Feel.” We don’t have to ask whether she’s speaking for herself or her robotic stand-in. It’s all her, with the added bonus of being funky as hell. The other two singles, “Pynk” and “Django Jane,” share a similar dynamic, baring Monae’s views on femininity, sexuality, and the politics of both through both unambiguous yet layered descriptors and chest-thumping metaphors. The sly sagacity of following up the boast of “Jane” letting the “vagina have a monologue” with a literal song praising the virtues of vaginas, both as a body part and a concept, is some next-level, otherworldly slick shit.

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