Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer

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A nonconformist masterpiece that could bring Janelle Monáe more mainstream acclaim than ever.

Janelle Monáe’s work always makes an impact. Even when couched in the concocted sci-fi narrative in which she assumed the role of android alter-ego Cindi Mayweather, her songs spoke were clearly written for those on the fringes. Those who were a little bit weird.

A couple of things happen on Dirty Computer that make it an interesting progression for Monáe. On the one hand, she’s simplifying the vast musical ambition that she exhibited on the first couple of records. The wild prog-rock flourishes are dialled back and the party-jam R&B vibes are stronger than ever.

She’s broken away from the Metropolis concept that all her work to date has been a part of. But it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s less ambitious, she’s just more closely aligning it with the world she now lives in as a queer, black woman in 2018. The escapism themes remain, but there’s something more deeply personal than we’ve heard from her before.

Dirty Computer is one of those albums that will probably offer up a new favourite song on each listen. That’s the benefit of having a record without a bad track.

 

One day you’ll think that it gets not better than the fierce feminist rap of ‘Django Jane’, while other days you’ll be more in the mood for the anthem for individuality ‘Crazy, Classic, Life’ or the stone-cold classic in the making, 'Make Me Feel'.

Up against most of the album ‘Pynk’ is comparatively tame, but no less affecting. The track, which features indie synth-pop superstar Grimes, is a perfect example of the power of restraint. On the other hand, ‘Screwed’ puts it all on the table – the world is fucked so we might as well enjoy what we have left.

 

It’s one of a couple of songs that might indirectly reference President Donald Trump (‘The devil met with Russia and they just made a deal’) elsewhere, on ‘I Got The Juice’, Monáe repeats ‘If you try to grab my pussy cat, this pussy grab you back’.

This intriguing melange of politics, sexuality and social examination is utterly unique. It’s a nonconformist masterwork that will empower those on the fringes who struggle with the intensity of the world we’ve found ourselves in.

But you don’t need to feel empowered by this record to recognise its brilliance. As a pop record it stands head and shoulders above anything else released this year.

The Prince vibes are enormous throughout the record. The groove of ‘Make Me Feel’ sounds and feels as if it were cribbed directly from his vault, ‘Don’t Judge Me’ and ‘So Afraid’ are both downbeat pop gems that have that purple sheen to them, while closing track ‘Americans’ sounds like ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ revisited.

Musically, Prince and Monáe are kindred spirits and all reports suggest they were that way personally too. Prince fans will forever mourn and probably never quite properly come to grips with his untimely passing, but the creative seed he planted in artists like Janelle Monáe has meant his influence will continue empowering the ‘others’ in society for a long time to come.

 

If you enjoy the record, you need to see the film that accompanies it. It puts these songs in a new context that will have you thinking about them in a whole new light. That in itself is a remarkable achievement.

Dirty Computer is essential listening, and a record that deserves repeated listens, close examination and an free and open mind.

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