For those not keeping up with the sci-fi laden concept albums from Big Boi’s record label ‘Wondaland, Monáe tells stories of a futuristic society where androids coexist with humans. The story plays homage to the rich history of peoples’ prejudice towards the misunderstood – be it because of race, sexuality or other identity.
In the story, the protagonist Cindi Mayweather is an android that has fallen in love with a human and, for such a heinous crime, is wanted for disassembly. On the run from the authorities, she is soon to be branded a messiah in a “society that uses time travel to suppress freedom and love”. She then creates a following to bring positive change to her society. ‘The Electric Lady’ marks the fourth and fifth of seven suites of the story.
With such a dynamic story, you could easily be fooled into thinking that the album focuses more on narrative and falls short of ear-friendliness. Fear not, as there is a slew of amazing tracks that will wear out your LP player (or whatever the equivalent is in the mp3 world) as it has mine. And if you ever needed a stamp of approval, then you couldn’t ask for anything better than Prince appearing in the opening track. The album also features the likes of Erykah Badu, Miguel, Esperanza Spalding, and Solange Knowles (make no mistake, Beyoncé’s sister packs just as much of a musical punch – take a gander at her last EP ‘True’ for quite an eargasm).
As ever with Monáe, the musical styles vary from funk to R&B and pop, and even reggae. In fact, despite the futuristic sci-fi themes in the story, the singer/songwriter/producer (no wonder she caught Prince’s eye) plays homage to the artists that have had an influence on her. Bar the obvious influence on the track ‘Givin’ Em What They Love’ which features Prince, the album draws influences from Stevie Wonder (‘Ghetto Woman’), reggae music (‘What an Experience’), cinematic music (‘Sally Ride’) and even early Michael Jackson (‘Can’t Live Without Your Love’). With such depth and artistic creativity, I would be genuinely surprised if this album wasn’t mentioned in at least a few end-of-year lists.
Aside from musical tributes, Monáe also references the first woman in space, Sally Ride, and the first African American to be awarded an Academy Award for best actress, Dorothy Dandridge. It is obvious that Monáe is bringing in nods to historical barrier-breaking to show that, despite its peculiar setting, Cindi Mayweather’s story is as timeless as human prejudice.
So if you’re game for some real upbeat, fun and funky music, as well as an immersive story to go with it, prepare your ears for ‘The Electric Lady’, and once you’re done, prepare again as this album is nothing short of addictive.