Album review | Pop

Janelle Monáe, ‘The Electric Lady’

Adrienne Battistella/Essence via AP

Janelle Monáe’s feet barely touched the ground on her last album, 2010’s “The ArchAndroid.” She was in her own galaxy, a weird, wonderful pop cosmos where James Brown, David Bowie, Betty Davis, and Michael Jackson were all touchstones for Monáe’s shape-shifting music.

That album, bolstered by her blistering live shows, was a showstopper (not to mention a steamroller), and it made Monáe a force who couldn’t be bothered by the confines of genre. In a tuxedo and pompadour, she danced on the fringes of R&B, funk, soul, pop, and chamber music.


Three years later, she continues that record’s voyage with “The Electric Lady,” a dense follow-up that’s no less outsize in its ambition. This is Monáe in her usual mode: overdrive. As with her previous releases, it comes with a narrative about an android named Cindi Mayweather, and this album is the soundtrack to her adventures on Earth.

This time Monáe is surrounded by guests who are on board with her intergalactic mission. Erykah Badu joins her for “Q.U.E.E.N.,” a charged ode to self-empowerment. Berklee-bred bassist Esperanza Spalding sings a few verses of “Dorothy Dandrindge Eyes,” and Miguel smolders in a simmering duet called “PrimeTime.” And in the most complementary cameo of all, Prince, an early fan and supporter, gets down on “Givin Em What They Love.”

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Utlimately, though, they all shrink in Monáe’s shadow. She’s the star of her own movie — and that’s very much what this album feels like — and she’s in charge. As she raps on “Q.U.E.E.N.”: “Categorize me, I defy every label.” (Out Tuesday)

James Reed


Janelle Monáe performs at the House of Blues on Oct. 16.

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