Janelle Monae, "The ArchAndroid" (Bad Boy/Atlantic Records)
Janelle Monae, who draws some of her inspirations from Fritz Lang's classic sci-fi movie "Metropolis," likes to play up a robotic image — but the singer is far from programmed.
"The ArchAndroid," Monae's first full-length album, is the follow-up to her brilliantly crafted EP, "Metropolis, Suite I: The Chase"; "ArchAndroid" includes the second and third suites of her futuristic saga.
The adventure kicks off with the melodramatic, theatrical opener "Suite II Overture." And what's next is undeniably one of the year's best tracks: "Dance or Die," a Fela-flavored jam with super swag. The song's title seems to be the 24-year-old's motto for life.
Monae continues her psychedelic momentum with the addictive "Faster" and "Locked Inside," a song with a doo-wop groove.
Monae's voice is wonderfully flexible, and adapts according to the track. She sounds playful on "Tightrope," powerful "Oh, Maker" and laid-back on "Neon Valley Street." And her vocals are enhanced by the amazing sounds of the Wondaland ArchOrchestra.
The disc has a range of influences, from Stevie Wonder to Walt Disney to David Bowie. There are odd ones too: She says "Cold War," a mechanical groove with an in-your-face beat, was partly inspired by Muhammad Ali's fists, while the distorted "Mushrooms & Roses" drew insight from a stage dive at Bonnaroo.
The only issue with "ArchAndroid" is that there may be too much going on. "The Chase," which included the masterful, Grammy-nominated tune "Many Moons," ran five tracks long (it was later rereleased with two additional songs). It was short and sweet, and kept listeners yearning for more. "ArchAndroid," which clocks in at 108 minutes, is simply too long. Despite that, Monae still delivers something extraordinary, different and heroic.
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: Monae's hyperactive flow on "Dance or Die," which features poet-actor Saul Williams, is top-notch. In a music world desperately missing the multitalented Lauryn Hill, Monae may be its savior.