An Ennio Morricone sonic vista opens The Electric Lady, the sequel to Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid, making its ambition obvious. Overture burning off, a tugging groove rises and Monae’s neon howl proclaims,
“I am sharper than a razor
Eyes made of laser
Bolder than truth
They won’t be locked up in the system
‘Cause I am on a mission
Blame it on my youth…”
Joined by Prince on the churning song of rebellion, connection and owning one’s desires, the searing funk embodies youth seizing the moment. Also the battle cry of Cindi Mayweather, Monae’s android alter-ego who’s slated for disassembly, the notion of love being something to fight for emerges as an undercurrent for the soul/punk/funk émigré’s latest.
Lady’s futuristic tableau is rooted in a terre firme earthiness that suggests deep ties to prog-funkers Sun Ra and P. Funk, as well as an incandescent grasp of groundbreaking forebears from Steve Wonder (“Ghetto Woman” echoes “Boogie On Reggae Woman”), lush Motown a la Diana Ross (“Can’t Live Without Your Love”), Teddy Pendergrass smooth seduction (“Primetime,” featuring Miguel and a burning guitar solo) to Niles Rodgers’ vibrant Chic-ness (“We Were Rock & Roll”). Supple, the retro tilts modern on the 19-track epic that weaves spoken “radio breaks” with callers, promos and news about Mayweather for a 25th century immediacy.
What could be unwieldy becomes a vast patchwork of influences buoying empowerment. “Q.U.E.E.N.,” featuring bohemian neo-soul doyenne Erykah Badu, celebrates being who you are regardless of what that means. Invoking “twerking” long before Miley’s “We Can’t Stop,” this freak-flag flyer with the corkscrew guitar rides a staccato rhythm to unapologetically ask “Am I freak for getting down?”
That eclecticism is euphoric on the steroidally vaudevillean “Dance Apocalyptic,” employing a ukele, a farfisa and a variation on the Bo Diddley beat that suggests if it’s the end, we may as well bust a move. The Mantovani-esque smooth Brazilian “Look Into My Eyes” and jazz of “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes,” featuring Esperanza Spalding, cool things out.
Not that chilling has anything to do with the woman who sang on fun.’s “We Are Young”’s raison d’etre. Rather she celebrates love and uniqueness, especially for outsiders—whether gay, bi, transgendered, emigrated or android. Individuality’s verve sizzles on “Electric Lady,” where she and Solange Knowles rattle off the attributes of those women redolent with their sense of power and self over a lush R&B track cascading with horns, synths and a female chorus.
Culminating with “What An Experience,” its silky pop suggests no moment’s beyond savoring. A little religious, a little rapturous, a little reggae, it’s what being young, gifted and free is all about.