Soul Singer Changes Shape to Play Full Scale

Janelle Monáe

The ArchAndroid

Blacksmith records

Though soulstress Janelle Monáe conceived The ArchAndroid as a concept album about her robot alter-ego, the end product suggests she is anything but. Monáe’s ambitious sophomore effort packs jazz, shoegaze, funk and soul into an 18-track patchwork of genres that no formulaic machine could begin to render.

Her true alter-ego — the chameleon — shows itself in the world of difference between “Tightrope” and the watery “Mushrooms & Roses.” The former is greased in Monáe’s slick vocals, spewing forth at a hip-hop pace and punctuated by thick horns and irresistible chants. The lo-fi latter, on the other hand, lays her dreamy, distorted voicebox over a steady drum-and-tambourine beat in ’80s shoegaze style.

Monáe ventures into new territories all the way to album closer “BaBopByeYa,” an old-fashioned jazz tune a la Lena Horne. It begins with a dramatic brass intro — all horns and snaps — before easing into Monáe’s now-velvety vocals, and a piano melody for good measure. She couldn’t hide her prowess if she tried: Her expertly trained voice slides up and down the scale, belting out the titular warcry with the lung strength of Aretha.

Although each track has its own selfish flair, all are bound together by a backbone of fast-paced drums and smart songwriting on the human condition — from love to war to magic. She couldn’t be a robot if she tried.

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