Janelle Monáe is not like other pop stars. The ArchAndroid, her debut album, is an 18-track, 70-minute conceptual opus, split into two suites, each one separated by ludicrously extravagant Overtures. To say it's ambitious feels like damning with faint praise; its sheer musical scope – from the James Brown funk of Tightrope to the English pastoral folk of Oh, Maker – is spellbinding. So, the excellent Cold War is new wave with lashings of sci-fi, Locked Inside takes in Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson, while Come Alive (War of the Roses) finds the 24-year-old screaming herself hoarse over squealing guitars. Influences are treated as stepping stones rather than laboured over, with only Make the Bus (a collaboration with Of Montreal) shifting the focus away from the star. The album ends with the eight-minute, string-drenched BaBopBye Ya, a song that teeters on the brink of ridiculousness yet, as with the album as a whole, somehow reins itself in with great aplomb. Behold, pop music has found its latest superstar.
Janelle Monáe: The ArchAndroid | CD review
is a music writer for the Guardian and Observer as well as contributing
to i-D, Fader and Q. He's also the editor of BEAT magazine.