3. Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid (Atlantic)
Whenever pop’s doom-mongers start muttering about the death of the album, along comes one as gloriously decadent as Janelle Monáe’s debut LP The ArchAndroid. Decadent, because the astronomically talented Monáe could have chosen a more direct route to stardom than a 70-minute concept piece inspired by Fritz Lang and Philip K Dick, and crammed with musical references from Stevie Wonder to Debussy to Simon and Garfunkel. With abackground in musical theatre, Monáe deftly inhabits a wide cast of characters, including her distinctive onstage persona as a bequiffed, betuxed, wide-eyed hoofer.
Despite releasing her album under the auspices of Sean “Diddy”Combs, Monáe remains a word-of-mouth sensation. Her David Letterman performance of Tightrope went viral, and it is one of the standout tracks of the year, bottling James Brown funk beforebreaking down into strings and ukulele. Throughout the album Moneperforms her own balancing act in keeping the musical allusions fromsounding arch or insincere, helped by a voice that is bright and fresheven at its most pyrotechnic.
The album has its flaws, certainly. An Of Montreal collaboration is fun but jarring; the sci-fi concept is (whisper it) a bit silly, and at times it feels as though there is a leaner, more straightforward album trying to get out from under it. But The ArchAndroid’s sheer uncynical bombast is a thing of wonder in the age of Auto-Tune and meat dresses. It is the kind of album that might be expected from an established pop star at the height of their powers -but Janelle Monáe seemed to arrive fully-formed. It will befascinating to see whether she now ascends to megastardom or whether The ArchAndroid is, ultimately, too clever by half.
What we said: “A wildly talented, unpredictable and near flawless young singer and musician. One can but marvel at the impressive range, ambition (realised) and detail of this deeply polished, professional yet utterly, brilliantly bonkers album. An album destined, surely, to take its place among the classics of its age.”