Album Reviews

Janelle Monáe – The Age Of Pleasure

(Wondaland Arts Society/Atlantic) UK release date: 9 June 2023

Fourth album from R&B polymath finds her in insatiable and unconquerable mood as she engages in an all-out celebration of hedonism, sexuality and herself

Janelle Monáe Janelle Monáe - The Age Of Pleasure has always been an artist positively brimming with confidence, but fourth album The Age Of Pleasure sees her take it to a new level as she engages in an all-out celebration of hedonism, sexuality and herself. Her three albums to date – The ArchAndroid, The Electric Lady and Dirty Computer – were all conceptual in their own ways, and while The Age Of Pleasure is less so, it does come with some strong and consistent messages.

The sense of liberation on the album is palpable and has a level of self confidence not shared by many. In terms of subject matter and title it might recall sentiments previously shared on albums like Prioritise Pleasure by Self Esteem and What’s Your Pleasure? by Jessie Ware, but The Age Of Pleasure is very much her own creation. She’s in insatiable and unconquerable mood and it sees further explore her musical and aesthetic interests.

It starts like the proverbial Olympic sprinter out of the blocks with tracks flowing into each other and delivering several impactful moments. It feels deliberately front-loaded, tracks pressed close together, almost to reflect the intimate nature of the album. There’s a clear shift in pace and tempo as the album progresses, with it ending in more relaxed, considered style, a musical post-coital lull of sorts. 

Phenomenal is an early highlight, and sees her proceed in vibrant, confrontational style. “I’m looking at 1,000 versions of myself and we’re all as fine as fuck,” she declares, following it up with “bitch, I feel so phenomenal” should there be any doubt. It’s in these stages that the amorous and frisky nature of many of the songs is not so much as revealed but thrust in your face. Lipstick Lover is smooth and sensuous in the most direct of ways while addressing queer relationships (“I like lipstick on my neck, leave a sticky icky in a place I won’t forget”). Champagne Shit is similarly playful and zesty as she swaggers and reminds us how “I like all my kisses French” (how could they be anything else we’re soon wondering).

Later the mid-paced Water Slide reflects the transition to a calmer, more contemplative tone although she still finds space to boast “If I could fuck me right here right now I would do that,” and on the similarly slower paced R&B workout A Dry Red she extends an invitation to a lover to “fuck in my jacuzzi”, adding how “I just want to get you in the shower”. Fast or slow, it’s hot and steamy stuff.

The self-aggrandisement/sexual content does risk becoming slightly exhausting after a while, but you don’t come to Janelle Monáe albums for modesty and restraint. During Haute she remarks how “they say I look better than David Bowie in Moonage Daydream” while on the unflappable Float she notes how “it’s hard to look at my resume and not find a reason to toast”. The latter features Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 and is more moderate in content than other early tracks but is all the more refreshing for it (and features some enjoyable Afrobeat stylings). Further musical balance is added later also, with Know Better featuring some reggae inflections and Only Have Eyes 42 showcasing a slower, classic soul sound. Another name to appear is Grace Jones who makes the briefest of cameos on Ooh, La La (although it feels like a missed opportunity to only use her for a transient, 30 second French language interlude).

It might not be as cohesive as some of her earlier work but The Age Of Pleasure is still an album that bristles with energy and boldness. The accompanying press release describes her as “music’s foremost freeassmuthafucka” and, after hearing The Age Of Pleasure and the force with which it is carried, it feels like disagreeing isn’t really an option. 

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