A classy kind of crazy

Compared to her debut, the American R&B songstress's second album is a tamer affair, but it's still bursting with eclectic exhilaration and soulful flair

JANELLE MONAE/ THE ELECTRIC LADY

Sadly, for most people, the name Janelle Monae only feels similar in the context of a certain summer anthem such as Fun's Grammy Award-winning hit, We Are Young. Don't get us wrong, though, the song has its own merits _ it's just that Monae has so much more to offer stylistically, artistically and musically. Dialling back to 2010, Monae's debut studio album, The ArchAndroid, instantly became a modern classic, thanks largely to its ferocious single, Tightrope (featuring Big Boi). The album presents a refreshing melange of musical genres, covering everything from neo-soul and jazz to funk and glam rock _ all fittingly matched by Monae's spunky, infectious personality. The ArchAndroid went on to earn her six Grammy nominations, and was named one of the best records of that year by many leading publications.

Now that the frenzy of We Are Young is well behind us, we can focus on what she's really all about. Her second album, The Electric Lady, continues to push the envelope and picks up where her debut left off. Divided into two halves respectively called Suite IV: Electric Overture and Suite V: Electric Overture, the record opens with Givin' Em What They Love, a stomping funk jam on which Prince jumps in on the second verse, singing: "I am sharper than a switchblade/First and last of what God made, and that's the truth/But man, keep on trying to hold me back."

More fantastic collaborations await on the uber sassy QUEEN (featuring Erykah Badu), the twinkling ballad PrimeTime (featuring Miguel), the brassy Electric Lady (featuring Solange who gleefully sings of Monae: "You got a classic kind of crazy/But you know just who you are"), and the gliding Dorothy Dandridge Eyes (featuring Esperanza Spalding).

Dancier offerings such as We Were Rock & Roll, Dance Apocalyptic and Ghetto Woman remind us of the vibrant immediacy of Tightrope.

The album's latter half serves up a lot less frantic fare. The gorgeous soul ballads It's Code and Can't Live Without Your Love allow Monae to show off her sultry vocals often overshadowed by the many layers and flourishes of the uptempo tracks. The aptly-named closer, What An Experience, is a throwback R&B jam on which she concludes "The world's just made to fade/And all the parties someday blow away/But the memories come home/It's funny how they come back with a song." How accurate.

As a whole, The Electric Lady is a thrilling and electrifying album that boldly blurs genres and goes where no one has dared venture before. At the same time, it's a lot more relaxed and grounded than its predecessor. (As brilliant as the thought behind it is, Monae's dinner-jacketed alter ego can be a touch distracting.) Thankfully, she's learned to tone it down this time, and give us the essence of what makes her a great artist.

THE PLAYLIST

Vinegar Syndrome/ Ter Takon Tee Khao Krasib (Wired)

Aside from the band's curious name, local rock duo Wuttinun Chamchoi (vocals, guitar) and Korn Mahadumrongkul (guitar), aka Vinegar Syndrome, have impressed us previously with Koey Koey , the soundtrack to Nontawat Numbenchapol's banned documentary Boundary. With their second single Ter Takon Tee Khao Krasib (Wired), the duo are back with a more developed sound with uplifting harmonies. "Thinking of the old days/The wounds of sorrow/The suffering that remains like always" sings the frontman with just the right amount of nostalgia set over a song packed with optimism.

Coldplay/ Atlas

Trust British rock four-piece Coldplay to deliver another epic-sounding anthem fit to be played in an arena. Written for the upcoming film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, their first new single in two years, Atlas, still fits the bill perfectly. The song is a cinematic, swoon-worthy piano ballad that alludes to the god of Greek mythology. The lyrics, too, are custom made for this sci-fi adventure blockbuster: "Some far away/Some search for gold/Some dragon to slay Heaven we hope is just up the road/Show me the way, lord because I am about to explode." The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is set for a worldwide release on Nov 22.

Ellie Goulding/ Burn

British songstress Ellie Goulding puts a grittier spin on Leona Lewis' Burn, and it really works in the former's favour as it has instantly become her first No1 single in the UK. Lifted from the reissue of Goulding's second studio album, Halcyon Days, the song benefits from her unique vocals, making the whole affair sound catchier and even more appealing. While we know she's capable of giving us so much more musically, it's undeniable that the radio-friendly quality of Burn is earning her more mainstream fans as we speak.

Arcade Fire/ Reflektor

The ultimate indie outfit Arcade Fire return to their dedicate fans with Reflektor, taken from their upcoming fourth LP of the same name. Produced by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, the track rides on a menacing disco beat with an added bonus of having rock legend David Bowie making an appearance on backing vocals. The song, running over eight minutes, has a few French verses wedged between lines such as: "Trapped in a prism, in a prism of light/Alone in the darkness, darkness of white." It's both sexy and subversive _ the combination this Canadian septet has mastered over the years.

Eminem/ Berzerk

On his new single, Berzerk, Eminem goes rightfully berserk by sampling Billy Squier's The Stroke and Beastie Boys' classics including The New Style and Fight for Your Right. Starting with scratchy guitars as Slim Shady spits out fireballs, claiming "Let's take it back to straight hip hop and start it from scratch/I'm 'bout to bloody this track up, everybody get back." The rest of the song sees him doing just that by following the Beastie Boys' guitar-and-beats formula, and taking a few jabs at today's rappers.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Chanun Poomsawai
Position: Reporter