If you got the deluxe bonus edition of Monae’s last album, The Electric Lady, it was a double album, clocking in at over eighty minutes long. This one, on the other hand, is forty-eight minutes and what would be an average running time for another artist feels like a brisk and breezy album from Monae. I’m in the kind of reverse position to the one I’m usually in where I lament long albums and praise short ones; The Electric Lady is one of the few double albums that I wouldn’t cut anything from, one of the rare doubles that I think is absolutely perfect. So, I was kind of shocked to see the relatively short running time on this record. And what this does give this album is more focus. Gone, and unmissed at least on my part, is the rock opera narrative of Cindi Mayweather, but the set of songs here is uniformly strong.
This album is very much a reaction to Trump’s America, I think, though Monae never says the word Trump on the album. A lot of the themes and ideas here were already part of Monae’s consciousness: sex-positivity, powerful women, etc. But those things feel more revolutionary than they already did with Trump as president and she makes the connections between these things more explicit. Screwed kind of plays as a bit of a battle cry for one of the big philosophies of this record: reclaiming selfhood & power through sexual freedom. “You ****** the world up now,” one of the main hooks proclaims, “We’ll **** it all back down.” That intense sexuality is all over this album as on the Prince influenced (and apparently partially produced) Way You Make Me Feel which is Monae in her “hardest working woman in show business” mode, howling like James Brown with sexual desire. The beautiful title track, which is drenched in gorgeous Brian Wilson harmonies, is a romantic, swooning ode to selfhood. Pynk, which features Grimes, is a strange, sexy synth piece dedicated to . . . well, you know. Monae exudes serious sexuality on this album, more so than on her others, I’d say. She doesn’t lose any of the cool panache and swagger that makes her so compelling, but there’s a new, sexy energy that’s very welcome. The music is just rollicking, funky, inspiring, beautiful and as varied as it always is with Monae. There’s a flawless musicianship with her sound and an immaculate production, but instead of those things making the music sound too pristine or studied, it just brings a precision to the energy and this album never fails to satisfy on the musical front, even as it delves deep on the lyrical front.
But probably the most shocking track is the finale, Americans. In a world of toxic patriotism, Monae does the unthinkable. She creates a straight ahead reclamation of America as an idea and an identity. She’s laying claim to her own America, an America that’s bigger and better than the small-minded ideas of the country that some have. In a time when Americanism is associated more and more with bigots, thugs and idiots, Monae wants her audience to remember that it’s our America too. We will overcome, she’s saying; we will stand up and fight and if those fools think they can take OUR country, they’re wrong. It’s a powerful vision and a fist-pumping anthem that just really works for me. There’s something really wonderful about her putting it right after I’m Afraid, the most vulnerable and haunted track on the album. It’s a one-two punch that hits the listener right where they are. Yes, I feel the fear too, she’s saying, but rise up with me anyway and we will have victory. The album ends with the line “Please sign your name on the dotted line.” Monae’s righteous army is taking volunteers. Well, I’m with her as always; hopefully you are too. If you haven’t gotten into the groove with Monae before now, give Dirty Computer a spin. And then step right up. 4 stars.
tl;dr – sexy, compelling, high-energy record is another pure triumph for Monae; lyrically intense, musically perfect . . . this is what you call visceral. 4 stars.