Janelle Monáe is in love with the human spirit, more specifically, a liberated human spirit. A spirit free from oppressors and anyone pushing conformity.
On her new album, “Dirty Computer,” she celebrates said spirit throughout the course of 14 tracks, and it is near impossible to not join the celebration. The album’s blend of pop rock, trap and R&B influences is a departure from her previous predominantly R&B-flavored albums. But the departure does not lack in execution on either the instrumental or lyrical fronts.
The album is irresistibly danceable; its grooves are intoxicating; and the lyrics are both memorable and intelligent. Songs like “Crazy, Classic Life” and “Screwed” jubilate at the idea of sexual freedom, while also commenting on the oppressive mentality America has taken against those who wish to express such a freedom.
The two songs also showcase Monáe’s most prevalent influence – her mentor Prince. The late musician’s fingerprints are all over the album, literally so on the song “Make Me Feel,” on which his synth line is used. The entire song feels like Prince worship of the best kind. The guitar riffs ooze “Purple Rain.” The lyrics highlight her pansexuality and the liberation she feels within it.
But while many of the songs on the album are used to paint a picture of joy derived from freedom of expression, Monáe also gives time to the anxiety that such a lifestyle can bring.
“I’m fine in my shell,” Monáe sings on “So Afraid.” The vocal performance on this song is one of the strongest. Monáe’s volume and conviction in her voice grow parallel to the frustration with the restrictive nature of society.
As a whole, this album is extremely personal. Yes, there is an overarching narrative, it being the idea that we’re all computers and each one has its own glitches. But unlike Monáe’s three prior albums, this one tells the story directly from her own perspective, whereas before we saw it through the lens of Monáe’s fictional character, Cindi Mayweather.
And while the albums with Mayweather as a protagonist were excellent, Monáe’s detachment from her was almost necessary. This being because the world we live in today was almost begging for her commentary. And with this album she was now free to purge upon the real errors of the American administration and the effects of those errors on minorities and ostracized groups. The song “Americans” is a prime example of this, claiming this country sees her “color” before her “vision.”
“Dirty Computer” is a call for action, a call for change and, all the while, a celebration of whom we all are. Monáe is the perfect figurehead for such a party, and the album’s amalgamation of genres is the perfect soundtrack. So join in, because this celebration is worth each and every one of its 49 minutes.