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Album Review: Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer

4 min read
Photo: Warner Music Australia / JUCO

The inspirational mind of Janelle Monae is unlike any other. Instead of creating albums; she creates universes, the latest of which we are invited to explore is Dirty Computer. A celebration of audio and visual excellence that uses nods from the past to write the future.

 “I’m not that special, I’m broke inside” sings Monae on the title track, which features backing vocals from none other than Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. Monae claiming she’s broken inside acts as the perfect argument for pain being responsible for some of the most beautiful art in the world. If musical works could hang in art galleries, this would be a timeless classic.

Crazy, Classic, Life shows an artist appreciating the past struggles of people of colour, through the use of a Martin Luther King speech to reiterate the idea that everyone deserves to be in pursuit of happiness – something a lot of people in power have forgotten lately. “I am not America’s nightmare, I am the American dream” holds so much power – inclusive and open in its embrace of everyone no matter where they came from. We’re only two tracks in, but already Dirty Computer is setting about a new world order. It’s 2018 yet we have Monae rapping the words “remember when they told you I was too black for ya?” – as there are still people who begrudge POC for taking up space, when they are supposedly equal. It’s not hard to look past the Prince inspired melodies for the social commentary to gleam through, and each point deserves your full attention because boy do we still have a long way to go.

Zoe Kravitz joins Janelle for Screwed, a sexually liberal banger and a half that you could be forgiven for mistaking for a Prince song in the opening bars. I won’t beat around the bush, this is a song about sex – a great song about sex. It’s not all mushy or filled with meek attempts at innuendo, it’s SEX from start to finish. Not filthy, but not secretive – which is immensely refreshing for two artists to sing so openly about just screwing people in various locations and situations. Female sexuality and desire is still taboo, which helps no one at all. It’s really not that big of a deal, but this tune is a huge deal.

The above track flows effortlessly into Django Jane, which continues the theme of female empowerment even further. Whereas much of her previous tracks have used Monae’s softer singing voice, to hear her rap a full track with such charisma and confidence just reiterates how we are witnessing the finest moment of her career thus far. Next up we have Pynk which features Grimes, but is pure Monae magic. The video, the lyrics and even the music are an ode to the beauty and sexual power of the female form through the gaze of another female.

Make Me Feel took the world by storm for good reason – there’s almost too much funk to handle. If anything was going to announce her return to the spotlight, it had to be this track. It oozes sex appeal and self confidence at a rate of knots, knowing somebody loves every single thing about you is a power trip that would make you feel this damn funky. Prince is probably watching from above and wondering why Janelle Monae had to go and better his iconic style.

There is a 90s almost Missy Elliot feel to I Got The Juice, which continues through to I Like That to signal a change of pace as we drawer closer to the end. But that’s what the repeat feature is for right? Final track Americans is a majestic gospel inspired track that segues into a faster paced manifesto for a better future. The half spoken word verses invoke Vogue-era Madonna, before the more eclectic sound from previous Janelle Monae albums reappears. It’s the perfect bubblegum ending that still has a sting in the tail, calling out gender pay gaps, racial tension and gender roles. There is a patriotism here that acts as a staunch reminder that we have more in common than what divides us.

Dirty Computer is a queer celebration of black excellence, female strength and self confidence – all of which Janelle Monae has by the bucketful. In all my 23 years on the planet, I don’t think I have heard an album that sounds so current yet timeless at the same time. There will be young people of colour, queer people or those who feel ignored by systems of power that will hear this record and feel visible, valued and reminded that they matter – and there can be no result more positive or powerful than that.