All right, humans, brace yourselves. Cindi Mayweather is back to shake her cyborg booty, and the booty don't lie.
If that statement confuses you, you might want a crash course in the saga of Mayweather, Janelle Monae's alter ego. The Electric Lady represents Suites IV and V of her story of love and rebellion. It also represents an attempt by Monae to reach a wider audience and create something that can get radio play.
The back half is a bit sleepy as a result. Songs like "We Were Like Rock 'N' Roll" feel like a reach for mass appeal that doesn't quite get there. The line between relatable and platitudinal lyrics is a tricky thing to toy with, and here, Monae's creative oddball brain works against her. Plainness isn't her.
She's in much finer form on the front half. It's punchier, in part thanks to rhymes on "Q.U.E.E.N." and "Electric Lady" that add a rebellious and edgy touch to the dance party. And it remains true that Afro-futurist cyborgs can and will get funky. “Givin Em What They Love,” which features Prince, leads us into the album with a sultry stomp. The title track, with a guest spot from Solange, is a groovy anthem inspired by paintings Monae made on tour. “Dance Apocalyptic” is frighteningly infectious.
Monae is known for her eccentricities and tireless creativity, so the expectations for The Electric Lady might have been a bit too high. It's hard not to be a tiny bit disappointed, even though it's a perfectly good record. The longer and harder you listen to The Electric Lady, though, the more you're likely to find to enjoy. Even as she strives for radio play, she can't help crafting something carefully layered and packed with subtleties.