Janelle Monáe is a name I have heard around the music industry for a quite a few years without really knowing much about her music. In February of 2018 Monae released two music videos and it was those visuals which alerted me to her talent both visually and musically.
No matter what great visuals and effects are used in music videos ultimately for me it is always about the music and I am pleased to say that Monae has delivered in this aspect in the main and I have thoroughly enjoyed delving into the world of a woman with a lot to say.
This album is about female empowerment and being free. That is perhaps a little bit of a basic way to define a project laden with layers of confidence, insecurities, hope, fear, happiness and sadness.
The opening track is 2 minutes long and is the title track of the album. A “Dirty Computer” has been explained as someone who does not conform to what society may see as ‘normal’. This is a theme that is relevant to the world today as we see more people of different ethnicity, culture, and sexuality less fearful to show the world who they are.
This sets the tone for the rest of the album as we get the catchy “Crazy, Classic, Life”. This track took me a while to really enjoy as on first listen I didn’t really think much of it but now it is an essential part of the whole project as it sets out almost a mission statement.
The whole track is based upon a theme of living your life to the fullest. It sounds like a cliched view but ultimately it is something we do not hear enough.
“We don’t need another ruler, all of my friends are kings”
Monae sings about freindships and being happy. I love the sentiment to this song and the tone it sets for the rest of the album. Vocally it doesn’t show too much and it is not until the final minute of the song where the instrumentation becomes a little more interesting with smooth bassline allowing the track to groove out.
“Take A Byte” is another slice of simple life affirming pop. The nature of this track was a little surprising as I didn’t really go into this album thinking that it was going to be a full on pop offering but regardless this song is still a winner despite its simple melodic structure.
After the instrumental of “Janes Dream” we go into the most fun track on the album “Screwed”. This is a song with a serious theme but delivered in such a fun and exciting way that you may not realise what it is saying until you’ve listened to it a few times.
The Prince influenced guitar at the start and the echoing hand claps has Monae sing my favourite lyric on the album:
“You fucked the world up now, we’ll fuck it all back down”
I love this line because it shows an awareness of how bad things have got yet there is hope within it that just because things are bad doesn’t mean they will always be and we must dust ourselves off and make things better because who else is going to? We can talk about things we dislike until we are blue in the face but talk is cheap and if the world is fucked up then lets do something about it.
Other than the lyrical enjoyment I get out of this track it is just overall a really good pop song. It has a great hook, a funky guitar and a groovy bassline. Pure pop bliss.
“Screwed” seamlessly moves into the best song on “Dirty Computer” – “Django Jane”. This track has no chorus and has Monae rapping the entire song which is something before I heard this particular song was not aware she was so proficient in doing.
This IS the song of the album because it encompasses everthing Monae wanted to convey in her music. I love this song and I have kept spinning it since it’s release. It is yet to bore me as I love how fierce she is on this track. She flows over the down tempo beat which really only serves as a musical bedding in the background as it is her words which are at the forefront. I don’t want to spoil some of the fantastic lines on this song so I won’t put any of the lyrics up but all I can say is go listen to this album if only for “Django Jane”.
“Pynk” is a complete change of direction and hard to adjust to after the last couple of loud and potent tracks. This like “Crazy Classic Life” took me a few listens to get used to as it is so far into the pop music bracket it can be a little difficult for me to tune my mind to.
But what this track does is show that all these themes of female empowerment and equality are just packed up in a fun, bright and on the surface perhaps not so serious way. But this is all deliberate because for me it seems that Janelle Monae wants to have a serious conversation but she wants to put a lighter spin on it to make it easier to digest and whilst you could argue that this could negate her message I think it just makes it far more easier to engage.
One of the first tracks I heard from this project was “Make Me Feel”. This is like the cousin of “Kiss” by Prince. There is no doubt the comparison to this song was thought about when it was constructed so do not go into this thinking it is some kind of rip of.
This song is fun, funky and sexy as hell. The video takes that sexiness and turns it up about 100 notches. It’s difficult not to move to a track as saturated in groove as this.
Track 9 is “I Got The Juice” featuring Pharrell Williams. This is probably the most polarising song on the album as it the most lyrically redundant and serves more as a song to move to. It is a track that kind of takes you out of the album’s core themes as if it was the interval at a theater production. It keeps you entertained but it isn’t in the spirit of what “Dirty Computer” is about.
“I Like That” is the most ‘meh’ track on the album. It is mundane and I had been thinking that we might not get a boring track on the set but alas “I Like That” is that song that it seems every album must have at least one of. The instrumentation is dated and a bit lazy.
The melody does allow for her to show some vocal range but I am not sure Monae has that in her locker on the evidence of this album. The songs she has created suit her perfectly and this one just falls a bit wide of that mark.
The 11th track is the longest running time at 6 minutes. It is a very soft and simple track called “Don’t Judge Me”. Monae wants to reintroduce herself to the world on this song not just to the general public but her fans too. This is the most personal song penned in this collection as a more fragile and honest part of her personality seeps out.
“Stevie’s Dream” is 47 seconds of Stevie Wonder speaking over a simple guitar backing.
“So Afraid” is the penultimate track and again sees a more fragility in the lyrical content that is more personal to Monae than general themes of the other tracks. Like “I Like That” this track just doesn’t really get going and Monae never seems to feel like a main singer on the song and almost like she is doing backing vocals for the whole thing.
The 14th and final track off “Dirty Computer” is “Americans”. This is a case of saving the worst till last. The delicate themes she has talked about on most of the album are left behind here with a piece of brash pro American babble. It’s too direct for my tastes and perhaps as I am not American it doesn’t really resonate with me at all.
I feel like I should be standing up with the American flag behind me, clapping my hands shouting “I’m American”!. Not good.
Apart from a few missteps this is a really strong album. I have loved being part of the listening experience and I feel this is such a fun yet socially conscious and layered piece of art pop. This is everything someone like Lady Gaga would love to be producing as Monae has found the balance between trying to actually say something and producing some great catchy pop songs.