I like metaphor, imagery and well-sustained conceit -so I read books.
Janelle Monae makes me feel lazy because I don't want to take the time to decipher the message behind her Android suites. Perhaps all it takes to enter her "Cybertronic Purgatory" is a bit of time researching her intent. Maybe reading a few interviews, or doing some Googling. It could even be in the liner notes. The thing is, I'm on the treadmill with 3 miles still to go, and you're asking me to identify the "Wolfmasters" and join them on their melodic "March."
Well Rihanna tells me exactly what a Rude Boy is, and why she wants one -so I think I'll switch to that playlist.
Monae has plenty to say. Sincrerely Jane asks "what good is love if it burns bright, and explodes in flames?" While Cold War warns "In this life you spend time running from depravity. You better know what you're fighting for."
Observant statments, made all the better by her assured delivery. The problem is that her intent is ultimately lost in the messy metaphor that frames her effort.
What is Metropolis? Why are we here? Who's Jane? And why do I have to listen to every one of your songs in succession before I have the slightest idea what you're talking about?
To be fair, listening to Metroplis or Android is a concession by nature. You've agreed to enter Monae's narrative, and figure it out from there. But she doesn't offer enough context to flesh out her fantasy. If these were books, they'd be paired with cliffnotes. But this is music -who wants to research an abstract in preparation for a playlist?
Track for track, most of the material on Metropolis and Android is engaging, refreshing and certainly more satisfying than a majority of what currently plays on Top 40 radio. But taken as a whole, it's a concept album that doesn't fully realize its concept.
You've given me the metaphor Monae; now balance it with something concrete.
The clip below is from the Idlewild soundtrack. It's a narrative that makes sense, and Monae sounds amazing (as always). That's all I'm asking.