Renaissance woman is a rare term. However, Janelle Monáe is just that. When she burst on the scene early this decade, Janelle turned heads. Her unique fashion and hair styles ignited conversation. I first saw her live opening for Katy Perry back in 2011. Yes, I went to a Katy Perry concert. Monáe’s stage energy sparked my curiosity. While her appearance made me scratch my head, her art spoke for itself. Additionally, that is what led me to her discography. Janelle reigns as one of the most fearless American recording artists alive. She fights for racial and gender equality. And she does so without shoving her views down our ears. Monáe’s artistry expresses her values through conceptual craftsmanship. The three projects that preceded Dirty Computer follow a rebellious android character. She navigates the future, leading with love and running from oppressors. Though now the present has caught up.
Janelle is an entertainer through and through. During multiple film shoots, she wrote the songs heard on Dirty Computer. You might have seen her on the big screen in 2016. Both of her major appearances earned critical acclaim. Best Picture winner Moonlight and Hidden Figures uplifted black cinema nationwide. According to Monáe, she only aligns herself with scripts that truly move her spirit. This is one approach of a pure artist. Nevertheless, her busy schedule crept its way into her music. Her third studio album bursts with summery instrumentation. The cultural encouragement here deserves applause. Conversely, Dirty Computer abandons Monáe’s signature conceptual genius. Furthermore, the straightforwardness of these lyrics leave little to the imagination. As a top-tier creative, Janelle continues to make solid music. Production value remains a priority. Yet her poetic flair takes a step back here. “Screwed” with Zoë Kravitz says it all.
Although this album released five years after its predecessor, Monáe hasn’t worked on it the entire time. Perhaps she has in spurts. However, the attention to detail isn’t quite up to snuff compared to her previous efforts. Movies, photo shoots, interviews, activist events add up after a while. She is living her best life. I appreciate Janelle Monáe for her assertive role in the black community. She is every bit of a role model. Be that as it may, this album suffers from a lack of polished tunes. The aforementioned “Screwed” gives me a headache just thinking of it. It’s a tongue-in-cheek party track. In theory, that’s not a problem whatsoever. Though when that idea features tacky vocals and lyrics, its inclusion dampers an album’s overall quality. Despite this blemish, Dirty Computer functions as a flirtatious frolic through fields of care-free fun and freedom flowers. Feel-good vibes are abundant.
The Prince-inspired “Make Me Feel” sent chills down my spine. Janelle’s homage is spot-on. Hard-hitting synth drums, fluttering guitars, and funky rhythms ooze nostalgia. “Make Me Feel” will warm music lovers’ hearts everywhere. Also, Janelle’s rap skills manifest beautifully here. One of two lead singles, “Django Jane” sees the multi-talented Georgian go toe-to-toe with the best female rappers out today. Even though her raps have a ceiling in regard to technique, their substance brings them success. Besides, rapping is merely a hobby for Monáe. I am positive if she dedicated an album to hip-hop, it would elicit acclaim from fans and critics alike. Her bars save “Crazy, Classic, Life” from total boredom. This album needed a light trim. Three songs I could live without. These include: “Crazy, Classic, Life;” “Screwed;” and “So Afraid.” The latter feels clumsy as it follows a Stevie Wonder interlude about love.
Following a half-decade album break, eleven tracks likely wouldn’t suffice. So, I understand the final 14-song tracklist. However, many of these songs are uncharacteristically forgettable. Janelle is an amazing artist, which proves true via solid song structure and cohesive production. Yet most of the tunes presented here are missing effortless stickiness we’ve come accustomed to hearing on Janelle Monáe albums. Additionally, there are no theme-enhancing skits. Typically, I wouldn’t harp on details like this. Nevertheless, this album intended to add to her android storyline. Since she usually adds context to her concepts, Dirty Computer feels somewhat incomplete. Tracks such as “Pynk” and “Don’t Judge Me” remind me of her brilliance, but ultimately I left this album wanting more. Album closer “Americans” is a zealous sendoff. Monáe’s social commentary warrants attention due to her accurate viewpoints. Despite respectable intelligence and musicianship, its less than refined songwriting keeps Dirty Computer partially offline.