Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer
Jan 12, 2019
She would have had tough competition last year, but for 2018 Janelle Monáe can rest safe in the knowledge that she released my most disappointing album of the year. Congrats, girl.

Because while 'Dirty Computer' has an important message, it's a message she's delivered three times before, and each was better than this. In a New York Times interview, Monáe claimed that for this record she had ditched the metaphors and narrative arcs surrounding the adventures of Cindi Mayweather to show the public her "true" self: "the subject is Janelle Monáe." And yet she's still doing it: 'Dirty Computer' is a concept album paired with a short film in which those who don't conform to a societal standard set by straight white people are captured and "cleaned" by a process that erases their memories. The concept is fine, but how is this any different to the 'Metropolis' suites, which also explored racism and the perception of queerness as "other" for the duration of its narrative? What do we learn about Janelle in these songs that we didn't already know? That a mid-eighties child "lost her mind on rock-n-roll"? Good grief.

And therein lies my problem with 'Dirty Computer': the tracklist is no good — full of absolute clunkers with shockingly poor lyrics that just can't do justice to the nuanced topics at hand. Yes, I'm sure many mocked 'Django Jane' and 'Pynk' in bad faith purely for being explicitly feminist, but it's incredibly difficult to stand up for "DECEPTICONS AND AUTOBOTS / WHO TWIST THE PLOT," or "I live my life in a magazine / I live my life on a TV screen," or pretty much the whole of 'Crazy Classic Life'. For every 'Make Me Feel', a sticky slice of '80s bombast carried by a marvellous rubbery synth line, there's three other tracks with hooks so empty that despite their intricate production they almost feel lazy. No amount of glossy funk can save half of these songs, not least when they're too busy wallowing in limp trap beats and singing about just wanting to "break the rules."

In his review for 'The Guardian', Alexis Petridis heaped praise onto Monáe's skills as a performer and the energy she brings to much of the tracklist, but ultimately slapped on a 6/10 because of her refusal to relax her public persona: "she remains as elusive as ever, and her mystery remains intact." I remember a few of my friends were furious over this review, but almost nine months later I still think his conclusion was correct; Janelle Monáe wanted to show the world who Janelle Monáe really is, but there's a sense that she never fully commits to this — I'm really none the wiser in 2019 than I was in 2013. What we're left with is textbook style over substance, an album that says a lot but says nothing that truly sticks.

Favourite track: "Make Me Feel"
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