The Age of Pleasure
The once-future-facing robot funkateer Janelle Monáe has moved from the influence of 1999-era Prince to that of the earthly Fela Kuti for her latest loll through Wondaland, and has become—in her own words—a sensualist “freeassmuthafucka” on her latest effort, The Age of Pleasure. Good on her. Though still taut and tasty, Monáe’s Dirty Computer–era sci-fi synth schtick was growing tired, often closing the throat on a brand of soul composition (to say nothing of her sinewy, expressive vocals) that needed air and organicism to breathe.
With breezy R&B melodies, come-fuck-me wordiness, and roomy Afrobeat arrangements to guide her, Age of Pleasure moments such as the aptly titled “Float”—lyrically, sonically—allow the writer-singer to roam freer and franker than ever. Together with Jamaican dancehall classicist Sister Nancy, Monáe makes “The French 75” a boozy, communal jam that’s shockingly (in terms of this back catalog of work) conversational. Usually, Monáe is one for pronouncements and monologues.
On Dionysian cuts such as “French 75” and the more tenderly homoerotic “Lipstick Lover,” Monáe is reaching out across the table—or bed sheets—for some pillow talk. And though she hasn’t thoroughly left robotics behind on Pleasure, she does manage to blend her usual stiff-upper-lip-synth-phonics with something more Afro-diasporic and sultry on “Phenomenal,” “Champagne Shit,” and—with original reggae-manipulating robo-queen Grace Jones—the altogether too brief bit of “Ooh La La.”
By the time Monáe closes her accounts on this sensualist list of pleasure principles with an acoustic love song, “A Dry Red,” everyone is sated—audience and artist.