Wednesday 19 July 2023

Review of 'The Age Of Pleasure' by Janelle Monae


Janelle Monae trades Afrofuturist android adventures for radio-friendly raunchy reggae.

Janelle Monae is no longer a cyborg. And she’s no longer making sociopolitical soul/funk/rap/jazz/rock/pop odysseys. Her last album Dirty Computer marked the beginning of her transformation. It did still have some anthropomorphic computer analogies and played with plenty of different genres, but most of the tracks saw her taking a poppier approach and largely ditching the robot persona. And there were less sociopolitical themes in the lyrics and more sex. A LOT more sex.

Now on The Age of Pleasure she’s well and truly buried her android alter ego. And she’s somehow ramped up the raunchiness – so much so that some of these songs are enough to make Rihanna blush. There’s ‘Water Slide’, a song about self-love (the literal kind) that is filled with various steamy pool metaphors. There’s ‘Rush’, a breathily-delivered song about orgasming. And then there’s ‘A Dry Red’, a song about ‘whining’ with lyrics that border on literotica: ‘now, baby, I’m choosy/but me and you can fuck in that jacuzzi/and we can make a scene/or better yet we can make a movie’.

The impressively raunchy lyrics are paired with summery reggae instrumentals, so that the whole album plays out like an orgy in the Caribbean sun. There are a few soul and r&b flavours peppered throughout, but it’s mostly dancehall and dub with lots of horn melodies (in more ways than one, it’s Janelle Monae’s horniest album to date).

There are some daring moments on the album such as ‘Lipstick Lover’, an anthem dedicated to girl-on-girl love that challenges reggae’s typically homophobic stance. And tracks like ‘Water Slide’ are a bop. But is this album really as ambitious and fun as The ArchAndroid or Electric Lady? No way.

Monae’s albums used to be sprawling, unpredictable rollercoasters that cycled through various genres and themes. The Age Of Pleasure is meanwhile a one-dimensional pop-reggae album about sex. Don’t get me wrong – these are decent sex anthems. But my sex playlist is already full. I’ve already got enough sex anthems to last me 5 years (and 5 minutes is usually all I can do!!). My Afrofuturist android adventure playlist isn’t nearly as full. Give me more Afrofuturist android adventures please.