Electric ladies of music: Janelle Monáe, Danielle Brisebois

riotgrrrlWomen in the music scene can rock and surely they do, and I can’t stress this fact enough. It bothers me that lots of guys are still like, ‘she’s a girl so she can’t play heavy metal’, ‘she should stick to pop’, ‘it doesn’t fit her’. As if music genres were gender-bound, limited to specific race or sexual orientation. Just look at rap culture and the way white artists continue to be perceived. Beastie Boys were a sensation back in the day and more recently so was Eminem, but they had to fight lots of negative preconceived notions to achieve success and gain appreciation. People still go, ‘wow she’s a female, yet she raps as good as man’, or ‘I don’t listen to George Michael, coz he’s gay’. Music is all matter of taste, but the issues mentioned should never play a role in deciding whether you like an artist or not. Times surely change for the better, but the music fascism remains, I have no doubt about that. Riot grrrl movement of the early 1990s, with bands like Bikini Kill, Le Tigre or Sleater-Kinney, addressed the problems of the male-centered society and the place of women in music, yet the mainstream culture still did not get this memo.

Some time ago I was binge-watching David Letterman videos (again) and I ended up catching a song by a singer named Janelle Monáe. Add one more reason for missing Dave once he retires – his music preferences are top-notch. So, when this tiny woman hit the stage and started bouncing around, I realized I was in for a treat. She performed a song called Dance Apocalyptic, promoting her second album The Electric Lady. Backing her was an extended band of musicians, everyone wearing tasteful black and white clothes. Janelle gave an explosive show, demonstrating her impressive vocals and wild dancing skills, including a short boogie down on the Letterman’s desk. By this point I knew I need more of this, more of her. This lady brings us an amazing mix of soul, rock, and psychedelia.

The Electric Lady is a concept album, a continuation of Monáe’s previous releases – Metropolis: The Chase EP and the debut album The ArchAndroid, all three being parts of the Metropolis storyline – an android saga with messianic undertones, told in seven suites (The Electric Lady representing the installments four and five).

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The album starts with Givin Em What They Love, a powerful manifesto featuring Prince, trumpets, and a stunning vocal delivery.

I am sharper than a razor
Eyes made of lasers
Bolder than the truth

On Q.U.E.E.N. and Electric Lady Janelle dabs in hip-hop, Primetime is an example of more typical R&B track. What follows is one my favorites on the record, We Were Rock & Roll. Upbeat, pop-rock song with a fuzzy guitar solo (I’m a sucker for those). Next we get Dance Apocalyptic I mentioned earlier with its punky attitude and Look Into My Eyes – a rumba (at least I believe it is, the rhythm is similar to the songs they play on video dancing lessons) sang in an old school kind of way. The Electric Lady highlights also include:

  • Ghetto Woman – I believe it’s a hymn to the mother of the singer and an expression of admiration for her,

Before the tuxedos and black and white every day
Used to watch my momma get down on her knees and pray
She’s the reason that I’m even writing this song
Ghetto Woman no it won’t be long. Now sing along

 

  • Can’t Live Without Your Love, which is another favorite of mine, a beautiful ballad with a groovy bass line and impassioned intonation.
  • What an Experience – album’s final track, a love song which also has that sort of transcendental, optimistic tone to it and gives you a nice sense of closure.

Finally, I would like to say that to my current knowledge Janelle Monáe appears to be a really interesting public figure, not only because of her remarkable music talent, but also she seems to be a very intelligent woman who knows her worth, and I say, that’s a role model to follow right there, all best to her, I hope to hear more of her music soon.

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The second artist I’d like to acknowledge, though for different reasons, is Danielle Brisebois. Probably not many people are familiar with that name – she had a very minor success in the 1990s, playing rock music in the vein of Alanis Morissette or Sheryl Crow, collaborating a lot with Gregg Alexander. Danielle later went on to become a part of his band, New Radicals (famous for their ultimate 1998 hit You Get What You Give).

What made me listen to her? Shiina Ringo, unbelievably amazing Japanese songstress I’m in love with, performed a song by Brisebois entitled Just Missed the Train on a talent show in 1995, when she was like 16 – few years before her major debut and totally shaking the foundations of the Japanese rock scene.

As much I adore Ringo, I decided to check out the original version, and honestly it blew me away. Just Missed the Train is a sweet, dreamy ballad, accompanied by piano, which makes you float away. It’s one those songs, which you could immediately guess the decade it was created in. Kelly Clarkson did a cover of it, but I really didn’t like it.

Just Missed the Train was featured on the 1994 Brisebois’s debut album Arrive All over You. Does this CD stand the test of time? I believe so, but it depends whether you like 90s alternative rock or you’ve had enough of it. I picked a very decent used copy on Ebay for like 2 or 3 bucks so I’m more than satisfied with the deal.

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