Last week, Janelle Monáe released her third full-length studio album, Dirty Computer. Since then, a bunch of publications have made it the best-reviewed record this year. There are many critics willing to give you a balanced appraisal of Dirty Computer. But I’m not here to criticize, just to amplify.
Because you know what’s way more fun than reviewing an album?
Sharing all the reasons you love it.
While I’m sure I’ll find more to appreciate on subsequent listens, these are some of the details that are grabbing me right now.
*Monáe has also released Dirty Computer as an emotion picture, available on YouTube and playing on BET and MTV. This post will focus just on the auditory experience.
1. Dirty Computer
With Brian Wilson’s gorgeous, ethereal vocals, the beginning of the title track is a velvety sonic treat. The entrance of the bass and drums takes it up a subtle, but delicious, notch.
“Oh if you love me, won’t you please reply?”
2. Crazy, Classic, Life
Monae is the American dream and the American cool. While the country is happy to adopt (and appropriate) the cool of black artists, it often seems less enthused about their success. “Crazy, Classic, Life” also calls out the double standard of rewarding white guys who rebel and punishing women and people of color for doing the same. It’s funny how you’re only allowed to break the rules when they are designed to serve you.
3. Take a Byte
“Wait, did she sample ‘Africa’ by Toto? Wasn’t expecting that… Hold on! Now it’s ‘Heart Of Glass?!’ I’m here for it.” — Me
Shout out to Kellindo Parker, who kills on guitar throughout the album and was also a co-writer on this track and “Americans.”
It was at the seven-second mark that I knew I was going to love this song. The guitars make me want to throw a rager in the rubble of a dying city.
“You fucked the world up now/we’ll fuck it all back down”
5. Django Jane
“Django Jane” casually lists all Monáe and her friends’ accolades just to remind you that the recognition of an oppressive establishment are just mile markers on her path to world domination.
“Already got an Oscar for the casa… Probably get an Emmy dedicated to the highly melanated.”
Moving from “Django Jane” into “Pynk,” there’s a sharp and pointed vocal transition. Power doesn’t preclude delicacy.
And speaking of “Pynk,” it’s got a joyful chorus with a sweet, chunky guitar riff.
7. Make Me Feel
Many people have noted “Make Me Feel”s Prince vibes, but you should also listen closely for some Little Richard-esque vocal touches.
AND UGH, THE TONGUE POPS.
8. I Got the Juice
I’m choosing to believe Monáe’s line,“got juice between my thighs,” is a reference to Ginuwine’s “Pony.” In any case, Pharrell is the perfect feature on this track because he’s the kind of cool you don’t need to advertise. Like Monáe, he’s just got it.
9. I Like That
In the bridge of “I Like That,” Monáe tenderly discloses a vivid, painful childhood memory. Encounters like these can stick with you for life and if Janelle Monáe can overcome them, maybe the rest of us can too.
“I’m the random minor note you hear in major songs”
10. Don’t Judge Me
Here, Monáe croons about that most crushing fear: the judgment of those we love. No one can hurt you like someone who has seen you without your disguise.
11. Stevie’s Dream
When it seems like the nation is imploding with hatred and willful ignorance, “Stevie’s Dream” soothingly reminds us that anger and love can coexist.
Sidenote: The background talk reminds me of the interludes in Alicia Keys’ Here, which is also a damn good album.
12. So Afraid
The atmospheric vocals and synths wash over you, not unlike the fear encapsulating the speaker. Later, the guitars come in, wirey and divergent, like a sonic fractal.
And Monáe asks, “What if I lose?”
And that’s the question, isn’t it? That’s what keeps us paralyzed.
Or, to chase one interpretation of that line, what if we — those of us fighting for justice in it’s many messy forms — lose? The night of the 2016 election, I heard a young man offer up the Martin Luther King Jr. quote that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But what if it doesn’t? What if righteous victory is not assured? Do we have the courage to keep fighting when defeat seems more real than ever?
But before silence can lend credence to that overwhelming fear, Dirty Computer delivers the hopeful words we need, whether they are true by nature or we must make them so.
“We will win this fight/Let all souls be brave”
The bouncy first verse, like much of the album, covers the nation’s disturbing headlines without regurgitating them. I mean, come on. “Jim Crow Jesus rose again” is just brilliant.
But the next verse could be the words of the angry white man who still, somehow, believes he is the oppressed one. With these two defiant viewpoints, Monáe launches into a chorus that could come from either side. This olive branch of mutual humanity is not, however, to be confused with equivalence.
Pieces of a sermon by Dr. Sean McMillan appears earlier in the album, but takes center stage in “Americans.” His words capture the frustration of wanting to disown the travesties of our country while simultaneously refusing to give in to those who celebrate them. He and Monáe end by pronouncing that, although the devil seems stronger than ever, he will not win.
The album’s streaming in all the usual places. But dude…if you have the means, just buy it and support all the artists involved in this project.