Janelle Monáe is back with their first new album in 5 years. Rolling Stone has described this as Monáe's most sumptuous album yet. With themes of sensuality and self-love and infused with Afrobeats, this album is expected to be one of the soundtracks of the summer.
So, does this album live up to the hype? Let’s see what our writers thought!
Forget Megan Thee Stallion, The Age of Pleasure is the manual for Hot Girl Summer. I can’t call myself a Janelle Monáe fan as I haven’t heard enough of their discography to count as a fan, but the music I have heard is fabulous. I utterly adore Janelle as a person (they are definitely a contender for a dinner guest) as they seem like a very genuine and earnest individual. I loved their acting in Moonlight, Hidden Figures and Knives Out: Glass Onion, and I especially liked the maternal figure they played in Moonlight. This particular album should be the right direction for my music taste as it is very soulful and R&B adjacent. I loved the single 'Lipstick Lover', but after listening to the overall album, whilst I certainly like it, I’m not sure I love it.
I did notice there were reggae and jazzy rhythms playing throughout the album. Whilst each track has its own distinctive sound, it is a pretty uniform album and I noticed “whine” was a running lyric throughout the album. Songs that I enjoyed the most included ‘Phenomenal’, ‘Haute’, ‘Dry Red’ and ‘Only Have Eyes For You’. It was interesting as I could hear similarities to other pop icons in ‘Haute’ and ‘Phenomenal’. ‘Haute’ sounded like it could have been a track in Rihanna’s ANTI and ‘Phenomenal’ reminded me of Madonna. I think this is just testament to how versatile Janelle is as an artist. These songs are very much my taste, as they all have a playfulness and sensuality that I usually enjoy in my music. However, I think the weaker tracks for me include ‘Float’, ‘Water Slide’ and ‘The Rush’. I enjoy the lyrics and narrative in ‘Water Slide’; the line “Lookin’ in the mirror at me, my god like who that?”, reminded me of Narcissus staring at his own reflection in the river. But I found these songs in particular were incredibly repetitive and sounded whingy, so none of them were earworms for me. This is why this album isn’t suddenly a new favourite of mine; it’s not an all rounder for me. I don’t have to like every single, but I would definitely be using the skip function for certain songs on Spotify, whereas albums like Adele’s 25 or Lewis Capaldi’s Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent are virtually unskippable for me.
Now, this is obviously a very sexually charged album from the title alone. Janelle is clearly a very conventionally attractive person and a queer icon too with many admirers, and I feel the recent Met Gala after show and the music video for ‘Lipstick Lover’ proves they want to embrace a sex symbol image. Whilst ‘Pynk’ was innuendo central, I personally was taken aback seeing how explicit the ‘Lipstick Lover’ music video was. Even though we live in an era where ‘WAP’ kicked off lockdown, I haven’t seen such a sexually explicit music video in a good while! I absolutely love this new image for Janelle or any time a celebrity goes all out in showcasing their sexual side. I feel like sexuality in the album wasn’t just focused on sexual partners, but also self-love and self-pleasure. This album definitely is a great transition into summer vibes, but I am only drawn to certain tracks.
I was at a pal’s housewarming a few years back and Dirty Computer played on his TV, its striking cover the centre of the screen. I was entranced, honestly – that record filled the room with such a vibe.
Monáe was ahead of us then and they remain ahead now. Here is a master of worldbuilding, magician of the soul, and charter of where we’re all headed.
“No, I’m not the same,” The Age of Pleasure opens saying. Right, and who is ever? My take is that we’re all new every time we wake up, yet for Janelle there’s more to it than that. This album strays from Monáe’s path, shaking the sci-fi tales which sang about the future from their three previous tapestries in favour of valuing this moment, right now.
In an era of fear, where fear is a philosophy concerned with tomorrow, you closing your eyes and rejoicing in the now is… well, ahead of what all your neighbours are up to, trust me.
So let’s list the hits, if you fancy hearing them and rejoicing like Janelle and me: on ‘Float’ Monáe declares themselves “a whole ‘nother coast,” and a chorus carries the last verse into a sunset. Want swag? Try ‘Champagne Shit’ and don’t forget the pure party spectacle that follows, ‘Black Sugar Beach’ (like, DAMN). We’ve a ‘Phenomenal’ cacophony beyond this. The thirty-five second hangout with Grace Jones can stay. So too can the crowd snapshot of ‘The French 75’.
However, it’s not all loose and free – and it’s this that marks Age of Pleasure a B+ at best.
Ever stayed in the club long enough that you start frowning, dizzied by a tune a little too tense against its playlist’s brothers? Yeah, that’s ‘Paid in Pleasure’ for me: a tad firm. Maybe it was all those “pleasures”. Such forcedness, and some unsuccessful risks, make themselves known in other corners, sadly.
I like these kinda jams to float, so I adored ‘Only Eyes Have 42’, and not just for the song it honours. Janelle sounds delighted on this one and, dare I say, in love . As am I, with this track’s escalation, the various sounds building before they all die into piano and bittersweet violins. Rounding this out with ‘A Dry Red’ straight after, its croon reminiscent of this record’s sea-set cover, ain’t a bad way to finish up.
Albums challenge artists: paint your strokes with different brushes – so it all better be solid – or try sustaining a feel – which also requires no mistakes. This doesn’t quite achieve either, but very few albums do (those Silk Sonic tryers came close.)
Janelle can keep smiling this summer, I’d say – they’ve ensured I and a bunch of others will be.
Edited by Harriet