Friday, January 3, 2014

The landscape of the electric lady

Given their ubiquity it is often said that opinions are like arseholes. Pursuing this thought you might also add that those who like to express their opinions with the greatest frequency and volume are also like…..well, you can probably see where I was going with that.

In the context of musical appreciation and its many foibles we need the opinionated though. We need those arbiters to sift through the mass and present us with the nuggets, the must-listens and the like. There’s too much out there – past and present – and the average person, even the average music-lover, cannot even scratch the surface. In the main people (in this country) rely upon radio, other media and their friends and until the streaming sites get better at honing their algorithms this will probably remain the case.

I had been relying heavily upon the end of year summaries featuring the top albums of 2013, trying to work out which of the featured albums/artists I’d probably like and hadn’t heard. Where the lists converged I made a point of trying to catch up with those albums. In general, although I’m probably only half-way through my ‘research’, I wasn’t overwhelmed.

There is an argument that I possibly should’ve cast the net wider, that I relied too heavily upon publications that were aimed at my age-group and social status. This surely makes the most sense though? The other issue may be that critics are either too conservative or – and I have been guilty of this – trying too hard to be clever by favouring the obtuse. Opinions are, of course, by their vary nature subjective: one man’s meat being another’s poison to labour another even more clich├ęd maxim. This is none more obvious than the amusing conflict visible in Vice’s 50 best and worst albums of the year – with similar placements (and the same reviews) for certain titles.

In the interests of a final ‘look back’, as this month should predominantly be about looking forward, I will note that my album of 2013 was no great surprise, at least not to me. In creating Electric Lady Janelle Monae  has done more than follow up the excellent ArchAndroid, she has released the best album that Prince never made. Prince – being a noted visionary, collaborator and supporter of like-minded musicians - clearly noticed this and consequently participated on one of the tracks. 

 
He’s far from being the only participant; it’s hard to know who benefits most from these shared efforts except perhaps the listener, which is entirely as it should be.

 
Monae makes it look easy to straddle ‘credible pop’, soul & funk whilst embodying ‘old school’ performance and writing abilities. What’s equally important – from my point of view – in terms of delivering an album worthy of note is that she’s produced a body of work which is consistent, varied and lengthy enough to warrant repeat listens. It’s not simply a couple of hits and a bunch of ‘filler’ it is a ‘proper’ album.



I don’t know what her sales figures look like here – or anywhere for that matter – but wish that she’d had the column inches afforded to oxygen-thieves like Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and their ilk. Here is a proper star, one that in another era could’ve dominated the landscape for years. Perhaps she will. The work produced so far suggests an ability and creativity that could flourish over a prolonged period. This is what real music sounds like, embrace it while you can.

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