The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)


The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)
The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)
Image of an African American female shoulders up with headgear consisting of multiple buildings and sculptures whilst wearing large triangular earrings she looks into the camera with robotic style metallic shoulder-wear. The background of the image is blue with it darkening away from her head with the title placed across the top of the cover and her name and the words "Suites II and III" of the bottom left hand side whilst four circles three of which are shaded in are placed on the bottom right hand side.
Studio album by Janelle Monáe
Released May 18, 2010 (2010-05-18)
Recorded 2008–10
Wondaland Studios
(Atlanta, Georgia)
Genre Pop, funk, neo soul, art rock
Length 68:35
Label Wondaland Arts Society, Bad Boy
Producer Kevin Barnes, Big Boi (exec.), Sean "Diddy" Combs (exec.), Roman GianArthur, Chuck Lightning, Janelle Monáe, Nate "Rocket" Wonder
Janelle Monáe chronology
Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase)
(2007)
The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)
(2010)
Singles from The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III)
  1. "Tightrope"
    Released: February 11, 2010
  2. "Cold War"
    Released: August 2010

The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III) is the debut studio album of American recording artist Janelle Monáe, released May 18, 2010, on Wondaland Arts Society and Bad Boy Records. Production for the album took place at Wondaland Studios in Atlanta and was primarily handled by Monáe, Nate "Rocket" Wonder, and Chuck Lightning, with only one song without production by Monáe.

It consists of the second and third parts to Monáe's Metropolis concept series. Incorporating conceptual elements of Afrofuturism and science fiction, The ArchAndroid continues the series' fictional tale of a messianic android and features lyrical themes of love, identity, and self-realization. The album has been compared to artists such as David Bowie, Outkast, Prince and Michael Jackson. The album features multiple collaborations with artists; Saul Williams, Big Boi, of Montreal and Deep Cotton.

The album debuted at number 17 on the US Billboard 200, selling 21,000 copies in its first week. It achieved moderate chart success and produced two singles, "Tightrope" and "Cold War". Upon its release, The ArchAndroid received general acclaim from music critics, earning praise for its conceptual themes and Monáe's eclectic musical range. It was named the best album of 2010 by several critics and earned Monáe a Grammy Award nomination for Best Contemporary R&B Album. As of February 23, 2011, The ArchAndroid has sold 141,000 copies in the United States according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Contents

Background and recording

Janelle Monáe on the keynote panel of the 2010 Pop Conference, EMPSFM, Seattle, Washington.
Monáe at the 2010 Pop Conference discussing various influences on the album.

The ArchAndroid is the follow-up to Janelle Monáe's debut EP Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) (2007) and consists of the second and third parts to her Metropolis concept series.[1] Partly inspired by the 1927 film of the same name,[2] the series involves the fictional tale of Cindi Mayweather, a messianic android sent back in time to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time-travel to suppress freedom and love.[1]

In an interview for the Chicago Tribune, Monáe said that she was inspired by the quote "The mediator between the hand and the mind is always the heart" for the record.[2] She discussed her incorporation of the android as a metaphor for a minority, whilst being the role of the story's protagonist also. In an interview for Blues & Soul, Monáe said "she represents the MEDIATOR between the haves and the have-nots, the minority and the majority. So in that way she’s very similar to Neo, the Archangel from The Matrix'. And basically her return will mean freedom for the android community".[1]

Monáe has said about the recording sessions "Over the last year and a half when we were recording the ArchAndroid I went through a very transformative period in my life". Monáe completed the album in Atlanta at the Wondaland Studios and the famous asylum The Palace of the Dogs.[3] Monáe has stated that the album signifies "breaking the chains that enslave minorities of all types".[4] She has said of recording the album, "Overall, this music came from various corners of the world—from Turkey to Prague to Atlanta—places we were on tour. While recording, we’d experiment with different sounds. Once we became engulfed in the sound, we all had an emotional connection to the album. It has definitely transformed my way of thinking, the way that I approach the stage and overall, my life".[3]

Composition

Musical style

Monáe has noted that the album's musical influences encompass "all the things I love, scores for films like Goldfinger mixed with albums like Stevie Wonder’s Music of My Mind and David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust', along with experimental hip hop stuff like Outkast’s Stankonia".[1] Huw Jones of Slant Magazine described her sound as "a unique gray area between neo-soul, funk, and art-rock".[5] Music writer Greg Kot noted that the album "touches on" musical genres such as funk, hip hop, folk, electro-pop, glam rock, big-band jazz, rock, and classical music.[2] Conceptually, Kot described the album as "a self-empowerment manifesto couched inside a futuristic 'emotion-picture' about an android’s battle to overcome oppression. The notion of space travel and 'new worlds' becomes a metaphor for breaking the chains that enslave minorities of all types – a theme that has a long tradition in African-American music, from Sun Ra and Parliament-Funkadelic to Cannibal Ox and OutKast".[2] The Atlantic's Brentin Mock called The ArchAndroid "unique, forward-looking, and apoplectic... something of a jitterbug between Prince's 1986 movie Under the Cherry Moon and the 1977 Watts movie Killer of Sheep, and Daughters of the Dust".[6] Seth Colter Walls of Newsweek described the album as "rocking in parts like Dirty Mind–era Prince, unfolding in a suite form that recalls Abbey Road's side two, and bumping throughout with the best innovations of contemporary hip-hop".[7]

Content

Monáe has stated that the album's lyrical themes and storyline were heavily influenced by Fritz Lang's Metropolis.[2] The song "Dance or Die" features performer Saul Williams and contains neo soul influences. It then transistions into "Faster", which has gospel and retro-pop influences. The song "Locked Inside" features a rhythm similar to the opening break from "Rock with You" by Michael Jackson, and it has been compared to Jackson's music with Quincy Jones.[8] It has also been noted for similarities to artists such as Estelle and the Jackson 5, the track features a more mellow R&B style in contrast to previous tracks. "Sir Greendown" continues with this theme and has been noted for its ‘Old-Fashioned’ Pop themes. The track "Cold War" has been described as having big hooks and a “sugar fuelled” beat. influences.[8] It has been described by a few media outlets as being the next James Bond film theme tune. The track "Tightrope" features vocals from OutKast star Big Boi and it has been noted as having influences from their single "Hey Ya". "Oh Maker" is the next song which features themes from such artists as Alicia Keys or Corinne Bailey Rae and is another of the less up-beat tracks on the album. "Come Alive (War of the Roses)" has been described as having rock and punk themes. "Mushrooms & Roses" is the next track on the album and it has themes of psychedelic music and it has been noted for its influences by such songs as The Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" and Prince's "Purple Rain". The next track features Of Montreal on vocal parts and it has been compared to such artists as Placebo and George Clinton. The song "Wondaland" has themes of Disco synth and themes of the 1980s. Then Deep Cotton guest stars on the song "57821" which has a softer melody and has been compared to such works by Simon & Garfunkel this is followed the track "Say You’ll Go" and features samples of "Claire De Lune" by Debussy.[9]

Release and promotion

The album was released May 18, 2010 on Wondaland Arts Society and Bad Boy Records.[10] For promoting the album, Monáe hosted a listening session for press and VIPs at Rubin Museum of Art in New York City on March 4, 2010.[11] A short film, teaser trailer style, was released on April 14 on YouTube showing an aerial view of the fictional futuristic city of Metropolis. She joined recording artist Erykah Badu on the latter's Out My Mind, Just in Time Tour during May to June 2010.[12] Monae performed to her television debut on the Late Night with David Letterman where she performed the album's lead single "Tightrope" to acclaim from critics.[13] Monae also performed the single on the television show So You Think You Can Dance.[14] She also performed the same track on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and her mentor Sean "Diddy" Combs joined her on stage to introduce her to the show.[15] Monae also performed at the 2010 ESPY Awards and during her performance she was joined on stage by comedian Will Ferrell.[16] Monae also took to the stage on the Live with Jools Holland show where she performed the non-released track "Faster".[17] She also performed her single "Tightrope" on the Mo'Nique Show.[18] After performing her single "Tightrope" in the majority of her performances she performed her track "Cold War" live on the Last Call with Carson Daly.[19][20] She has spent time supporting such acts as; No Doubt, Paramore, and Erykah Badu.[3] In February 2011, Hooligans in Wondaland [sic], a joint co-headlining tour with Bruno Mars was announced. The concert tour was performed in North America in May and June 2011.[21][22]

Singles

The first official single "Tightrope" (featuring Big Boi) premiered on February 11 on Pitchfork Media's website, with a companion song entitled "Cold War" debuting the following day via Monáe's official website.[10] On March 31, 2010, the video for "Tightrope" was released presenting Monáe dancing in the Palace of the Dogs also starring Big Boi.[23] Monáe performed the song on the Late Show with David Letterman on May 18, 2010,[24] The Ellen DeGeneres Show on May 26, Lopez Tonight on May 27, Last Call with Carson Daly on May 28,[25] and The Mo'Nique Show on June 9, 2010.[26] Rolling Stone named "Tightrope" the eighth best single of 2010 in its year-end list.[27]

Reception

Commercial performance

The album debuted at number 17 on the US Billboard 200 chart,[28] with first-week sales of 21,000 copies.[29] The album dropped to number 40 in its second week on the Billboard 200[30], and fell to number 49 on the chart in its third week,[31] selling 7,500 copies.[32] Whilst its fourth week, the album moved to number 71 on the Billboard 200.[33] It has spent seventeen weeks on the Billboard 200.[34] In the week of February 23, 2011, the album re-entered the Billboard 200 at number 171, after selling an additional 3,900 copies.[35] As of February 23, 2011, The ArchAndroid has sold 141,000 copies in the United States.[35] It also entered at number four on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and at number seven on its Digital Albums chart.[36][37]

In the United Kingdom, The ArchAndroid debuted at number 51 on the UK Albums Chart.[38] The album also reached number 12 in Germany,[39] number 15 in Denmark,[40] number 22 in Norway,[41] number 24 in Ireland,[42] number 36 in Switzerland,[43] and number 63 in Austria.[44]

Critical response

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[45]
Entertainment Weekly (A-)[46]
The Guardian 5/5 stars[47]
Los Angeles Times 3.5/4 stars[48]
The New York Times (favorable)[49]
Pitchfork Media (8.5/10)[50]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[51]
Slant Magazine 4/5 stars[52]
Spin (9/10)[53]
URB 5/5 stars[54]

The ArchAndroid received general acclaim from music critics.[55] At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 91, based on 28 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[55] One of 2010's best-reviewed releases, the album received praise for its Afrofuturistic concept and Monáe's eclectic musical range.[56] Allmusic writer Andy Kellman praised Monáe's musical creativity and called it "an extravagant 70-minute album involving more imagination, conceptual detail, and stylistic turnabouts than most gatefold prog rock epics".[45] Entertainment Weekly's Simon Vozick-Levinson gave The ArchAndroid an A- rating and wrote that "most of Janelle Monáe's mad experiments yield spectacularly catchy results".[46] Barry Walters of Spin noted German Expressionism and Afrofuturism as conceptual elements on the album and stated "She's venturing so far away from soul that she's come back around to it".[53] Chicago Tribune writer Greg Kot gave the album four out of four stars and called it "an audacious, sometimes bewildering statement".[57] Sputnikmusic's Nick Butler called it a "ballsy, funky, and furiously intelligent album" and commended Monáe's "near-psychotic ambition".[58] Seth Colter Walls of Newsweek commented that Monáe's voice "can make the hyperspace leap from its crooning, chanteuse register to the gritty exhalations required by funk".[7]

James Reed of The Boston Globe found the album's second suite less "compelling" than the first, but cited it as "one of this year’s most thrilling albums".[59] Jon Pareles of The New York Times commented that "Monáe gets away with most of her metamorphoses, and the sheer ambition is exhilarating even when she stretches too far".[49] Rolling Stone's Jody Rosen stated "Monáe's charisma and energy are so forceful that the jumble makes perfect sense".[51] Despite writing that "her musical schizophrenia might cause her to overreach at times", Bill Friskics-Warren of The Washington Post noted its "expansive, high-spirited music" and compared her fusion of "science fiction/fantasy and genre-defying funk" to the 1970s work of George Clinton.[60] Matthew Cole of Slant Magazine described it as "an elaborately performed and consummately freaky cyber-punk epic... so stylistically leftfield in terms of its sound".[52] The A.V. Club's Genevieve Koski wrote that "Monáe’s inexhaustible swagger and singular style sell both the high-concept theatrics and the schizophrenic sonics".[61] Pitchfork Media's Matthew Perpetua called the album "about as bold as mainstream music gets, marrying the world-building possibilities of the concept album to the big tent genre-mutating pop of Michael Jackson and Prince in their prime".[50] Perpetua elaborated on Monáe's incorporation of science-fiction and Afrofuturist concepts and the album's "basic appeal", stating:

Her imagination and iconography deepen the record as an experience and give her license to go far out, but it ultimately serves as a fun, flashy framework for pop songs with universal lyrical sentiments. The first of the two suites mainly deals with identity and self-realization; the second is essentially a set of love songs. As with all the musical genres blended into The ArchAndroid, Monáe uses the conventions of science fiction as a means of communication, tapping into mythic archetypes for their immediate resonance and power. And where many concept albums run a high risk of being pompous, cryptic, and self-important, Monáe keeps things playful, lively, and accessible. It's a delicate balancing act... resulting in an eccentric breakthrough that transcends its novelty.[50]
—Matthew Perpetua

URB's Dan Vidal gave the album five out of five stars and described it as "a spectrum of sound — packed and arranged perfectly into a masterfully composed (debut) full-length body of work... [a] genre-defying masterpiece".[54] Quentin B. Huff of PopMatters called it "a smorgasbord of music, well-executed if not readily identifiable as having a common sound, and, most importantly, sincerely rendered".[62] Paste's Justin Jacobs compared the album to Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life (1976) and wrote "its stunning, sophisticated tunes spanning styles, speeds and sentiments, all tied together by a smorgasbord of artistic personalities".[35] Michael Cragg of The Guardian noted its "sheer musical scope" as "spellbinding".[47] Comparing it to singer Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989), Brentin Mock of The Atlantic called The ArchAndroid "a smothered funk, though perhaps at times too thick, too inaccessible, but not so much I didn't want to shake my ass" and viewed it as musically progressive, stating "Monáe has given pop music its first Toni Morrison moment, where fantasy, funk, and the ancestors come together for an experience that evolves one's soul... You really don't know whether you want to diagram it, dance to it, or just be dumbstruck. It owes as much to Parliament-Funkadelic as it does to Samuel Delaney and Octavia Butler. She is finally doing what a number of artists—particularly black artists—have not been able to do in years, and that's move pop music forward".[6]

Accolades

The album has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary R&B Album, presented at the 53rd Grammy Awards in 2011.[63] The ArchAndroid appeared on several music critics' and publications' end-of-year albums lists.[64] It was named the year's best album by several critics in their year-end lists.[65] Chicago Tribune writer Greg Kot ranked it number one on his top albums list.[66] Nitsuh Abebe of New York ranked the album number six on his top albums list.[67] Paste named it the second best album of 2010 in its end-of-year albums list.[68] Chris Yuscavage of Vibe ranked it number five on his list of the 10 Best Albums of 2010.[69] NME ranked the album number 21 on its list of 75 Best Albums of 2010.[70] Spin placed The ArchAndroid at number six on its 40 Best Albums list for 2010.[71] Pitchfork Media included the album at number 12 on its year-end list and called it a "hugely ambitious full-length debut—more Sign 'O' the Times than Kid A".[72] PopMatters named it the best album of 2010 in its year-end list.[73] MTV and Entertainment Weekly placed it at number eight on their lists of the 20 Best Albums of 2010.[74][75] The Guardian ranked the album number one on its list of 2010's top 40 albums, stating in conclusion "No other album this year seems so alive with possibility. Monáe is young and fearless enough to try anything, gifted enough to pull almost all of it off, and large-hearted enough to make it feel like a communal experience: Us rather than Me".[76] The ArchAndroid was voted the fourth-best album in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll for 2010.[77] Five songs from the album were included in the poll's singles list, including "Tightrope" (number two), "Cold War" (number 22), "Wondaland", "Locked Inside", and "Sir Greendown" (all tied for number 549).[78]

Track listing

  • All tracks produced by Nate "Rocket" Wonder, Chuck Lightning, and Janelle Monáe, except track 14 by Kevin Barnes and tracks 1, 12, and 18 by Roman GianArthur Irvin.[79]
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Suite II Overture"   Nathaniel Irvin III, Roman GianArthur Irvin, Charles Joseph II, Janelle Monáe Robinson 2:31
2. "Dance or Die" (featuring Saul Williams) Irvin III, Joseph II, Robinson, Saul Williams 3:12
3. "Faster"   Irvin III, Joseph II, Robinson 3:19
4. "Locked Inside"   Irvin III, Robinson 4:16
5. "Sir Greendown"   Irvin III, Joseph II, Robinson 2:14
6. "Cold War"   Irvin III, Joseph II, Robinson 3:23
7. "Tightrope" (featuring Big Boi) Irvin III, Joseph II, Antwan Patton, Robinson 4:22
8. "Neon Gumbo"   Robinson, Chuck Lightning 1:37
9. "Oh, Maker"   Irvin III, Joseph II, Robinson 3:46
10. "Come Alive (The War of the Roses)"   Irvin III, Joseph II, Kellis Parker Jr., Robinson 3:22
11. "Mushrooms & Roses"   Irvin III, Joseph II, Robinson 5:42
12. "Suite III Overture"   Irvin III, Irvin, Joseph II, Robinson 1:41
13. "Neon Valley Street"   Irvin III, Joseph II, Robinson 4:11
14. "Make the Bus" (featuring of Montreal) Kevin Barnes 3:19
15. "Wondaland"   Irvin III, Joseph II, Robinson 3:36
16. "57821" (featuring Deep Cotton) Irvin III, Joseph II, Robinson 3:16
17. "Say You’ll Go"   Irvin III, Irvin, Joseph II, Robinson 6:01
18. "BabopbyeYa"   Irvin III, Irvin, Joseph II, Robinson 8:47

Personnel

Credits for The ArchAndroid adapted from Allmusic.[80]

Musicians

  • Young Pete Alexander – drums, string arrangements
  • Kevin Barnes – synthesizer, drums, guitar (bass), keyboards, vocals, vocals (background), producer, drum programming
  • Terrence Brown – organ, piano
  • Deep Cotton – vocals (background)
  • DJ Cutmaster Swiff – scratching, cut
  • Nworb Ecnerret – piano
  • Sknuks Eht – vocals
  • Eánom Ellenaj – vocals
  • Jason Freeman – horn arrangements
  • Jerry Freeman – horn arrangements
  • Roman GianArthur – percussion, piano, arranger, conductor, vocals (background), producer, engineer, vocal arrangement, string arrangements, mixing
  • Hornz Unlimited – horn
  • Felicia Long – flute
  • Janelle Monáe – arranger, vocals, vocals (background), producer
  • The Neon Valley St. Anthony Choir – vocals (background)
  • The Neon Valley Street Chancel Choir – vocals (background)
  • Monroe Nervine – dulcimer, clarinet, mandolin, bassoon, harp, oboe
  • Tang Nivri – percussion
  • Kyle O'Brien – French horn
  • Rekrap Odnillek – guitar
  • Alexander Page – violin, viola
  • Kelindo Parker – arranger, ukulele, guitar, guitar (rhythm), vocal arrangement, soloist
  • Grace Shim – cello
  • Rekrap Sillek – guitar arrangements
  • Skinks – vocals (background)
  • The Skunks – vocals (background)
  • Dashill "Sunnovah" Smith – trumpet, soloist
  • Kelly Sparker – brass
  • Thesaurus Rex – harp
  • Saul Williams – vocals
  • Wolfmaster Z – drums, guitar (bass), guitar (rhythm), theremin, tubular bells, bass marimba
  • The Wondaland ArchOrchestra – strings
  • Wondaland String Ensemble – strings
  • Nate "Rocket" Wonder – organ, guitar (acoustic), bass, guitar, percussion, arranger, conductor, drums, guitar (bass), guitar (electric), keyboards, vocals, vocals (background), producer, mellotron, vibraphone, horn arrangements, string arrangements, editing, mixing, Hammond B3
  • Nathan Yelurvin – percussion, glockenspiel, harp, mellotron, woodwind

Production

  • Larry Anthony – mastering
  • Christopher Carmouche – mixing
  • Jessee Clarkson – wardrobe
  • Sean "Diddy" Combs – executive producer
  • Control Z – engineer, mastering, mixing
  • Rednow "Tekcor" Etan – arranger
  • Jeff Gillies – wardrobe
  • Dr. Nathaniel Irvin III – arranger
  • Charles Joseph II – arranger
  • Damien Lewis – engineer, editing
  • Chuck Lightning – arranger, vocals (background), producer
  • Lord Mitchell A. "MitchOW!ski" Martian – mastering, mixing
  • Antwan "Big Boi" Patton – executive producer, vocals (background)
  • Max Stellings – liner notes
  • Phil Tan – editing, mixing
  • Carolyn Tracey – package production
  • Chad Weatherford – costume design
  • Andrew Zaeh – photography

Charts

Chart (2010) Peak
position
Austrian Albums Chart[44] 63
Belgian Albums Chart (Flanders)[81] 57
German Albums Chart[39] 12
Irish Albums Chart[42] 24
Spanish Albums Chart[82] 100
Swiss Albums Chart[43] 36
UK Albums Chart[38] 51
US Billboard 200[34] 17
US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums[34] 4
Chart (2011) Peak
position
Danish Albums Chart[40] 15
Dutch Albums Chart[83] 65
Finnish Albums Chart[84] 47
French Albums Chart[85] 155
Norwegian Albums Chart[41] 22
UK R&B Albums Chart[86] 11

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