The ArchAndroid

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The ArchAndroid
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
Genre
Length 68:35
Label
Producer
Janelle Monáe chronology
Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase)
(2007)
The ArchAndroid
(2010)
The Electric Lady
(2013)
Singles from The ArchAndroid
  1. "Come Alive (The War of the Roses)"
    Released: September 29, 2009
  2. "Tightrope"
    Released: February 11, 2010
  3. "Cold War"
    Released: August 8, 2010

The ArchAndroid is the debut studio album by American recording artist Janelle Monáe, released on May 18, 2010, by 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 the work of 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 three singles: "Come Alive (The War of the Roses)", "Tightrope" and "Cold War". Upon its release, The ArchAndroid received universal 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.

Background and recording[edit]

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.[4] Partly inspired by the 1927 film of the same name,[5] 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.[4]

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.[5] 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".[4]

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.[6] Monáe has stated that the album signifies "breaking the chains that enslave minorities of all types".[7] 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".[6]

Composition[edit]

Musical style[edit]

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".[4] Huw Jones of Slant Magazine described her sound as "a unique gray area between neo-soul, funk, and art-rock".[8] 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.[5] 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".[5] 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".[9] 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".[10]

Songs[edit]

Monáe has stated that the album's lyrical themes and storyline were heavily influenced by Fritz Lang's Metropolis.[5] The song "Dance or Die" features performer Saul Williams and contains neo soul influences. It then transitions into "Faster", which has new wave,[11] 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.[12] 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 the previous tracks. "Sir Greendown" continues with this theme and has been noted for its "old-fashioned" pop themes. The track "Cold War" is a song with new wave tendencies which has been noted to have big hooks and "sugar fuelled" beat influences.[12] 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", and a sound described as "funky soul"[11] and neojump blues.[13] The album's ninth track is "Oh, Maker", a song with English pastoral folk influences.[14] "Come Alive (The 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, "Make the Bus", features Of Montreal on vocal parts and it has been compared to such artists as Placebo and George Clinton. The song "Wondaland" has a synthpop sound and has been compared to the work of Tom Tom Club.[11] Then Deep Cotton guest stars on the song "57821" which has been described as "space-folk"[11] and has been compared to such works by Simon & Garfunkel. This is followed by the track "Say You'll Go" and features samples of "Clair de lune" by Debussy.[15]

Release and promotion[edit]

The album was released on May 18, 2010 on Wondaland Arts Society and Bad Boy Records.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18] Monáe performed to her television debut on the Late Show with David Letterman where she performed the album's lead single "Tightrope" to acclaim from critics.[19] Monáe also performed the single on the television show So You Think You Can Dance.[20] 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.[21] Monáe also performed at the 2010 ESPY Awards and during her performance she was joined on stage by comedian Will Ferrell.[22] Monáe also took to the stage on the Live with Jools Holland show where she performed the non-released track "Faster".[23] She also performed her single "Tightrope" on the Mo'Nique Show.[24] 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.[25][26] She has spent time supporting such acts as; No Doubt, Paramore, and Erykah Badu.[6] 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.[27][28]

Singles[edit]

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.[16] On March 31, 2010, the video for "Tightrope" was released presenting Monáe dancing in the Palace of the Dogs also starring Big Boi.[29] Monáe performed the song on the Late Show with David Letterman on May 18, 2010,[30] The Ellen DeGeneres Show on May 26, Lopez Tonight on May 27, Last Call with Carson Daly on May 28,[31] and The Mo'Nique Show on June 9, 2010.[32] Rolling Stone named "Tightrope" the eighth best single of 2010 in its year-end list.[33]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 91/100[34]
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4/5 stars[11]
Chicago Tribune 4/4 stars[35]
The Guardian 5/5 stars[14]
Los Angeles Times 3.5/4 stars[36]
NME 8/10[37]
Pitchfork Media 8.5/10[38]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[13]
Slant Magazine 4/5 stars[39]
Spin 9/10[40]
URB 5/5 stars[41]

The ArchAndroid received universal acclaim from music critics. 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.[34] One of 2010's best-reviewed releases, the album received praise for its Afrofuturistic concept and Monáe's eclectic musical range.[42] Michael Cragg of The Guardian found its "sheer musical scope" "spellbinding".[14] AllMusic writer Andy Kellman praised Monáe's creativity and called it "an extravagant 70-minute album involving more imagination, conceptual detail, and stylistic turnabouts than most gatefold prog rock epics".[11] 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".[40] Chicago Tribune writer Greg Kot called it "an audacious, sometimes bewildering statement".[35] 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".[43] 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".[39] 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".[44] 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".[38] 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.[38]

URB's Dan Vidal called the album "a spectrum of sound — packed and arranged perfectly into a masterfully composed (debut) full-length body of work... [a] genre-defying masterpiece".[41] 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".[9]

Accolades[edit]

The album was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary R&B Album, presented at the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards in 2011.[45] The ArchAndroid appeared on several music critics' and publications' end-of-year albums lists.[46] It was named the year's best album by several critics in their year-end lists.[47] Chicago Tribune writer Greg Kot ranked it number one on his top albums list.[48] Nitsuh Abebe of New York ranked the album number six on his top albums list.[49] Paste named it the second best album of 2010 in its end-of-year albums list.[50] Chris Yuscavage of Vibe ranked it number five on his list of the 10 Best Albums of 2010.[51] NME ranked the album number 21 on its list of 75 Best Albums of 2010.[52] Spin placed The ArchAndroid at number six on its 40 Best Albums list for 2010.[53] 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".[54] PopMatters named it the best album of 2010 in its year-end list.[55] MTV and Entertainment Weekly placed it at number eight on their lists of the 20 Best Albums of 2010.[56][57] 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".[58] The ArchAndroid was voted the fourth-best album in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll for 2010.[59] 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).[60]

Commercial performance[edit]

The album debuted at number 17 on the US Billboard 200 chart,[61] with first-week sales of 21,000 copies.[62] The album dropped to number 40 in its second week on the Billboard 200,[63] and fell to number 49 on the chart in its third week,[64] selling 7,500 copies.[65] Whilst its fourth week, the album moved to number 71 on the Billboard 200.[66] It has spent seventeen weeks on the Billboard 200.[67] In the week of February 23, 2011, the album re-entered the Billboard 200 at number 171, after selling an additional 3,900 copies.[68] As of February 23, 2011, The ArchAndroid has sold 141,000 copies in the United States.[68] It also entered at number four on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and at number seven on its Digital Albums chart.[69][70]

In the United Kingdom, The ArchAndroid debuted at number 51 on the UK Albums Chart.[71] The album also reached number 12 in Germany,[72] number 15 in Denmark,[73] number 22 in Norway,[74] number 24 in Ireland,[75] number 36 in Switzerland,[76] and number 63 in Austria.[77]

Track listing[edit]

  • 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.[78]
Suite II
No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "Suite II Overture"   Janelle Monáe Robinson, Roman GianArthur Irvin, Nathaniel Irvin III, Charles Joseph II 2:31
2. "Dance or Die" (featuring Saul Williams) Robinson, Irvin III, Joseph II, Saul Williams, Kellis Parker Jr. 3:12
3. "Faster"   Robinson, Irvin III, Joseph II 3:19
4. "Locked Inside"   Robinson, Irvin III 4:16
5. "Sir Greendown"   Robinson, Irvin III, Joseph II 2:14
6. "Cold War"   Robinson, Irvin III, Joseph II 3:23
7. "Tightrope" (featuring Big Boi) Robinson, Irvin III, Joseph II, Antwan Patton 4:22
8. "Neon Gumbo"   Irvin III (music); Robinson, Joseph II (lyrics) 1:37
9. "Oh, Maker"   Robinson, Irvin III, Joseph II 3:46
10. "Come Alive (The War of the Roses)"   Robinson, Joseph II, Irvin III, Parker Jr. 3:22
11. "Mushrooms & Roses"   Robinson, Irvin III, Joseph II, Parker Jr. 5:42
Suite III
No. Title Writer(s) Length
12. "Suite III Overture"   Robinson, Irvin, Irvin III, Joseph II 1:41
13. "Neon Valley Street"   Robinson, Irvin III, Joseph II, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart 4:11
14. "Make the Bus" (featuring Of Montreal) Kevin Barnes 3:19
15. "Wondaland"   Robinson, Irvin III, Joseph II 3:36
16. "57821" (featuring Deep Cotton) Robinson, Irvin III, Joseph II 3:16
17. "Say You'll Go"   Robinson, Irvin, Irvin III, Joseph II 6:01
18. "BabopbyeYa"   Robinson, Irvin, Dr. Nathaniel Irvin II, Irvin III, Joseph II 8:47

Personnel[edit]

Credits for The ArchAndroid adapted from AllMusic.[79]

Musicians[edit]

Production[edit]

Charts[edit]

Chart (2010–11) Peak
position
Austrian Albums Chart[77] 63
Belgian Albums Chart (Flanders)[80] 57
Danish Albums Chart[73] 15
Dutch Albums Chart[81] 65
Finnish Albums Chart[82] 47
French Albums Chart[83] 155
German Albums Chart[72] 12
Irish Albums Chart[75] 24
Norwegian Albums Chart[74] 22
Spanish Albums Chart[84] 100
Swiss Albums Chart[76] 36
UK Albums Chart[71] 51
UK R&B Albums Chart[85] 11
US Billboard 200[67] 17
US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums[86] 4

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