Best of the B Sides: “Sincerely, Jane”

I’m going to hijack Best of the B Sides once again to talk about an album that went way under the radar and remained there. Janelle Monae was another of those artists that I admittedly loved a long time ago, before she was a Covergirl, before she released “Tightrope,” before she became the pop culture phenomenon she is today. Before all of this, she had a whacky but fantastic EP called Metropolis: The Chase Suite which follows the story of an android who fell in love with a human and is therefore set to be destroyed. She goes on the run to escape her fate and laments the state of society on her journey.

I was listening to Metropolis yesterday (it had been a while) and I was suddenly struck by the sheer brilliance of this album. Not only is the production spectacularly weird — it’s a vague jazz futurism combined with Motown vibes — but the story the album builds up is surprisingly moving. Considering all that Monae has done for women since her rise to prominence, Metropolis is a fabulously avant garde album, facing both women’s rights and race relations in a way that’s cheeky and understandable, but incredibly smart. Metropolis is the sort of album that you don’t understand the depth of the first few times you hear it. After about three listens, the pieces start to fall into place in a world outside of the album’s story.

Metropolis takes refreshing musical risks. It’s a rock opera, à la American Idiot or the less popular but still relevant Repo! The Genetic Opera. Each song bleeds seamlessly into the next, ending the album on the beautiful and disturbing “Sincerely, Jane” (in the extended version there are two more tracks: “Mr. President” and “Smile,” but the original version of the EP is beautifully compact and “Sincerely, Jane” is the perfect ending note). The lyrics alone are enough to make this song a triumph — left the city, my mama she said don’t come back home to daydreamers, please wake up, we can’t sleep no more build the poetic range Monae tackles with “Sincerely, Jane.” Besides lyrics, the orchestration of this song is sweeping and magnificent. Accompanied by a full band — strings, horns, drums — Monae lifts this track to a higher level, giving it the gravitas it needs to offset the delightful weirdness of the rest of the album. At this point in the album, it’s hard to tell where the line is drawn between reality and the world of the album.

So if you’ve understandably grown obsessed with Janelle Monae in the past few years, give Metropolis a listen. It’s strange, unexpected, and political in a refreshing way.

Image courtesy of the artist.

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