5 years after The Electric Lady, Janelle Monáe returns with her third full-length. Accompanying Dirty Computer is a 48-minute short film to weave together the new release into a poetic story of sexual identity following Monáe recently coming out as pansexual, all crafted with her signature sci-fi flare. The film (ahem, “Emotion Picture”) follows Monáe as Jane 57821, a woman trapped in a facility while her memories are erased one by one. These remnants from the past touch on her same-sex love for Tessa Thompson’s Zen, who has already had her mind wiped. The tale of their forbidden relationship is a clear metaphor for the fight against homophobia in today’s America.
As for the songs on the album, bubbly sounds composite of a few different genres help us welcome back Monáe like nothing changed in those 5 years since her last studio LP. “Screwed” and “Django Jane” are presented consecutively as girl power anthems, the latter with politically fierce lyricism when Monáe announces “And we gon’ start a motherf*ckin’ pussy riot/ Or we gon’ have to put ’em on a pussy diet” before delving into her feminist pride.
“PYNK” starts off a bit more innocent with her soft vocals explaining the color, but maintains the “girls rule” theme when it becomes apparent she’s talking about her affection for the female genitalia alongside female empowerment. She perfectly encapsulates the fact that she loves her gender identity by declaring “’Boy, it’s cool if you got blue/ We got the pynk” with feature Grimes.
Aside from the feminine fist-pumps of the aforementioned tracks, Dirty Computer has some other highlights. “Make Me Feel” takes inspiration from Prince’s “Kiss” to deliver a poppy tune that would’ve put a smile on The Purple One’s face.
If there’s anything that doesn’t click with this album, it’s certainly some of the features. Music legend Brian Wilson seems a bit redundant and very forced on the titular track, providing nothing more than the classic Beach Boy “whews” in the background. The lighthearted talk of women’s genitals does go a step too far on the Pharrell Williams feature “I Got The Juice”, where juice overtly represents female sexual elements in a trope that starts to get beaten into the ground before the track is almost redeemed by Monáe declaring “If you try to grab my pussy cat, this pussy grab you back”, therefore ensuring this woman probably has a certain pink hat laying around somewhere in her home.
Dirty Computer ditches the Metropolis-inspired storyline that’s been the backbone of Janelle Monáe’s career, but triumphs as a record loaded with LGBT anthems to fit her newly revealed orientation. Definitely an album for the times, the blend of political verses and self-truth add to an already impressive catalog for the Kansas City singer.
SCAD Radio gives it 8.3/10.