Lifestyle, Music

Janelle Monáe’s “The Age of Pleasure” rings in the spring and summer seasons

As Boston begins to melt and we trade in our puffers for swimsuits, I can’t think of a better time to revisit what I consider to be one of the best summer albums of all time: Janelle Monáe’s “The Age of Pleasure.”

Annika Morris | Senior Graphic Artist

I was lucky enough to experience the rollout of this album first hand, and the best place to start is with the first single. Released on February 16th, “Float” featuring Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 is an audacious anthem for floating above it all. 

With the song’s triumphant horns and lines like “My face card don’t come with a limit / I swipe it, I spend it, I swear I be doin’ the most,” the song is undeniably fun. That being said, I was caught off guard by just how much of a departure it was from Monáe’s previous works.  

Lacking the thematic structure of “Dirty Computer,” the groove of “The Electric Lady” or the experimental flair of “The ArchAndroid,” “Float” fell a little flat for me after the first listen.

This was immediately compounded by the release of the second single “Lipstick Lover” on May 11 of the same year. 

Leaning much more into the reggae beats we’d see later in the album, the single unfortunately comes across as pretty clunky and lacks the smooth groove necessary to compliment this attempted genre shift. 

So, I didn’t have the highest expectations for the full album. 

In fact, upon first listen while standing around an airport, I was unsurprisingly disappointed by the album. Much of the lyrical and sonic edge that made Monáe’s previous albums so gripping was simply not there. 

Clocking in at just over 32 minutes, almost half the length of some of her previous albums, and with six of the fourteen tracks being under two minutes long, “The Age of Pleasure” felt very bare bones. Luckily, it wouldn’t be until three days later while sitting by the beach would the album really click. 

Hearing Monáe’s audacious voice while basking in the sun recontextualized the entire album for me. The unabashedly positive lyrics paired with the dynamic instrumentation on each track creates a perfect listening experience for anyone able to just lay back and let the music wash over them.

The album is partitioned by “Lipstick Lover” into two distinct halves. The tracks of “Float” to “Oooh La La” and “The Rush” to “Paid In Pleasure” are the high points of the album, where the beats are the most bubbly, the good vibes are rolling and the drinks seem to never empty. 

The stand out from the first half has to be “Phenomenal.” The bass lick and hypnotic production that follows throughout the song gives it this deeply confident energy that Monáe and Doechii’s voices project with palpable power.

This all comes to ahead in the bridge where the two sing in unison telling everyone to “Dance ’cause there ain’t nobody else in this b-tch like you / Dance ’cause there ain’t nobody else in this b-tch like you / Dance ’cause there ain’t no, dance ’cause there ain’t no / Dance ’cause there ain’t nobody else in this b-tch like you (Ah)”. This repeated call to action helps to give the song one last hurrah of energy before dialing it back. 

I will mention, though, that the transition between “Lipstick Lover”, which I still consider to be the lowest point in the album, and “The Rush” featuring Nia Long and Amaarea feels the most jarring. 

This is quickly made up for by the equally synchronous, yet more laid back feel of the second half. While the first can be seen as the explosive beginning of a day out, the second is the more chilled back half of the afternoon spent relaxing by the water, especially with“The French 75” featuring Sister Nancy being an entirely spoken toast to the hedonistic joy of the summer.

“The French 75” leads into the song that I think best embodies the album as a whole, “Water Slide”. Brazenly starting the song with the line “If I could f-ck me right here right now / I would do that (Do that) / Lookin’ in the mirror at me, my God / Like who that? (Who that?)” “Water Slide” is self love to the extreme. 

The pre-chorus continues this feeling with playful innuendos all relating to swimming positions. Stating “Backstroke, freestyle / Surfin’ on that thang like it’s high tide / Deep-stroke, butterfly / Lazy river runnin’ down the water slide.”

This self-confidence in tandem with the pulsating, tide-like beat creates a haven for anyone to just feel themselves while taking a dip. It’s simply impossible to not feel the confidence that emanates from the song.

While the album definitely suffered from being in the shadows of her previous bodies of work, you can truly enjoy the simplistic beauty of it if you stop comparing it to the high concept art that characterized her other albums. 

Can you fault Monáe for letting her hair down and creating a record about enjoying your time with this new freedom after an album that promotes self-expression and freedom of identity like “Dirty Computer”? 

After all, everyone needs a reminder that life isn’t a battlefield and sometimes you just need to sink into your age of pleasure.

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