Janelle Monae has always been an artist who embraces change and evolution. Each album in their catalog stands outs as its own singular vision. Whether exploring the sonic landscape of Afrofuturism or reflecting on the trappings of celebrity life, Monáe crafts unique projects with each album release. Janelle Monae’s fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure is no different in this regard.
It’s been five years since the release of Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer, an album that balked at the idea of playing by the rules of pop music conventions. On their much-anticipated follow-up, Monáe takes listeners on an immersive and sensual journey across an ever-changing soundscape. The Age of Pleasure effortlessly pushes the boundaries of the genre from track to track. The result is another interesting sonic experiment from one of music’s most exciting artists.
From the opening song, "Float," it becomes evident that The Age of Pleasure is an album that defies conventional expectations. Monáe splices genres effortlessly, borrowing from reggaeton, hip-hop, and dancehall to craft a wholly original sound. The album’s intoxicating blend of power and hedonistic haze weaves through intricate melodies and captivating beats across its 32-minute runtime. While not every track hits its mark with Monáe's signature precision, The Age of Pleasure still resonates as a great summer album.
Bringing Sexy Back (As If It Ever Left)
The album's lyrics dive headfirst into themes of love, lust, and sensual experiences. Monáe's songwriting shines as they effortlessly explore personal reflections on how the world sees them as an “object of desire.” On the track “Haute,” Monáe directly comments on their appeal as an androgynous icon, comparing themselves to David Bowie. In fact, there isn’t a track on The Age of Pleasure that doesn’t revel in Monáe's sexual liberty. After all, this is by far their horniest album to date.
Most tracks lean into this sentiment. Standout songs like “Champagne Shit” and “Water Slide” are sexy party anthems without a care in the world. Monáe’s voice glides over the tracks with playful sensuality and wry humor. The hedonistic content of the album never feels self-destructive or crass. The Age of Pleasure’s songs celebrates sexual liberation and intimate moments of fleeting love connections with joyous candor.
The Party Never Ends (Even When It Should)
In an interview with Apple Music 1’s Zane Lowe, Monáe commented on the songwriting process, saying: “We're going to write three songs. If the songs can't work at the party, they're not going on the album.” This method of putting the album together is reflected in almost every track. Despite its party tone, the album is more of an experience to be savored than just easy weekend listening. The album never gives listeners any hard and fast shifts in tone or style. It’s exceedingly consistent, almost to its detriment.
Over the course of its 14 tracks, The Age of Pleasure sometimes feels like one big song. There are a few interstitials that bleed in and out of tracks, making it difficult to tell where some songs begin or end. While this doesn’t necessarily hinder the enjoyment of the album, it can make certain stretches of it feel a tad bloated. This is to be expected from an album with so many self-indulgent themes.
A New Sound From An Old Soul
The Age of Pleasure is a departure from Monáe’s previous body of work in terms of production and tone. Long gone are the psychedelic Afrofuturistic aesthetics of The ArchAndroid and the sing-along pop anthems of Dirty Computer. With incredible production from Nate "Rocket" Wonder (from funk duo Cotton) and DJ Nana Kwabena, The Age of Pleasure gives us more of a seductive sound than the rest of Monáe’s output. While previous albums transported listeners to futuristic worlds, Age of Pleasure takes them under the sun and in between the sheets.
Each song is meticulously crafted to elevate Monáe’s soulful voice. At times, the music almost has an almost isolating quality. Without vocals, tracks like “Paid In Pleasure” and “A Dry Red” elicit the feeling of being stranded and drunk on a beach by yourself. Monáe’s vocals and lyrics, however, refute any sense of loneliness and remind listeners that this is a party, and everyone’s invited.
Ultimately, Age of Pleasure is another stellar album that further galvanizes Janelle Monae's status as a music icon. With its genre-splicing sound, sharp and sexy lyrics, and incredible production, the album rarely stumbles. Monáe's ability to create a cohesive sonic soundscape with disparate elements is nigh unparalleled. They are truly one of the most innovative and exciting artists of our time. Age of Pleasure is a triumph that was well worth the wait. It’s an album to let wash over you like a vodka waterfall.