Apparently the faux-start and tempo of “Cold War” line up perfectly with OutKast’s “B.o.B.,” so that they sync up if played simultaneously (Big Boi was responsible for finding and kickstarting her career, recall, who appears to contribute a lightning-quick verse on “Tightrope”). That has got to be one of the coolest Easter Eggs in music.
They sure sound like them to me, but if they were legitimate samples, I’m sure that they would have to be written somewhere, but the last few measures of “Cold War” sounds like it’s going to become Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and there’s an extremely brief backing vocal snippet at the 1:06 mark of “Tightrope” that sounds like a sample of Justin Timberlake’s “My Love.” I hear them. Someone tell me they hear them too.
Anyway, having never met Janelle Monae personally, I still boldly declare that I love her. I recall being in grade school and trying to discern the meaning of the word “sexy” with my posse Glenn and Jesse (both boys), before Jesse suddenly pulled his shirt over his shoulder and said “My sister says this is sexy.” Glenn and I nodded in agreement and copied him, and I was sexy for the first time in my life. Janelle Monae is definitely sexy, but not in that way; she doesn’t need to show skin. In fact, when she’s fully decked out in suits as she is in live shows and music videos, she shows less skin than any of female contemporary in the genre – and that’s something I love about her. Additionally, unlike her female contemporaries in the genre, she takes a lot of chances musically, whether it’s launching her voice beyond its limits (see: “Come Alive (The War of the Roses)”) or processing it through a waft of helium (see: “Wondaland”) or just the act of stuffing her debut album with tons of ideas, from classical (see: “Say You’ll Go” and “BaBopByeYa”) to folk (see: “57821”) to psychedelic rock (see: “Make the Bus”). Generally speaking, despite being on the cusp of R&B’s comeback, she’s more interested in digging up Stevie Wonder records than looking sideways at the present or towards the future. It’s not a bad thing when “Tightrope” is as good as it is.
That being said, it pains to me to say that The ArchAndroid essentially tries to smash two EPs together into one massively flawed enterprise of an album. You could probably make a great playlist of some of the stuff: the three-song block from “Dance or Die” through “Locked Inside,” “Cold War,” “Tightrope,” “Come Alive (The War of the Roses)” – these are the album’s most danceable cuts – “Say You’ll Go” and maybe “BaBapByeYo,” which definitely could’ve been shorter. As for the rest, there’s no real use to any of her opening overtures; “Neon Gumbo” absolutely slays the momentum that “Cold War” and” Tightrope” worked so hard for; “Make the Bus” is good for one line only (“You’re never gonna make the bus”) which happens in the opening seconds; it sounds like an of Montreal song featuring Janelle Monae, not the other way around; there’s no reason to listen to “Oh, Maker” over Paul McCartney or “57821” over Simon & Garfunkel. As for the album’s supposed concept, you’d need to actually sit down with Janelle Monae over tea and biscuits to deduce any supposed meaning the album’s supposed to have. I’m not opposed to doing so, though.
“Tightrope” aside, my favorite song of the album is definitely “Say You’ll Go,” containing a twinkly drum and piano foundation and her warmest – not best – melody on the album overtop, before throwing in a Debussy sample for good measure.