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Photo of album cover courtesy of Genuis.com

Album Review: Janelle Monáe’s The Age of Pleasure

By Ansharah Shakil, June 29 2023—

Janelle Monáe has always loved a good story. Their previous albums revolve around one, with 2018’s Dirty Computer even including a 46-minute sci-fi film. Monáe’s alter egos and respectable film career — ranging from Moonlight to 2022’s Glass Onion — illustrate their dedication to a role. But in their newest album The Age of Pleasure, released June 9, Monáe abandons elaborate story-telling and high concepts, focusing instead on sparkly hedonism and unrepentant indulgence. 

The Age of Pleasure is a short and sweet half-hour. It lacks the length of and stories behind Monáe’s previous albums — here Monáe lets go of a persona, alternating between breezy and bold on the album’s 14 tracks. Album opener “Float” combines light and frothy Afrobeats with triumphant horns from Seun Kuti and Egypt 80. Monáe sings like their feet have never touched the ground: “I’m light as a feather, baby, I just float.” 

Similar orchestration is woven throughout the songs, which all segue together. This doesn’t always work — some shorter tracks lack substance — but overall, the album flows as smoothly as Monáe swims through water on the album cover. It’s similar to Dirty Computer’s pristine transition between “Screwed” and “Django Jane”, but really entirely different. Dirty Computer’s songs were chapters in a book. Songs on The Age of Pleasure go together like a summer afternoon, long and languid.  

In Dirty Computer, Monáe fully embraced their Blackness and queerness, unshrouded by metaphor. The same things are emphasized even more in this album, but where Dirty Computer is about resistance, The Age of Pleasure is resistance through joy — a reminder that we fight for happiness. It isn’t the tour de force that Dirty Computer is, but it’s an accomplished album where gratification, whether comfort or heedless abandon, is never dismissed. 

The album’s production gets creative, like when clinking glasses and conversations swirl around reggae rhythms in “The French 75.” Sister Nancy, who sings that song’s outro, is one of multiple well-chosen guest artists. Others include Doechii rapping on “Phenomenal”, Grace Jones crooning in French on “Oooh La La” and Nia Long and Amaarae effortlessly matching Monáe’s sensual energy on “The Rush.” 

When it’s just Monáe, there’s never anything lacking. They deliver wry double entendres like “If you paid me in pleasure, I’mma keep it coming forever” in “Paid in Pleasure”, and in “Only Have Eyes 42” pay homage to The Flamingos’ classic doo-wop love song. Monáe is infectiously catchy on “Champagne Shit”, and full of romance on “Lipstick Lover” and shameless desire on “Water Slide”, always blithe and untroubled — not because there’s nothing to be troubled about, but because the trouble is being set aside.

On “Haute” Monáe sings, “I’m young and I’m Black and I’m wild,” echoing Dirty Computer’s “Crazy, Classic, Life,” lyric “young, Black, wild and free.” Five years later, freedom is assumed. It doesn’t need to be said. Monáe’s already come out the other side of the battle and The Age of Pleasure, a half-hour of paradise, is their jubilant celebration of authenticity and victory.

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