I know, I know, she’s not number one. This was all set up to be perfect, wasn’t it? Nobody has ever won Necessary Evil more than once, and after her outstanding debut won it way back in 2010 before anyone important was even born, it seemed as if it was all set up for her to make history. But she’s at number two. I’m as shocked as you are.
It’s something I’ve been struggling with since April. The reason so many albums were seriously considered as being 2018’s best is because for near eight months I was furiously searching for a reason to not hand it to Janelle Monae.
OK, that might sound a little strange, and let’s face it you’re probably trying to decide if I’m either shamefully sexist or shamefully racist right now. All you know now is that I should be ashamed. I should probably explain at some point. I’ll do so now. Or, soon. Soon enough, I promise. My main gripe was with Janelle Monae achieving such greatness and immortality with this album.
Absolutely the year’s best music is, intermittently, here. ‘Dirty Computer’ contains perhaps seven or eight examples of absolutely perfect cutting edge pop music. At its best, no other album of 2018 could consider even dreaming about picturing meeting somebody who’d ever touched ‘Dirty Computer’ in terms of excitement and pure joy. If I were going to list my favourite ten musical moments of 2018, maybe five or six of them would be on ‘Dirty Computer’. There’s a run of six songs starting with Screwed and ending with I Like That which is, frankly, as good as pop music gets and alone would absolutely justify any right thinking person naming ‘Dirty Computer’ as their album of the year. The ’emotion picture’ that accompanies the record might even challenge Beyonce’s previously peerless ‘Lemonade‘.
Yet every time you listen to ‘Dirty Computer’, it’s never quite as good as you remember it. I always press play in the album expecting to dive immediately into maybe 2018’s greatest opening track, Crazy, Classic Life. I throw my hands in the air and throw out a quick “Young, black wild and free! Naked in the limousine!” just to clean my pipes out in readiness for one of the year’s most joyous singalongs. Only it isn’t the first track. On record, the title track opens the album. Crazy, Classic Life is the opening track of the visual album. So you knew it was the perfect opening track, Ms. Janelle, yet on record you ignored it in favour of a middling mood piece featuring Brian Wilson? Listen, I understand, having Brian Wilson guest is a pretty big deal*, you’ve never sold anywhere near the amount of records that your talent demands, and it would be difficult to look that gift horse in the mouth by not giving the resulting song a prominent place on the record. But I believe you’re a big enough star and successful enough artist to have the ruthlessness to cut out a song that isn’t working even if some old guy that people’s Dads might have liked is guesting on it
(*this chunk of text was initially an hilarious story about Brian Wilson doing something ker-ay-zeeeeeeeeee, but I nixed it at the last minute because I was making fun of somebody’s mental health, which would make me something of a hypocrite considering how much I wail about my own mental health on this blog. By the way, if you want to make fun of my mental issues, seriously, please do. Honestly. I could do with the publicity)
It’s the massive superiority of this visual version that starts to crack the belief of ‘Dirty Computer’ being an amazing album. There are several songs on the album version of the album that aren’t considered good enough to be on the visual movie. And, listening to those songs, you can hear why. Every song from the ‘Lemonade’ album was in the ‘Lemonade’ video. If you don’t consider some tracks decent enough to be included in the album’s video, then you’re admitting that some songs are significantly inferior to others. And in that case why are they on the album in the first place? If the recorded album ‘Dirty Computer’ was edited as shrewdly as the visual version, then it would probably be 2018’s best. Probably. Maybe. It’d still end with Americans which, eugh, stinks, but other than that.
Janelle Monae: Make Me Feel
Another barrier to me stapling my testicles to the nearest wall in terms of Janelle Monae’s otherwise extraordinary latest was the Prince admiration often threatening to push ‘Dirty Computer’ near enough into pastiche territory. She’s up there with, again, Beyonce when it comes to modern iterations of the great man, possibly closer because Monae’s sexuality is always slightly more playful than Beyonce’s Amazonian aggression. But on ‘Dirty Computer’ she often makes the case a little too bluntly. Make Me Feel is fucking brilliant. You’ll see exactly how brilliant when I publish my songs of the year before the end of the week, but it’s so obviously a retread of Kiss that it’s difficult to fall completely in love with. One of Kiss‘s selling points is its uniqueness, how nothing else in the world sounded quite like it. Monae covering it is risking losing the original’s power.
As I’ve explained, just that little bit too long