Janelle Monáe is many things: brilliantly talented, devious, intelligently controversial. What they are not is boring. The Age of Pleasure creates a compelling protagonist in the Archandroid. They've mastered the art of self-reflective reinvention and has fully embraced their sensual body as a tool for creative self-discovery. And I live for this journey.
There’s a very particular aural aesthetic from the moment this album starts. It eases into the bones and gives something electric to the skin. Air feels different when listening to this album. (Do yourself a favor, and enhance your experience by listening to this with headphones in the dark, or perhaps with the aid of some herbal encouragement.)
The Age of Pleasure is sexual, unapologetically so, and also has a way of being profoundly sensual (ticklish, flirtatious to the senses). This is an album that must be experienced to be understood. Monáe is severely tongue-in-cheek, and in the same breath is able to create an atmosphere that gives the listener a feeling of floating on something soft and deeply necessary. This also marks one the most powerful vocal performances from the singer/songwriter. There’s something here that speaks of someone who’s come into full acceptance of self. More than that, Monéa has allowed their voice to really drive the action of the album. While the music is certainly crucial to the impact the album has on the listener, it’s Monéa’s voice that gives the music agency.
By and large, the music provides a longform narrative, flowing from song to song with very little transition time, as if a sonic stream of consciousness that bends into every genre choice, and Monéa just lays their vocals and lyrical veritas on top to give the longform musical experience direction and shape. The harmony work on here is glorious. Tracks “The Rush” and “Water Slide” provide the watery wistfulness described in the lyrics, sounding like a wave of sound meant to wash over you and put you in a place of unerring bliss.
Bliss. While pleasure is the name of the game, the destination is bliss, peace, acceptance without fear. Monáe manages to deliver this bliss and so much more on album that doesn't ask more of the listener than to be open to the experience and, hopefully, find a sort of emotional and sensual reawakening.