Janelle Monáe - The Age of Pleasure album review: the sound of a hot and heavy summer

Janelle Monáe has spent a large part of her career playing roles. Her early music, exciting though it was, laboured under an confusingly elaborate dystopian sci-fi concept that sometimes found her giving interviews in character as an android called Cindi Mayweather. Recently she has been more visible as an actor, taking serious roles in the films Hidden Figures, Harriet and Antebellum, and stealing the show playing twins in the Knives Out sequel, Glass Onion.

Last month she sported one of the more remarkable looks at the Met Gala, arriving in a large dress which was slowly disassembled on the red carpet by two assistants. It seems the unravelling has continued. In videos and pictures to promote this fourth album, as well as on the cover, she’s often wearing very little, or nothing. She’s never been so exposed, and looks like she’s having a fantastic time going about it.

She describes her new music thus: “This is our oasis made with love, rooted in self-acceptance, throbbing in self-discovery, and signed with cherry red kisses from me to you.”

That “throbbing” is a choice word. She sounds horny as hell throughout, whether she’s urging someone to “Leave a sticky hickey in a place I won’t forget” on the smooth lovers’ rock reggae of the single, Lipstick Lover, or admiring herself in the mirror over a horn fanfare on Haute (“They say I look better than David Bowie in a Moonage dream”) and again on Water Slide (“If I could f*** me right here right now, I would do that”). Grace Jones wanders in halfway through to speak some husky, sexy French on Ooh La La. You feel like you’re overdressed just listening to it.

Past work has shown Monáe’s remarkable versatility, channelling Prince and James Brown as well as futuristic electronic soul, but this is her first album that truly holds together with one coherent feel. Reggae is the dominant style – lots of horns, an easy pace. The Afrobeat band Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 help to craft a particularly alluring groove on the opening song, Float. She has said that she tried out the new songs at private get-togethers with her friends, and they only made it onto the album if they worked at the party.

The prudish will blush at the content, but for anyone else, this sweltering style will work at your parties too. Look no further for the sound of the summer.

Wonderland Arts Society/Atlantic