This isn’t charting anywhere, it’s just kind of great…
Hillary Brown: Sometimes “lazy” isn’t an insult. In this case, if I call Janelle Monáe lazy, I just mean that, despite the relatively quick pace of the song, which is never boring, it has a kind of assured relaxation under the beat. Picture hanging your hand out the window of the car and surfing it on the air currents as you move through clear, beautiful warm weather.
Martin Skidmore: I love the wail she starts this with, and I really like the urgent kind of African beats. She can really sing, too – utterly confident at a really fast tempo, almost rapping some parts, and uplifting and sweet when she can stretch a syllable or two. Big Boi fits in nicely, and any guest appearance where he doesn’t stand out as classes above the surround must be good. I like this enormously.
Michaelangelo Matos: Not surprising she got her break via OutKast’s Idlewild, their musical: Monáe sounds like the ex-drama student she is, stagy enough to imagine as a special guest star of Glee, and even if she does blow the show’s cast to smithereens it makes me admire more than enjoy her. Ditto with the song, which I find cutesy, especially when she does her mid-song emcee (not MC) routine. Big Boi urging her on from the sides neither adds nor subtracts.
Alfred Soto: It’s not really the end to be stuck beside aggro-R&B with the Amy Winehouse blues again, but Big Boi’s bit is so slack I wondered what the hell kind of tightrope Monáe thought she was walking.
Al Shipley: It’s hard to listen to her music without still thinking of all her off-putting schtick/hair/etc., but I’m trying. And OK, it’s very pleasant, if not quite inspired.
Alex Ostroff: It’s been three long years since we first got a peek at the inner workings of Janelle Monáe and her magical mind, and the wait was well worth it. “Tightrope” is the lead single from her science-funktion concept album, but her robotic alter-ego Cindi Mayweather is nowhere to be seen. Thankfully, Monáe captivates even without her eccentricities and affectations, singing and stuttering encouragement and positivity, while commanding us to join her as she tiptoes across a constantly shifting sea of groove. Funky guitars, walking bass lines, girl group back-up vocals, handclaps, Classy Brass, Big Boi and a ukelele manage to overlap and interact without ever overwhelming each other or our ears. Similarly, in less talented hands, Janelle’s optimism would have scanned as cheesy or cloying rather than genuinely infectious. “Tightrope” is apt, because absent a strong sense of balance and control, this entire project could easily become a disjointed mess. Instead, Janelle’s fulfilled her early promise and then some. She’s another flavour, something like a terminator, and she’s calling us to dinner. If the apéritif is this awesome, The ArchAndroid is bound to be some aural gourmet.
John Seroff: Before Janelle Monáe joined Bad Boy and became a robot, she made a handful of “we-goin’-OUT-tonight” sides that shined on a few Outkast side projects. Monáe’s Metropolis Suite EP was brilliant and the lady gives good live show, but something caught in my throat on the way down. She was trying too hard. The energy felt manufactured; the conceits stiff and the smile too clenched and yeah, I know that’s part of the conceit but I want to party with nu-Debbie Deb, not lockstep with Cybonáe. “Tightrope” feels like a good compromise; two parts organic dap-dippin’, one part too-strong “Lettin’ Go” weekend margarita, one part mechanical precision and a double dash of Parliament pretension with a ukulele chaser. Give me a full album of this and I’ll be ready to crown her, but it’s enough now that this will likely be the sound I remember as Spring by the end of the year. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.