Course, this one’s only been in the Jukebox once before, but something tells me we’ll be seeing her again…
Alfred Soto: The perky, aerobicized The ArchAndroid exhausted me, but this is one of its better moments, even if Monae doesn’t convince me she understands its homiletic moments or how to reconcile the title concept, the hysterical arrangement, and her cipher of a voice. When I’m feeling uncharitable, I might dismiss this as a karaoke singer doing Outkast’s “B.O.B.”.
David Raposa: Fantastic as an album track, where its kitchen-sinkery (what w/ the Telstar organs, the “Bombs Over Baghdad” backbeat, and the choir of Monaes strumming their harps) is right at home. But, as a single — especially compared to the cool and confident “Tightrope” — it sounds like it’s trying too hard to impress. Which means I only like it, not like-like.
Martin Skidmore: There aren’t so many R&B singers who could cope with the frantic pace of this, the beats rushing along in an absurd hurry, almost getting to drum & bass pace. Her singing is nimble and strong enough to cope, with ease by the sound of it. It heads into prog guitar territory in one place, which I could do without, and it’s not as strong as “Tightrope”, but I like it a lot.
Iain Mew: The ArchAndroid is fast becoming one of my favourite albums of the year. Taken on its own “Cold War” still sounds spacious and great (that organ intro, mmm) and finds Janelle in typically imperious vocal form, but shorn of flow and context it doesn’t quite add up to a full entity. You listen to it and don’t really “know what you’re fighting for”.
Alex Macpherson: I’ve already discussed at length the flaws that prevent Janelle Monáe’s first album from being a particularly likable work, let alone the genre-hopping masterpiece it’s painted at in more misguided critical corners; but they do mean its songs are easier to take in isolation, freed from the busy, hectoring rush of their parent album. Not that Monáe doesn’t still hoist herself on her own talent. “Cold War” is one of her less aimless songs, strong of hook and inventive of arrangement, what with the fairground organs and guitar solos and five thousand iterations of backing vocal – but it’s this intransigent aversion to giving her songs space to breathe which means that Monáe’s stated declaration that “being alone’s the only way to be” completely fails to convince. She has the imagination and the skills, as she’s so keen to show us, but is less able to match them to the emotion; consequently, it all seems a rather purposeless exercise in Musical Theatre 101.
Michaelangelo Matos: That’s who she reminds me of: Annie Lennox! Similar well-heeled professionalism, similarly dazzling pipes, similar sense of utter distance. The robot thing fits her not because she loves Metropolis but because she isn’t good at conveying emotion.
Kat Stevens: In no way is this cold! It’s busy, frenetic and has a stupid widdly guitar solo. A cold war should involve Russian spacecraft being slowly enveloped by the jaws of an enemy rocket which snap shut and cut off radio contact. Where are the slow, doom-laden trombones, Janelle? This tune only makes sense if your war involves helicopter fights over volcano bases or a raid on a Gypsy camp in Istanbul. Actually that sounds pretty cool.
Mallory O’Donnell: The nifty thing about futurism is that amongst all this tired posturing of frosty neon beats and lousy robot voices there may eventually emerge someone who is actually from the freaky future. Sure, there is something going on here that recalls the shimmery end of Hi-NRG, the mood-shifting excesses of 80’s soundtrack theme production and various R&B/techno hybrids that either are OutKast or owe them their eyeteeth. But underneath there is so much contortion, energy, sensuality, weirdness, agony, &c. going on and bubbling up and brimming over that I don’t know whether to laugh, cry and/or scream when I hear this. I only know I wanna be there with Ms. Monae, running up that road, running up that hill.
Anthony Easton: The personal is political, and the biggest surprise on Monae’s album is how much it is about old school consciousness-raising. The energy and electronic tension ratcheting up modes of personal liberation into geo-political metaphors, and then collapsing into a desperation for a purity that can never be achieved. It is like the boom and bust cycle as small as a butterfly, and as large as that tragic chunk of Greenland that is floating somewhere in the North Atlantic. As sophisticated, excoriating, and complicated as anything that I have heard in R&B since Nina Simone.
Katherine St Asaph: World-building as a female singer-songwriter — especially one who’s relatively new, with a fully-formed idea from the outset — is hazardous. Look at the pooh-poohs Bat for Lashes got for Two Suns. Janelle Monae has mostly dodged that fate, at least in part because of Big Boi. Having a substantive EP as a precursor probably also helped. Her music stands alone, though, if you don’t give a shit about Cindi Mayweather. At first. Like a Trojan horse, “Cold War” is an immediately accessible track that Monae sings the hell out of, but it packs enough heartbreak and plot to take down a city. I can’t think of a better way to tell her story.
Jonathan Bogart: A clatter-rush beat that sounds like either Andre 3000 or Cee-Lo is coming up to bat, an elastic vocal performance that bridges the gaps between modern r&b, old-school soul, and the electro-soul of 80s British pop, a guitar break right out of early-90s Yo La Tengo, and buzzer-time harmonies that sculpt the Beach Boys out of a Suicide fog — and yeah, just spooling out references doesn’t exactly make for good criticism, but that’s kind of why critics love her: she’s as besotted with a wide discography, and as eager to make something new out of it, as they are.