During a routine memory-erasing operation, the New Order—the oppressive regime at the center of Dirty Computer’s “emotion picture”—comes across information about an underground resistance army. Sporting a kufi crown, Janelle Monáe’s alter ego Jane 57821 leads the rebels. They collude in the shadows, preparing for a coup d’état. Tragedy strikes when state officials seize Jane for neutralization. When all seems lost, her lover Zen breaks her out of the lab. The Age of Pleasure occurs in a world where these femme dissidents won the battle against totalitarianism. For many marginalized individuals, it’s difficult to dream of better worlds while mired in chaos and destitution. Janelle Monáe takes us to the promised land.

Opener “Float” is the victory speech to “Django Jane”’s battle cry. Monáe is no longer in survival mode. “No, I’m not the same, nigga,” they announce over celestial horns. They’ve come out as a “free-ass motherfucker” and they refuse to dignify bigotry with any engagement. The Age of Pleasure revels in an ecclesiastic enjoyment of indulgence. Some might argue that good Christians must deprive themselves of earthly pleasure, but the Good Book said, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.” Shaking their Baptist tits on a yacht in an all-white ensemble, Monáe keeps the liquor and celebratory mood flowing with those who value them in all their complexity.

Monáe flourishes in a Pan-African utopia. Wondaland co-producer Nate Wonder melds diasporic influences into an Afrofuturistic soundscape. “Champagne Shit” pairs an electric piano sound found in Ethiopian electronic dance music with a sinuous synth that mimics the ancient Egyptian ney flute. Evoking the historical memory of these fruitful civilizations, Monáe aligns themself with their regality. Amapiano grooves meet android ball culture on the humid “Phenomenal.” Throughout the album, Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 supply reverberating brass; Wonder adds breezy woodwinds characteristic of Afrobeats. No diasporic record is complete without reggae tunes and Caribbean riddims, and the presence of Jamaican dancehall legend Sister Nancy on “The French 75” interlude encapsulates the sense of laid-back communion. Each influence ebbs and flows through the record like neighbors stopping by for some rum and gossip.

The blues have always served as an outlet for Black queer people to explore their sexuality and gender expression. Subverting the ogling gazes of those who wish to covet and control their body, Monáe worships their own flesh and desire, which after all are molded in God’s image: “If I could fuck me right here right now, I would do that.” They take the guilty out of guilty pleasure. “Lipstick Lover” envisions the kind of sapphic orgy where you show up looking for an anonymous thrill but leave with three new best friends. If the record is a steamy tropical romance novel, then Monáe plays both the broad-shouldered hunk and the yearning damsel. “Leave a sticky hickey in a place I won’t forget,” they plead.

A roster of eclectic collaborators balances The Age of Pleasure’s masculine and feminine energies. Grace Jones lends her husky French to the seductive interlude “Ooh La La.” Doechii channels Good Girl Gone Bad-era Rihanna in a raspy, haughty verse on “Phenomenal.” The hypnotic spoken-word opening to “The Rush” is voiced by Black cinema bombshell Nia Long. Of all the features, Ghanaian-American singer Amaarae best matches Monáe’s apocalyptically horny energy: “Fucking you like it’s my destiny.” Even blinded by lust, no one denigrates women as conquests. Tender aftercare arrives in the polyamory ode “Only Have Eyes 42” and the acoustic remembrance “A Dry Red.”

Like their original alter ego Cindi Mayweather, Monáe is a time traveler, archiving information and bearing witness for future generations. As an actor, they’ve worked on several films that centered on Black freedom struggles: Hidden Figures, AntebellumHarriet, and Moonlight. For over a decade, in concept albums and short stories, they’ve crafted allegorical worlds to warn against the dangers of ahistorical thought. The protagonists in The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer, a collection of Monáe’s dystopian fiction, liberate themselves through an intergenerational collective consciousness. Jane convinces Zen to escape by triggering shared memories of their relationship. The Age of Pleasure isn’t as intricate as their sci-fi novellas or as electrifyingly innovative as The ArchAndroid. It’s a bacchanal in the haven Monáe constructed for themself, cobblestone by cobblestone, tree by tree. Even the Lord rested.

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Janelle Monáe: The Age of Pleasure