Janelle Monáe, Koko, London
Brandon Flowers, BBC Maida Vale, London

Bowie, Prince, Chaplin – this brilliant R&B star draws on diverse influences to reconnect with the spirit of vintage soul

With her Elizabethan ruff and Eraserhead quiff, Janelle Monáe is something else. The 24-year-old from Kansas City doesn't look like the typical R&B princess. Indeed, she doesn't do "typical" whatsoever.

The Monáe phenomenon has reached parts other, more generic singers simply can't: it's fascinating to witness the number of R&B-phobes who, bowled over by the single "Tightrope" and her dickie-bowed androgyny in the accompanying video, hail Janelle as the exception, as though in the spirit of "some of my best friends are R&B artists...". And you wouldn't get the next cookie-cutter Ciara or robo-Rihanna opening for Of Montreal and No Doubt, let alone winning Ascap's Vanguard Award.

Monáe's biggest London gig to date, or "emotion picture" as her compère has it, begins with Hitchcockian opening credits and three shady monastic figures, one of whom suddenly whips off a cowl to wild screams – the time Monáe spent studying drama in New York and dreaming of Broadway clearly didn't go to waste.

It was her decision to move to Atlanta, however, that was the making of this singular starlet. She may be signed to P Diddy's Bad Boy label, but her encounter with Big Boi of Outkast (on whose Idlewild album she guested) was the formative Monáe moment, inspiring her to launch her own Wondaland arts collective and generally get her freak on.

Her genuinely extraordinary debut album The ArchAndroid: Suites II and III (the missing first part of the narrative being her Fritz Lang-inspired 2007 EP Metropolis: The Chase Suite) is set in the year 2719, with Monáe's alter-ego Cindy Mayweather a messianic heroine who arrives to liberate enslaved androids. (The meaning of this allegory barely needs spelling out).

Monáe's Afrofuturist imagery recalls the sci-fi-meets-Egyptology fantasy of Earth Wind & Fire and the all-aboard-the-mothership utopianism of Parliament-Funkadelic. Her music is a similar best-case-scenario blend of the old and new. Monáe reconnects with the spirit of vintage soul, while not merely dealing in Ronsonised reproduction. Try to imagine what a Willie Mitchell production might have sounded if he'd had Timbaland's technical armoury at his disposal.

The influences at play are many and varied. "Cold War" seems to echo Marianne Faithfull's "Broken English"; "Dance or Die" quotes Dionne's "Walk on By" so fast you almost don't notice, her syllable-juggling skills suggesting a grounding in jazz scat, and there are heavy lashings of Seventies Stevie and Bowie. However, the single biggest influence is Prince.

If she hadn't made it public by covering "Let's Go Crazy" at a tribute show, we'd have guessed anyway. "Neon Gumbo" starts with some backmasked singing straight out of the "Purple Rain" run-out groove (but without the benefit of vinyl, most civilians will never play it backwards to find out what she's saying), while "Mushrooms & Roses", with its charmingly odd lyrics about the love lives of "lonely droids", echoes the acid-drop psych-pop of Around the World in a Day.

There are rare moments when the whole thing drags. The five minutes of showy ululation in her cover of the Charlie Chaplin chestnut "Smile" is tedious: yes, we get it Janelle, you can sing. But the playfulness of songs like "Violet Stars" (sample lyric: "Citizens pull your pants up, and cyborgs pull your pants down!") more than compensates. Part of me wonders whether Atlantic even realises what a talent it has on its hands. It didn't bother sending me a review copy of The ArchAndroid for its May release even though it's blatantly the sort of thing I'd love. No matter. Janelle is one star whose ascent looks unstoppable. Follow the Monáe.

Pitched mercilessly at the middlebrow it may be, but BBC4's repeat of BBC2's I'm in a Rock'n'Roll Band has shed some interesting illumination on the character requirements for each member of the typical group. The lead singer, we learned to nobody's surprise, needs to be the sort of compulsive exhibitionist who, in any other walk of life, would be apprehended by the constabulary for streaking through the shopping precinct.

All of which makes Brandon Flowers (below, left, with Radio 1's Zane Lowe) a moderately fascinating character, because he really isn't like that. Don't let the pink leather suits and peacock feather epaulettes fool you: the Killers frontman is one of the least natural in the game. A devout Mormon boy who treasures his privacy, he has no interest in the infinite possibilities of hedonism available to a man in his position, nor does he seem motivated by any great world-changing mission.

Therefore, something else must be driving him to do this. And driven he clearly is, to the extent that, when the rest of the brilliant-then-disappointing-then-as-good-as-can-be-expected Killers are in hiatus, he's released a solo debut made of U2-meets-Springsteen songs originally intended for the fourth Killers album proper.

Not that he's completely devoid of stellar qualities. At 8.08pm, a crackle runs through Maida Vale. It isn't a glitch in the century-old wiring, but the natural reaction of a small invited crowd to the luminescence of the famous. His rolled-up red shirt may be cheating (when all his band and crew are in monochrome tones), as do his whiter-than-white teeth, but nevertheless, Flowers has that thing, the glow of the Hollywood A-lister in waiting. ("He's like Ben Affleck!" sighs one Sloaney voice, approvingly.)

And yet, when he's called upon to speak, two songs into this Radio 1 mini-gig, the shy, awkward kid beneath the rock star shell comes to the surface. The song "Magdalena", he awkwardly explains, is about a religious pilgrimage in Mexico – "It's a bit like a marathon... I'm thinking Gatorade are involved" – and his introduction to "Hard Enough" is so self-effacing that there's an outbreak of stifled giggles.

"It's not as bombastic as when the Killers do it," he warns before a contractually obliged acoustic version of "When You Were Young", which only reminds you how great it sounds when it is played with bombast, "but we've found the beauty at its heart". He speaks with the painful nerves of an 11-year-old called up to read a passage from the Bible in front of assembly.

"Only the Young", with its startling line "redemption keep my sheets clean tonight", is followed by the equally innuendo-inviting "Swallow It", of which he says, "There was bound to be something controversial on the record... but it didn't even cross my mind when we were writing it, I promise." The funny thing is, I believe him.

As he walks, waving and blinking, away from the spotlight, the still-lingering question remains unanswered: what's driving Brandon Flowers?

Next week

Simon decides whether his homeland's national hero, Tom Jones, merits praise or blame.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions