Album Review Special // Prince – ‘Art Official Age’ & ‘PLECTRUMELECTRUM’
The last time Prince released two albums in one day was way back in days before the internet was declared dead by the artist himself. Now, with the internet discussing his newest release voraciously it’s almost ironic that it seems that bit more alive for the vibrant discussion of these releases.
This is the year that celebrated 30 years since the release of what for many is his best album, Purple Rain, and what better way to celebrate than to release not one, but two, new albums on the same day you ask? The answer to that goes thus: any Prince music is welcome at any time! That said, we shouldn’t expect a classic album… or should we? The joy of Prince is hearing just what he’ll come up with rather than anticipating the latter career period defining release that will relight the flame of fandom. The truth is, Prince is probably so over that we’ll never know just how much.
Instead, he’s focussed on the next move. After a productive year of digital releases in 2013, a few of which make their way to Art Official Age and PLECTRUMELECTRUM and most of which don’t, (The best of these , in fact, don’t even make the cut!) we get what we’ve wanted for many years. That is, a cohesive album of Prince material, untainted by a need to jump label or distribution channel and most importantly a sense he really cares about the songs.
Even the best Prince release has some filler though, and there’s undeniably a slight appearance from such material on both albums but when you have enough moments of excellence that can hardly matter. Art Official Age is most striking, at least initially, for the metaphorical third eye sun glasses that seriously had this reviewer in a fit of shades envy. The cover art is also the best for a while, a visual metaphor for an album that is as multi-coloured as you might imagine and mostly a prime release.
Highlights include the dream laden cloud funk of Clouds, a definite highpoint in his recent career for sure. As well as being positively addictive a listen as Prince has come up with in recent memory, it sets up the loose story of the album via a breathlessly sweet semi-spoken word intro from Liana Di Havra who appears later on as well on other tracks as the futuristic narrator.
There’s also the future-electro soul of U Know, another album highpoint that positively shines with that distinctive Prince sound. Diehard fans will have already come across the deliciously titled Breakfast Can Wait. Previously released via download as a standalone single, later to get a slightly odd video it’s lyrically a typical Prince song in the vein of the light food vs sex metaphors of some previous songs. There are also some slower moments as the album goes on and although they are all high grade Prince, they don’t jump out as easily on their own merits. But as a whole, Art Official Age is joyous, futuristic listen that isn’t an instant classic in Prince terms but beats the average by some way.
The second album to be released on the same day is the very different in a good way, PLECTRUMELECTRUM. Billed as a collaboration with 3rdEyeGirl, it very much feels like a much more instant record in many ways. The band is without doubt a tight trio and with Prince added into the mix the album gains in many ways. Opener WOW is a guitar fuelled, energetic intro as would be expected from such a line up as this. The guitar keeps coming as well, right into first single PRETZELBODYLOGIC, exploring familiar lyrical themes but sounding fresh as ever. Title track PLECTRUMELECTRUM, unusually, is an instrumental jam that really shows the line up at their best, even if it does go on just a minute too long.
The album as a whole is well worth the time in listening, but for this listener the defining track is FIXURLIFEUP, as straightforward a song as Prince has been involved with in a long while. With a defining message of sticking to what you do best despite what others may say, it’s truly a metaphor for this same-time double release. Prince is back, (not that he was ever gone, mind you) and by and large there are many gems to be found over both Art Official Age and PLECTRUMELECTRUM. Although, to this reviewers ear, it’s the latter that comes out top.
That said, it’s a good day when Prince releases new music so let’s not get too picky now shall we? As ever, approach with an open mind and expect some Purple balladry!