Prince – Art Official Age / Prince & 3rdEyeGirl – PlectrumElectrum Reviews
Is Prince, in releasing two albums on the same day, harkening back to the “fuck you” vibe of later stages of his relationship with his old (now new) label, Warner Brothers? Remember the three discs of “Emancipation”? The four discs in the “Crystal Ball” box set? Prince used to piss off the brass at Warner Bros by putting out a ton of music at the same time. Back in the early 90’s, it seemed like Prince was launching music at us all the time. It varied wildly in quality (it was all mostly better than other stuff around then, but still…), and sometimes didn’t sell all that well, so the label tried to turn off the spigot. Prince got angry, wrote “SLAVE” on his face, put out some intentionally craptacular albums to end his obligation, and went his own way.
In the intervening decades since he broke up with Warner Bros, Prince put out a bunch of music on his own, and now he’s reunited with his former nemesis. In the media lead up to the release of his latest albums, he hasn’t wanted to talk much about his new relationship with Warner Bros, and I don’t blame him. He’s stayed focused on the future and what he’s putting out right now (he sounds downright mournful when he’s talking about putting out a remastered Purple Rain), and it’s paying off – Prince has released two of his strongest efforts in ages, and collectively, they show the spirit and drive of his greatest works.
Frankly, there’s a lot to unpack over the course of these 25 album cuts. They’re two distinct sets of songs. Art Official Age is a Prince solo set, while PlectrumElectrum highlights Prince’s recent collaboration with 3rdEyeGirl – a power trio that’s backed Prince on recent tours and, to be honest, pushed him to new rock heights.
Art Official Age (get it? It’s a pun on “artificial age,” because Prince looks better at 56 than I did at 26) opens with a club banger called Art Official Cage. It even drops the bass once or twice, I think. I feel like Prince is straight up mocking EDM, though – kinda like he’s saying “anything you can do, I can do better (or at least as well).” Midway through the song, a sampled voice calls out, “we need you to tell us what you know.” Prince calls back, mockingly, “we need you to tell us what *you* know.” He’s as petulant and sarcastic as ever, and it’s fantastic.
Clouds and Breakfast Can Wait are singles that are already in rotation a couple of places, and show Prince offering a couple of the best grooves in the game right now. Clouds even has a weird little “Austin Powers waking up from cryogenic sleep” part that I’ve tried not to laugh at, but I’m pretty sure it’s intentionally funny.
Gold Standard, though, sounds like an epic b-side to Soft & Wet. It’s a jam. Breakdown has Prince doing his trademark shrieks, which are fantastic. It’s also a super emotional breakup song that just feels right. Throughout the album, Lianne La Havas makes solid backup appearances, and Prince is willing to let her shine a couple of times.
The standout song of the set, though, is the gentle and lilting Time. It’s subtle, with a driving drum track, and a masterful performance and production. Joshua Welton (the husband of 3rdEyeGirl drummer Hannah Ford Welton) takes some of the production credit on the album, and it’s nice to hear Prince open himself to another musician’s sonic input. The palette they created together is deep, groovy, and fun.
PlectrumElectrum starts strong with a couple of straight up rock gems – WOW and PRETZLEBODYLOGIC feature a driving rhythm section and guitar pyrotechnics. Here’s the deal, though – it used to be that if you heard a killer guitar solo on one of Prince’s albums, you knew it was Prince himself ripping it. Now, Donna Grantis wields an ample axe on 3rdEyeGirl tunes, and more than holds her own on solos and riffs on these songs.
PlectrumElectrum catches its stride in its second half. FIXURLIFEUP, is a charging, driving rocker that’s been featured in recent live shows.
Prince is sharing vocals throughout PlectrumElectrum. Sometimes, it’s drummer Hannah Ford Welton taking leads. On BOYTROUBLE, though, Prince and 3rdEyeGirl hand the song over to Twin Cities hiphop stars The Chalice – Lizzo and Sophia Eris each take epic verses, and I’m pretty sure that’s Claire de Lune rocking the hook. It’s spectacular, and a highlight across these two discs.
What’s recaptured over the course of these two albums is some straight-up joy. These have been good years to be Prince fans in the Twin Cities – from the comeback shows at the Dakota in January of 2013 to the renaissance of live music at Paisley Park this summer, it seems like Prince has landed back in the center of the Twin Cities music universe. It’s been great having him back. These albums show just how much fun he’s been having, and how much he wants to come along for the ride with him.
— Atom Robins (@atomrobinson)