Prince may not have graced us with His presence at Glastonbury this year, but he’s now blessing us with not one but two new albums – the first to be released since his return to Warner earlier in the year. After years of second-rate self-released albums, this dual release is meant as a return to form: “welcome home class”, begins ART OFFICIAL CAGE, “you’ve come a long way”.
Indeed, ‘ART OFFICIAL AGE’ is a long way from the Prince we know. This is an album that shoehorns him into 2014 by modernising his sound, whilst retaining his trademark experimental edge. Opening track ART OFFICIAL CAGE is not the best start: with its rhythmic funk guitars, EDM synths, hip-hop beats, rapping and dubstep breakdown, it sounds more like Prince trying to cover Get Lucky. All that’s missing is a Pitbull rap.
There remain some tracks with a pleasingly retro feel: the glittering funk of CLOUDS; classic Prince ballad BREAKDOWN; the sensual 90s R&B feel of BREAKFAST CAN WAIT; the impossibly squelchy WHAT IT FEELS LIKE. On the flipside there’s the hip-hop swagger of U KNOW, or the sombre atmospherics of WAY BACK HOME that have more than a whiff of Drake and The Weeknd about them, whilst THIS COULD BE US is an enjoyable (if typical) swirling modern ballad. There are some exciting moments throughout the album and, above all, nobody does funk like Prince, whatever decade he’s operating in. Even at the age of 56 he has a clear grasp of contemporary tastes and gives most other current artists a run for their money.
The trouble is it’s so inconsistent. By trying to make himself acceptable to a mainstream audience, too many bases have been covered, the songwriting stretched thin. The nearly seven minute long TIME for instance drifts by ad infinitum. There’s also some sort of vague concept surrounding it all on the affirmation tracks narrated by new best mate Lianne La Havas (shouldn’t she be working on her next album?), that just gets in the way of the music.
Then there’s ‘PLECTRUMELECTRUM’, yet another album where Prince appears to have caps lock stuck on and forgotten about the space bar. This, however, is less a Prince album and more a showcase for his all-female backing band 3RDEYEGIRL. Lacking the experimentation of its counterpart, this second album is a far more traditional rock and roll affair. Tracks like PRETZELBODYLOGIC, WOW and the title track reveal an incredibly tight band with stomping riffs and sexy guitar solos, whilst other tracks allow the girls to take the fore: AINTTURNINROUND and BOYTROUBLE in particular.
WHITECAPS is a real highlight that sees the band riffing on a West Coast Fleetwood Mac sound and ANOTHERLOVE features a huge solo in its latter half, but much of the album just fails to excite. Undoubtedly the band excel in a live setting, but mediocre tracks like STOPTHISTRAIN, FIXURLIFEUP and TICTACTOE are far from Prince at his best.
On both albums, then, Prince demonstrates his impressive ability to bend various genres to his whim – despite the contrast in styles, it all still sounds like Prince. Yet the results are mixed, leading to two frustrating albums that equally demonstrate Prince’s inability to edit. Instead, they require listeners to cherry-pick the best from each (isn’t that what iTunes is for?).
If you’re still unsure as to which album is for you, have a listen to FUNKNROLL – a track that features on both albums in strikingly opposing iterations. On one album it’s an average funk-rock track; on the other it’s characterised by clipped electronic beats, menacing synth bass and guitar stabs that present Prince in a way you’ve never heard him before.
Oh heck, just buy both albums. Or go and listen to ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’ instead.
‘ART OFFICIAL AGE’
* BREAKFAST CAN WAIT
* WAY BACK HOME
Listen: Both ‘ART OFFICIAL AGE’ and ‘PLECTRUMELECTRUM’ are available now.