Release Date: Sep 30, 2014
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): R&B, Soul, Pop/Rock, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Adult Contemporary R&B, Contemporary R&B
The Purple One has gifted us not one, but two LPs this year, both on the very label “The Artist Formerly Known As” distanced himself from for years. If you’re in search of a little adventure, Art Official Age is the one for you. PlectrumElectrum is Prince’s rock record—there’s nothing to do here but have some fun. Of course, none of this is possible without his airtight band 3rdEyeGirl, made up of guitarist Donna Grantis, drummer Hannah Ford Welton and bassist Ida Nielsen, who also played with New Power Generation.
3RDEYEGIRL are living something along the lines of what they call ‘the dream’. The story goes that Prince himself cherrypicked them off of the internet, calling them in to become his backing band and making him his protégés. In 3RDEYEGIRL you will find three women of exceptional musical ability who combine to form a hard funk rock band that’s full of energy, power and professionalism.
A companion record to the solo effort Art Official Age, PlectrumElectrum finds Prince backed by 3rdEyeGirl, the all-female power trio that is a band for the 2010s. If Art Official Age veered toward revamped soul, PlectrumElectrum, as its convoluted title suggests, celebrates guitar freakouts: it's heavy on fuzz tones and pummeling backbeats, taking digressions into spacious jazz fusion and clean funk. Prince doesn't take the lead all that often -- he steps to the mike for the hardest rockers, the exception being "Anotherlove" -- letting Donna Grantis or Ida Nielsen front the softer, quirkier numbers.
In early 1997, a heritage rock magazine took it upon itself to try to curate Prince’s recent work. Under the heading “The Crown Jewels”, it offered readers advice on how to fillet the albums he’d put out since 1988’s Lovesexy in order to make a great compilation cassette. The article suggested that what it called Prince’s “patchy period” was now at an end: he’d freed himself of the contract with Warner Brothers that had caused him to shove out inconsistent albums in a bid to fulfil his obligations to the label.
“Welcome home, class,” he says. Both of Prince’s new albums, ART OFFICIAL AGE and PLECTRUMELECTRUM, are catchy, ambitious, and sensual works of long-earned musical expertise at every turn. In short, they sound like Prince albums, and in many ways, that’s already good enough. Prince, now 56, is pop’s most musically versatile star pound-for-pound, what with his imagination on guitar and his determination for bringing his biggest ideas to life.
Ten years ago, Prince woke up one day and casually decided that he wanted to be a superstar again. Having gotten lost in the wilderness of spiritual-jazz experiments like 2001’s The Rainbow Children and the 2003 instrumental set N.E.W.S., Prince was basically making music for only the most hardcore of his FAMS. His commercial prospects had long since passed, as his major-label Arista debacle Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic ended up proving that even when making what he thought was very radio-friendly hits, his reputation as a genre-busting trendsetter had waned inexorably.
With these two albums, Prince returns to Warner Bros., the label where he made his Eighties classics, then rancorously left in 1996. Art Official Age is an attempt to get back to the violet-tinted pop mastery of the Purple Rain era. Plectrumelectrum is a set of exploratory funk-rock jams written with his new all-female band, 3rdEyeGirl. Guess which one you’ll probably like best.
Back in the mid-1990s, Prince and Warner Brothers did not split amicably. Not only did the superstar write the word SLAVE on his face, he also changed his name to an unpronounceable logo that was quickly translated into English as “The Artist Formerly Known As…” Unhappy with faltering sales in the new decade, he tried to release a quick slew of albums in order to get out of his contract, but Warner insisted on waiting the industry-standard two years between major releases. It must have felt like a demotion after Prince more or less owned the 1980s, a decade when even a flop like Under the Cherry Moon could spin off a hit album like Parade.
Prince “Art Official Age” (Warner Bros.) 3 stars --- Prince & 3RDEYEGIRL “PlectrumeElectrum” (Warner Bros.) 4 Stars --- Prince is making up for lost time. After the longest absence from recording of his 36-year career, His Purpleness put out two albums Tuesday — one, a solo work, the other a collaboration with a brand-new band, 3rdEyeGirl. They’re Prince’s first releases in five years — except for a European-only disc, “20Ten,” that was a promotional giveaway with various publications, including the Daily Mail in the U.K.
In one of the most improbable reunions of the last few decades, Prince is back with the label that he claims done him so wrong in the '90s that he was compelled to scrawl the word "slave" on his face. No one does drama like the multi-purpose entertainer from Minneapolis, though, and he's back with two albums on the same day for nemesis-turned-benefactor Warner Brothers. The two albums couldn't be more opposite.
Prince has made his career as syncopated as his music, juggling silence and noise, arena sellouts and secretive recordings. His latest confounding move is the simultaneous arrival of two albums: “Art Official Age,” a studio production billed as his first solo album since 2010 (though he had help) and “PlectrumElectrum,” on which he’s backed by the three-woman rock trio he has been touring with, 3rdEyeGirl. The pair of albums represents two sides of Prince: the futuristic studio whiz and the omnivorous music historian.
Recorded with his three-piece band 3rdEyeGirl, PLECTRUMELECTRUM has a heavy, live-off-the-floor sound in contrast with Art Official Age's levity and studio precision. Songs like the title track and AINTTURNINROUND seem to exist solely as showcases for the band's bland tightness, which results in excessive and dated-sounding rock 'n' roll wankery. Elsewhere, garishly affected, shouty rapping on BOYTROUBLE is as annoying to hear as PLECTRUMELECTRUM's all-caps song titles are to read and write.