Art Official Age
“You should never underestimate the power of a kiss on the neck when she doesn’t expect,” he sings on the strongest song (“Clouds”) of his latest solo album, Art Official Age. This is Prince we’re talking about here. As far as I know, the man invented kissing. The fact that he’s 56 years old spitting game is, if anything, a testament to the success of his stratagem, and to good will, and the longevity it’s afforded him. Unlike Paul McCartney, unlike U2, unlike Stevie Wonder (gasp!), and despite a preceding decade of untidy studio releases, Prince has two projects that are loaded to my phone. “You never saw it coming cuz I made no claims—till now.”
With this glut of new music from Prince—one solo album, one rock collaboration tape with his tour band 3RDEYEGIRL—we’re witness to a reemergence that’s not quite a resurgence, more like a covert encore set, just another art that Prince has mastered. In 2014, this brand-new age that’s but another year of awesome genre reconfigurations and disintegration, Art Official Age, the solo album, is funkified R&B (a.k.a. R&B). I establish this categorization at the onset simply to clarify an artist whose legacy varies: prototypical rocker, the definition of funk, a hell of a singer, additionally blessed with god’s guitar and all the king’s bass.
Art Official Age isn’t as expansive and quirky as Sign o’ the Times, nor is it as stylistically determined as Graffiti Bridge, Come, or The Gold Experience. It’s rather driven by fluctuation of decades, moods, and maturity levels, not to mention genres. "THIS COULD BE US" is a wink, "WAY BACK HOME" is wayward, introverted despair, "ART OFFICIAL CAGE" is disco immortal, "FUNKNROLL" is simply the jam. The chief constant being how thoroughly Prince has influenced today, even while imitating past and present here. “THE GOLD STANDARD” is Aretha's "Freeway of Love," basically, retrofitted from a pink Cadillac to a purple Prowler starship. “CLOUDS” is the ouroboros that leads Prince to Grandmaster Flash to Lauryn Hill to Drake to Prince again, with Prince himself never straining to approximate the contemporary relevance of his successors. Brace yourself for blasphemy when I insist that Art Official Age's "The Gold Standard" wouldn't be out of place nor out of its league on 1981's Controversy.
He is Prince, he can write, he can sing, he knows this already; leave it to the fat bass jabs and pristine mastering to yield this album that's sonically, modernly gorgeous.
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL,
PlectrumElectrum, the joint project pairing Prince with 3RDEYEGIRL, reboots Prince as a rock star specifically, a live instrumentalist whose songs are massive gyrations. Yet the generational vacuum —3RDEYEGIRL’s drummer, Hannah Ford, is 23—strikes discord; "AINTTURNINAROUND" and "FIXURLIFEUP" underscore how little Kid Rock and Marcy Playground have in common with His Purple Majesty. There’s a youthfulness here (“Wanna be high as the sky; rock ’n’ roll forever and never die/And I don’t need a reason to fly; now I see you’re the only reason to try”), and it’s refreshing, even if somewhat unbecoming of a Prince album. Oddly, “TICTACTOE,” “STOPTHISTRAIN,” and the Prince-less “BOYTROUBLE” suit the Prince solo album better than that project’s couple duds, “ART OFFICIAL CAGE" and the trending-topical "THIS COULD BE US."
Prince is definitively experimental. He’s any #weirdo musician’s spiritual advocate. That’s his DNA. So Art Official Age and PlectrumElectrum are just about what I’d expect of Prince at this stage, the demigod aging out of, well, several genres that he can’t help but smile upon. When he panders to "this brand-new age," he does so curiously, never desperately. “The only way to get you where you never been/Is to party like you ain’t gon party again!” That’s from “FUNKNROLL,” the one track that’s included on both albums, and don’t you make him say it again, now.