Thursday 16 October 2014

'Art Official Age' by Prince [album review]

With what was over a year’s worth of promotion which included a brand new web site selling songs directly, a very well-received appearance on ‘New Girl’, a hefty dose of performances including a run of secret gigs amid a series of intimate London hot spots, new material from Prince & 3rdEyeGirl was becoming increasingly anticipated, but amidst the slew of exciting promotional activity, what no one saw coming after all these years was that Prince would go on to realign himself with Warner Brothers: the Lex Luthor to his Superman, the Joker to his Batman… well you get the picture.

Something else that people weren’t expecting was that the project would evolve into not just a ‘Prince & 3rdEyeGirl’ release but also a ‘Prince’ one as well.  And that both projects would go on to be released on the same day!  Putting the actual releases of the albums aside, it’s already been a helluva year for Prince and for his fans too.

Let’s tackle the ‘Art Official Age’ album first, the Prince album which marks his longest gap in between studio releases since… well, since probably ever.  I mentioned the 3rdEyeGirl web site earlier which has featured songs for a lot of last year – while it’s great that a few of these songs featured on both projects like ‘Breakfast Can Wait’ for ‘Art Official Age’, it’s unfortunate that ‘Extralovable Reloaded’ didn’t make the cut, and it’s baffling to me that ‘Groovy Potential’ is nowhere to be seen either!?  But let’s not dwell on that, let’s talk about what we do have: a strong, funky albeit slightly EDM-tinged opening number with a guitar riff that you’ll want to hit the rewind button for, ‘Art Official Cage’; a ballad that Prince described much earlier this year on the Arsenio Hall show as being one of his favourites ever, ‘Breakdown’; an Andy Allo-assisted ‘What it Feels Like’ which could have sat perfectly at home on her (highly-recommended) ‘Superconductor’ release from 2012.

The most fascinating song though – as well as my favourite – would be ‘Way Back Home’ and its subsequent reprise through the album-closer, ‘Affirmation III’.  It features a string-laden, orchestral, airy sound and lovely backing vocals that are akin to an Imogen Heap or Julia Easterlin record but what’s specifically fascinating about it is the fact that Prince would even need affirmation – it’s a strange vulnerability that I can’t recall seeing from him previously.  Sure, he’s sung about heartbreak and being cheated on (cue the masterpiece ‘I Hate You’ from ‘The Gold Experience’), but this song seems to stem from a self-doubt which is refreshing in a strange way from him: His introduction to ‘Pretty Man’ from ‘Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic’ (“Don’t hate me cos I’m beautiful”), or ‘Never B Another (Like Me)’ from ‘LOtUSFLOW3R’ – each archetypal examples of Prince’s famed confidence. 

The plan was to discuss ‘Plectrumelectrum’ here as well but due to the length of this review, we’ll unveil that one in a few days time.  Suffice to say though, Prince is easily one for two with ‘Art Official Age’ so fingers crossed equally nice things can be said for ‘Plectrum’.

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