We already looked at Prince’s breathtaking return to form with ART OFFICIAL AGE this week but as we mentioned, that was only half of the story. A couple of years back, he finally bent to the will of the industry and joined twitter under the handle @3RDEYEGIRL. While there was some initial mystery around the mantle, but it turns out that’s the name of his latest all-female backing band. All three members are studious jazz graduates with a passion for ‘70s rock plucked from relative obscurity who His Royal Purple-ness. The first piece fell into place with Chicago born drummer Hannah “Ford” Welton who was entrusted with recruiting the rest of the band – namely Canadian guitarist Donna Grantis and Danish bass player Ida Nielsen.
Off the bat, PLECTRUMELECTRUM is a vastly different animal to ART OFFICIAL AGE. While the latter sees Mr. Nelson return to his hermetic, perfectionist prime, the former is a much looser affair with gloriously sludgy, Sabbath/Zeppelin-esque muscle-rock serving as a home-base. Put it this way – when Prince unveiled 3RDEYEGIRL to the wider world on Jimmy Fallon’s show last year, one of house-band guitarist “Captain Kirk” Douglas’ vintage guitars caught his eye during rehearsal and Prince asked to borrow it. After the electrifying performance, Prince, pretty inconsiderately, threw the axe above his head in a moment of rock ‘n’ roll excess and it’s that precise attitude that colours the entirety of PLECTRUMELECTRUM.
Opening with the psychedelic waltz WOW, from the opening bars it’s clear that with this pair of albums, Prince is having his cake and eating it too. Every detail of AOA is primped and preened to correlate exactly with how it sounded in his impossibly creative mind but here on PLECTRUMELECTRUM, caution is deliberately thrown (not unlike Kirk’s beautiful Gibson) to the wind. First single PRETZELBODYLOGIC demonstrates this perfectly with its menacingly overdriven riff work. Prince’s trademark overtness with sexuality (“Pretzel body logic is so much fun/Dreaming of each other on each other’s tongue”) is lent a certain kind of non-pervy legitimacy over the record’s 12 tracks by the presence of such a great band of shit-hot female players.
AINTTURNINROUND sits comfortably between shoegazing grunge and peppy new-wave before the Jimmy Page 12-bar riff of the instrumental title track blows your hair back. It goes on to descend into a technicolour Hendrix-ian stew of crunchy wah whereas WHITECAPS brings things back to a refreshingly restrained pace with its nuanced femininity. It’s sadly too soon to declare gender a non-issue in music (especially music as heavy as this) but Prince has always been on the forefront of the equality movement as evidenced by FIXURLIFEUP. The second verse sums it up perfectly: “A girl with a guitar is twelve times better than another crazy band of boys/Trying to be a star when you’re just another brick in a misogynistic wall of noise”. If only the rest of the world (or at least the music industry) was as wonderfully genderblind as Prince, maybe world-class, visceral hip-hop grooves like the one found on BOYTROUBLE wouldn’t be tainted by backhanded caveats like “…for a girl”.
STOPTHISTRAIN errs a little more towards the polished R&B of ART OFFICIAL AGE but still showcases the girls’ instrumental talents brilliantly whereas the anthemic chorus and stop/start momentum of ANOTHERLOVE utilizes the stadium-sized dynamism Prince has developed over his almost four decade career to emphatic effect. It’s a bit of a surprise however to hear the faintest semblance of jazz music’s harmonic sophistication arrive a good ten tracks in on TICTACTOE. It’s right in his sex-jam wheelhouse and harks back to the mid-‘80s when his iconic sleaze earned him a starring role in many a fan’s fantasies but at the same time brings an intellectuality that counterbalances all the bedroom shenanigans perfectly.
MARZ is an unabashed ode the sounds of Sunset Strip at the height of hair-metal and destined to get audiences’ fists pumping the world over. Interestingly, the record caps off with a reprise of AOA track FUNKNROLL, this time with a little more heft behind it, leaning on the (rock ‘n’) roll a little more than the funk to just drive home one last time how heavy these girls can be.
Rather than dwelling on the inherent gender politics in rock music, PLECTRUMELECTRUM proves to be the flipside of Prince’s vibe. He’s always been able to schmooze his way in the industry with velvety R&B while counterbalancing it with grit and uncontained energy in his live shows. While on a technical level, this 3RDEYEGIRL record doesn’t have as much to grab your ears as its more textured sister-album, its rawness is what makes it great. Some of the guitar tones may border on sounding a little outdated at times, but the energy and no-cares-given approach to just getting in a room and rocking the hell out adds another dimension to Prince’s current renaissance.