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Album Review: Prince – ART OFFICIAL AGE

4 min read

We were just… well… whelmed (read: neither overly or under-ly) with The Purple One’s TV tie-in collaboration with New Girl’s Zooey Deschanel FALLINLOVE2NITE earlier in the year, but sweet lord is he back to school the naysayers and let everyone know what the good, glorious funk has been going down in Minneapolis. But by your – wait for it – 33rd studio album, if you’re as relentlessly prolific as the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince (rumour has it that he also keeps a vault at Paisley Park containing an entire another whole career’s worth of unheard material), you’re bound to have some clangers in your catalogue. Thankfully his latest – ART OFFICIAL AGE proves to be anything but.

Prince Art Official AgeIt seems as though Prince’s recording career has followed a ten-year cycle of peak performance – 1984 saw him transform from horny little Midwestern funkster to global icon with Purple Rain. In 1994, he released one of his funkiest works The Black Album (after mysteriously deleting it in 1987 claiming it was “evil” following a bad ecstasy trip) and 2004 saw him recapture a little former glory with his impeccably funky Musicology record. So here we are in 2014 with the ink still drying on the renewal of his Warner Brothers contract (Prince spent the past few years as an independent artist who stood vehemently against the turning tide of the online music industry revolution – “Sign o’ the times” eh Mr. Nelson?).

It’s definitely a wise move though; one of the pitfalls of being independent is that it requires a stupid amount of time doing tedious legwork which, for an untethered genius like Prince, would be better spent in the studio and the results speak for themselves here on ART OFFICIAL AGE (And yes, Prince insists everything must be capitalised nowadays unless he explicitly states otherwise). Given his penchant for opening records by pontificating directly to his people (“Dearly beloved…” is etched in multiple generations’ brains as a harbinger of good times) it’s little surprise that the almost title track ART OFFICIAL CAGE kicks off proceedings with a coy “Welcome home class, you’ve come a long way” before exploding into a high-octane disco-house groove with some wonderfully mangled vocal layering (although purists may balk at the level of production slickness throughout AOA) and a breakdown that is as close as a musical deity like Prince will probably ever come to stooping to this “dubstep” craze all the kids are talking about.

The breezy, Sunday-afternoon squelch-funk of CLOUDS sputters and jerks in all the right ways and sees the entrance of a sultry female narrator/doctor who interjects throughout the album with her irresistible London accent (It just wouldn’t be a Prince album without something weird and conceptual now, would it). BREAKDOWN has all the sentimental charm and gravitas of an epic Disney ballad before THE GOLD STANDARD well and truly lives up to its name by revisiting the ludicrously funky early-‘80s sound of his output with filthy synths and powerful brass stabs embodying the “upper echelon of groove” of which he sings in the song’s breakdown.

The bedroom grind of U KNOW is bolstered by flittering arpeggiators, fat synth swells and the groove is punctuated throughout by sensuously rhythmic coital utterances (again, it really wouldn’t be a Prince record without them) and fittingly flows into the record’s first single BREAKFAST CAN WAIT. Its artwork featured Dave Chappelle’s Prince parody character, showing that such an impenetrable enigma as Prince still has a healthy sense of humour about himself but there’s absolutely nothing silly about its rubbery, neck-jarring bounce and saccharine vocal layering.

If there was ever any contest over who was music’s undisputed master of sex-balladry (spoiler: there wasn’t), it is surely put to bed by THIS COULD BE US which deliberately skirts with cheesiness (“You know you want me like a new pair of shoes”) and gives way to the raw stank of WHAT IT FEELS LIKE. The high-minded 40-second interlude affirmation I & II attempts to dismantle the psychology of the human ego and suitably segues into Prince at his most vulnerable (and sonically experimental) on WAY BACK HOME.

FUNKNROLL opens with a lush, brass/guitar riff before your feet are unceremoniously kicked out from under you with one of the deepest grooves on the album, flanked with that famous pitch shifting Prince often uses just to drive the androgynous ideal a little closer home and breaks down into a surprisingly gnarly drum ‘n’ bass/reggaeton outro. The almost 7-minute TIME is gloriously sleazy (“sick and tired of playing hard to get with an animal half my age” should be proof enough of this) and pulls things back to a sensuous pace before things wrap up with the utterly gorgeous and cinematic affirmation III. It would sound far more at home on an Imogen Heap album than one by Prince, but nonetheless contains enough of his quirky little sonic signatures to wrap up ART OFFICIAL AGE with a refreshing sense of poise.

It’s so great to hear the one and only Prince Rogers Nelson back at the top of his game after a few years of sadly kind of lukewarm output. ART OFFICIAL AGE is but one of the two albums he released on September 30 (We’ll be visiting PLECTRUMELECTRUM – his collaborative effort with his touring band 3RDEYEGIRL – this week as well) and it showcases a man truly in his element. Add to this another decade’s worth of recording technology through which to funnel a sharply honed sense of musicality that precious few other individuals will ever possess and you’ve got a pretty damn great record start to finish.