Prince exercises his royal prerogative and releases two albums in one day
Prince: Art Official Age / Plectrumelectrum
(Warner Bros / NPG Records)
four stars / two stars
When you are Prince, you can do whatever you want.
You can change your name to a symbol and back again. You can sue downloaders and still retain a youthful fan base. Fancy playing in an arena next week? Well, if you are The Purple One you can make a few phone calls and the faithful will come out in droves.
Therefore it isn’t entirely surprising that after Prince signed with a major label, Warner Bros, one of the first things he demanded was to release two albums on the same day.
Critics may chalk up the musical double-whammy of Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum as just another example of the singer’s rampant excess, but to do so would ignore some of his sharpest songwriting in a decade. Most of the goods can be found on Art Official Age, a funk-and-soul whirlwind recalling Prince’s vintage 1980s period with its shimmying guitars, vocal acrobatics and suggestive wordplay.
On the album opener, Art Official Cage, the mercurial singer shows he has been getting down with what the kids are listening to – the track fuses his muscular funk grooves with splashes of EDM.
The sonic gloss is stripped away in Breakdown, a comedown ballad in which Prince addresses his hedonistic days before turning to spirituality at the turn of the century: “I used to throw the party at the New Year’s Eve / First one intoxicated, last one to leave / Waking up in places that you would never believe / Give me back the time, you can keep the memories.”
Breakfast Can Wait’s sensual topic is augmented by a slithering beat and nudging keyboards – Justin Timberlake fans may begin to understand where some of the inspiration for his two-part 20/20 Experience album came from.
Immaculately produced, Art Official Age is an audio treat. To fully appreciate the sonic ideas at play here – from the burbling keyboards lurking in the background to some of the angular guitar riffs – the album is best digested with a pair of powerful speakers.
In Plectrumelectrum, Prince is out of the club and into the garage. A collaborative album with his all-girl protégées 3rdEyeGirl, the album is guitar-driven, with Prince mostly playing axeman while his gals sing.
Wow exhibits a tinge of grunge, while the heavy grooves take on Zeppelin-esque proportions in Aintturninround.
Despite the energy on offer, the constraints of the rock approach become apparent halfway through Plectrumelectrum. The guy-baiting Boytrouble is too lightweight and Anotherlove sounds like a demo version of what could have been a promising track.
Despite its glaring deficiencies, Plectrumelectrum cannot strip away the shine of the vastly superior Art Official Age.
At the very least, it proves that after nearly 40 years and more than 30 albums, Prince is still bursting with ideas.