Prince – Art Official Age
Released: September 30, 2014
Art Official Age is a strange and triumphant return to form for one of planet Earths most uniquely talented and prolific artists. While its companion release with his new band 3RDEYEGIRL PLECTRUMELECTRUM is a stale overproduced disappointment, Art Official Age is a true solo effort that proves Prince still has plenty of fresh ideas left in the tank. Blending his classic Minneapolis sound with contemporary hip-hop, R&B & EDM, Prince manages to achieve something that is both loyal to his core strengths and refreshingly new. The result is joyously weird and satisfying.
I can’t help but compare Art Official Age to U2’s latest surprise release Songs of Innocence. Both U2 and Prince started producing music in the late 70s and both amassed commercial and critical success in the 1980s. Now with both artists two decades past their prime they are struggling to find ways to remain creative and culturally relevant. They have both continued to release new material every few years and though both artists saw a resurgence in the early 2000s, its a new decade and they are once again in reinvention mode. Though I enjoyed U2’s Songs of Innocence, it succeeds only as an extension of their existing catalogue. With Art Official Age however, Prince manages to effectively modernize his sound and produce his best record since the 1987 classic Sign O’ The Times.
Despite its eclecticism, Art Official Age succeed largely thanks to its clarity of vision. It would have been too easy to put out a contemporary EDM powered club record. But there is a reason his duet with Zooey Deschanel “FALLINLOVE2NITE” didnt make either of the new albums. Prince has no business in the EDM world and it would have been equally misguided to attempt a straight-up recreation of his 80s sound. There is no shame in reverting entirely back to what made you famous in the first place but there isn’t any imagination it it either. And ultimately the imagination, the creativity, and the innate strangeness of Art Official Age are what makes it so damn enjoyable.
Though there are a few misfires, nothing really falls flat. Even some of the less interesting songs like “THIS COULD BE US” and “WHAT IT FEELS LIKE” have their undeniably infectious moments. Even the interlude “affirmation I & II” fits in a weird way. When Prince is bad, he can be really awful but nothing on Art Official Age is unlistenable or even skip worthy.
The final few tracks are top shelf. The Art Official Age version of “FUNKNROLL” takes the heavy funk stomp of the PLECTRUMELECTRUM version and drop kicks it into Prince’s vision of the future. At first pairing funky horns with deep bass and hip-hop drum kits “FUNKNROLL” eventually breaks out into a massive synth club beat that borrows from the contemporary dance music world without ever sounding like an old man trying to be cool for the. “FUNKNROLL” is followed by “TIME”, a slow jam featuring beautiful atmospherics, heavy percussion and Prince’s filtered voice alongside a crystal clear female vocalist. My Art Official Age compact disc didn’t include many credits so I’m not sure who it is but thats all part of the mystique of a Prince album. At almost 7-minutes, “TIME” reminds me a lot of the long form pop and R&B album cuts on 1999 and Sign O’ The Times. In the last few minutes of the track, he phases different layers into the mix ending with some really old school synth-brass sounds that sound like a little slice of Prince in his prime.
The album closer “affirmation III” is an orchestral ballad with that works perfectly alongside “TIME” with the delicate chorus of “Until I find my way back home” repeated throughout the track. I’ve spent a lot of time going through Prince’s catalogue over the past few months and for the past 20 years, Prince has sounded lost. The talent, musicianship, and creativity have always been there but it’s been a very long time since he has been able to channel it coherently into a singular project. With the ink still drying on his new Warner Bros record contract, the future of Prince’s career is as uncertain as it has probably always been. Regardless of what happens next, I am thankful Prince was able to conjure a little bit of his purple magic and put together a wonderfully creative, fun and lucid album like Art Official Age. He may not have found his way home yet, but for the first time in decades, he sounds like he is headed in the right direction.
Top Tracks: “FUNKNROLL”, “TIME”, “U KNOW”
Why I Like Prince and U Should 2 Part 2: That Time Prince Destroyed Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, and Jeff Lynne on While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Why I Like Prince and U Should 2 Part 4: The Studio Recording of “Purple Rain” Is Not a Studio Recording