Prince Saves the World

Once upon a time, in a land very far away, the average Prince fanatic could count on at least one seminal album release per year.

You’d look forward to it as much as you looked forward to your birthday. For me, it was always pretty much a guarantee that I’d be in the record store that week, and that for the next week I’d be wearing new grooves into that CD. I’d usually be puzzled on first listen, then more accepting upon subsequent listens, then eventually fully adopting the entirety of it into my very being.

Then, for whatever reason, Prince got mad at Warner Bros., changed his name, and wrote “slave” on his face. In the process, he took on the distribution himself.

Which mean this nice steady source of sublime albums became less reliable.

Some releases were toss-offs, collections of stuff he never meant for public consumption, released just to fulfill his Warner Bros. contract. And, while I rather like Chaos and Disorder, the critics were lukewarm. Others were poorly distributed, one release just given away in a British magazine and never released in the United States. So by the time I finally saw the man live touring for Musicology, I didn’t feel like a current fan. I felt like I’d lost touch with this maniacal genius I’d come to crave.

Some refer to this as his “patchy period.”

So, here we are. September 30, 2014. Prince releases not just one, but TWO albums with his previous label’s backing.

I wanted to be that kid again. I wanted to go to the record store, to purchase the music, to take it home, to listen, and to continue to listen until it was accessible, then until it was joyous, then until it was simply inevitable.

Not disappointed. Not one little bit.

Art Official Age and PLECTRUMELECTRUM are instantly essential pieces of the Prince canon. I would, in fact, dare to say that Lovesexy is the last time Prince has been so supremely together. (Others I’m certain will think the same but will move the benchmark elsewhere, to Sign o’ the Times, perhaps?)

First, if you’re curious, you need to get these albums straight. Art Official Age is the solo project, a loosely constructed concept album around the story that Prince is somehow preserved for 45 years hence and wakes up in a futuristic society. Gladly, the concept does not overpower the music. The most irksome thing about this approach to me is that he can’t seem to not make an album without a concept moved forward by a broad with a nice voice. He did this on The Gold Experience; he had Kirstie Alley on 0{+>. But, okay, it’s a narrative device that works for him.

Besides, I should stop complaining. Lianne La Havas is rather pleasant to listen to.

Anyway. Art Official Age (yes, that is a pun) is the more standard Prince fare. Funky dance moves. Slow jams. The usual come-ons. It opens with “Art Official Cage,” a disco-tinged guilty pleasure that downshifts into “Clouds,” where we first hear the lovely La Havas lend her vocals. (For more of her work, give the iTunes Album of The Year 2012 a listen.) Despite the physics-impossible claim of a “place that does not require time,” and despite that some of the lyrics remind me a tad of “Sex Tips from Ronnie the Limo Driver,” “Clouds” is a pleaser.

PLECTRUMELECTRUM is the album by Prince and his supporting band, 3rdeyegirl. Giving the man props for raiding the metals sciences for his title. Opener “Wow” is a reworking of Liv Warfield’s recording of “The Unexpected.” From then on, PLECTRUMELECTRUM is pretty much a fun exercise in riff rock…so much so that by the time it gets to the title track, I’m thinking someone in that circle is listening to The Atomic Bitchwax lately. “BOYTROUBLE” is certainly a standout, featuring appearances by Lizzo and Sophia Eris (of “Batches and Cookies” doncha know).

Anyway. Prince, man. It’s good to have you back. I hope this is just the start of a new era for you.

See you next year.

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