PRINCE – ART OFFICIAL AGE
There are two ways to approach a Prince album in 2014:
1) View it in the full light of the length, breadth and influence of his catalog, or
2) clean slate it, weighing it in the same breath as every other offering similarly available at the time.
I approached AOA with the second, which is not my style. If you’ve been putting out music for 30 years, I expect the brunt of your experience to be apparent or at least valuable to what you’re providing. I don’t need it to be great, but I need it to not sound like someone who just got their record deal and wants to sell records to people that just learned how to drive. Clean slating it at least keeps expectations low and I don’t end up spending a thousand words on how un-Musicology this album is likely to be.
If you look back over Prince’s career you’ll notice that there are a lot of Princes out there. I mean creatively, not fashion-based. There’s funky Prince, Religious Prince, Rock Prince, Electro Prince, Dark Prince, Jazzy Prince…my list is about a dozen avatars deep. On this new album, we get yet another iteration: Competitive Prince – who is just the WORST – and the album suffers for it.
Prince has always been artistically competitive, but the way he misspends that energy and drive gives us the weakest version of Prince there is: the one who feels he has to prove something. Prince stopped having to prove anything two decades ago, but you can’t tell him that. Like many megastars, a part of him translates relevance to record sales, and his sales have been remarkably below his abilities for years. Michael Jackson suffered from the same problem, as has Madonna, Stevie Wonder, U2, Mariah Carey…that list goes on as long as you want to run it. Competitive Prince doesn’t just write or release the best possible music he could at that point in his life. Competitive Prince takes low sales personal, and when he looks around and sees people with far less talent utilizing all manner of gadgetry and gimmick to sell to an ever-dulling yet ever-expanding audience, he takes the fight to them on their terms. In turn we are subjected to rap so bad it borders on self-loathing, soulless house remixes, unnecessary and preachy reminders that something called “funk” used to exist and a mish-mash of sample ticks that were already worn out by the time he discovered them. So instead of making a great Prince record, he makes a weak amalgamation of what he perceives as the Stuff Kids Today Want, but without any innovation, heart or genuine desire to make the songs work in his interest. Much of his output since 1990 has been a testimony to this kind of ego stroking, and unfortunately audiences are left with Prince’s take on the music of 2014 (or 1990 or 1995 or 2001) instead of a 2014 Prince album.
By now it’s apparent that I’ve failed at a clean slate listening of this record, so let me just focus on what we’ve been given since I’ve already spent a lot of words on why that offering doesn’t work overall. AOA is a record you won’t be listening to a year from now, let alone ten, and the brief moments where a good song lives are sandwiched by at least two other songs that are artfully produced, but full of recycled sentiments (or lyrics!) and devoid of Prince’s traditional envelope-pushing ideas. “U KNOW” is a great song – the best on the record – and sounds very much like a 2014 Prince song (as opposed to Prince trying to sound like a 2014 chart-topping gimmick). “BREAKFAST CAN WAIT” is straight only-Prince music that works, but has been out for almost a year already, so the shine is gone. “CLOUDS” is serviceable post-electro funk that holds up for a few plays despite being a little light in the lyrics. But once those three songs spin out, there’s a really fast drop to the bottom. At twelve songs (discounting an interlude), three songs isn’t an album buy.
Prince has managed, despite his many and oft-noted gifts, to arrive at a point in his career where he has to release two albums to generate one album’s worth of decent music. No news there: same thing happened twice before: at three discs, Emancipation (1996) was still mostly a wash and the travesty that was Lotusflow3r/MPLSound (2009) still hurts. When Prince needs television commercials just to get a Gold record, you knew something was up. And look: if he’s going to take four or five years between albums, I’m going to need them to be either a) better or b) one album.
PRINCE & 3RDEYEGIRL – PLECTRUMELECTRUM
This review will be brief by comparison, mostly because my expectations were already pretty low.
Everything I’d heard from this band with Prince mostly sounded like a Lenny Kravitz record, which is funny, since Lenny Kravitz has based whole chunks of his career from Prince’s example. It all sounds like stuff I’ve heard before, better, and adding Prince to it just makes me dislike it more, since I know what he’s capable of bringing to the table.
Of particular note is how over-produced this entire affair is. This record has some decent ideas, but is so shot-up with sheen and gloss that the songs sound plastic. This record would have been substantially improved by just playing it all live, or easing up on the editing process. If it’s a jam-worthy, hardcore rock band, don’t make them play in a hotel ballroom. Put them in a garage, hit record, and let’s hear some funknroll.
It is not an album devoid of listenable music, though there is little of it. “STOPTHISTRAIN” is okay, but seeing how it’s an R&B-tinged modern pop riff, it sticks out from all the other rock stuff populating this record. It sounds like it should have been on the Prince record (which needed every decent track it could get its hand on). If 3RDEYEGIRL had a whole record like this, I’d revisit it. As it stands, it’s like someone slipped a Destiny Child’s track onto my Breeders album. “TICTACTOE” is too cute for its own good, but it has an old school charm despite its bloat. Of the two versions of “FUNKNROLL” that exist between these two records, the actually funky one is on this record.
Again, not an album purchase. A couple of tracks with mild replay value surrounded by stuff you won’t be listening to in a couple of months. Enjoy.