sun 25/02/2024

CD special: Prince - Art Official Age / Prince & 3rdeyegirl - Plectrumelectrum | reviews, news & interviews

CD special: Prince - Art Official Age / Prince & 3rdeyegirl - Plectrumelectrum

CD special: Prince - Art Official Age / Prince & 3rdeyegirl - Plectrumelectrum

The purple one returns, invigorated and very silly

Art Official Age

The last thing I remember of my 40th birthday party this year is propping up a bar with a few similarly middle-aged men, discussing whether Kate Bush's comeback shows were as worth getting excited about as Prince's recent comeback shows. It was most enjoyable, and – I feel – age-appropriate, to boot, but somewhere among the slurred repetitions there was the kernel of something serious about music fandom, especially as you and your favourite artists grow older.

Particularly with musicians as totally individualist as Kate Bush and Prince, there is a strange combination of gambling and religious faith involved in the way people take their chances with them. Watching the range of reactions of dedicated fans to the Bush gigs recently has been fascinating: the same show will produce everything from fury to boredom to religious rapture in different people, and sometimes all of these in the same person.

And I experienced the tumult of emotions when seeing Prince live at the start of this year, to the point where I was second-guessing myself. Was I cutting him too much slack because I want him to be a wayward genius? Were the thrills I was getting based on the music I was hearing or just being in the presence of “genius”? Was I just getting swept up in a group hysteria? Sometimes I had to slap myself and remind myself that this wasn't the self-delusion of, say, poor old Morrissey fans beaten into submission after being let down one too many times, and that yes, it really was a great gig.

But then these albums arrive, and the tumult starts again. Art Official Age appears to be brilliant. I think it's brilliant anyway - I think I'm not just caught up in the excitement. It's a return to the spiky Eighties rhythms of Prince's greatest output after a lot of loose hip-hop/funk jamming on his various 2000s records. It's full of zippy, zoomy sound FX, and it seems to have a load more instant hooks than anything he's done in recent memory.

“Breakfast can Wait” has been kicking around for a while but still sounds like he's teaching Pharrell Williams his place. “Way Back Home” and “Clouds” are full of some astoundingly trippy noises for someone so avowedly religious and drug free. “Art Official Cage” is ridiculous electro-disco with blurting airhorns, sudden switchbacks and unexpected gurgling water. The whole thing has sci-fi narration in a strange English woman's voice, and is generally as pleasingly bonkers as any Prince record has ever been. It sounds like he's having the most fun

PlectrumelectrumThen comes Plectrumelectrum (pictured right), recorded with his all-girl virtuoso rock band 3rdeyegirl – and yes, he's having fun here too. This is the sound I recognise from the gig, and even away from the shared hysteria it's got powers to raise the arm-hairs with its sheer delight in guitar distortion and locked-in-tight riff science.

The history of funk-rock is not a glorious one, but if there's one man who's done it right over the years, this is he – and he seems as thrilled with his abilities at it here as he is with the funny noises and dance grooves of Art Official Age. This album too is full of wacky ideas and silly phrases, but again, it's part and parcel with the sheer glee of the music.

And as with AOA, influence-wise Plectrumelectrum seems to see Prince back in his voracious happy place. As well as his common threads of Hendrix, Sly Stone and T-Rex, it sees him and his band hungrily soaking up Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and Guns'n'Roses – but most of all, and most brilliantly, it sees him soaking up Prince. He is his own biggest influence. Who knows what has happened to cause this, but on both albums, the common thread is that he seems to have stopped wanting to be a funk or soul musician as such, and returned to being happy, proud even, to be the uniquely sui generis creation that is Prince.

Are they classics? Well now we're back to the questions of expectation and reputation. Could Prince REALLY ever make a classic record any more? Could the impact of a song be enough to make it into a new "Kiss" or "1999" or "If I Was Your Girlfriend"? Frankly, it's unlikely, but that doesn't stop both these records being vibrant, silly, monstrous fun. That's certainly not something any Morrissey fans are going to be saying about their idol soon, and makes Prince feel like a good bet for growing middle-aged disgracefully to. These records are as foolish as their titles, and that's to be revelled in.

Most brilliantly, it sees him soaking up Prince. He is his own biggest influence


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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