Coming back to Warner Bros. Records with so many songs he had to release ’em as two albums, Prince today issued ART OFFICIAL AGE under his own name, and PLECTRUMELECTRUM (the capital letters throughout are just the latest in Prince’s typographical eccentricities, one which we will ignore from here on out) as the work of a new band, 3rdEyeGirl. The collections are studded with some terrific compositions, each album used for a different purpose. Art is an ambitiously varied yet unified work tied together by a humorously futuristic theme; Plectrum is largely a wailing wall of sound. Never unmindful of pop history, Prince is making like ’70s-era George Clinton, when the latter used Parliament and Funkadelic, two acts with mostly the same musicians, to express different sides of his ceaseless creativity.
Art Official Age contains a couple of marvelously funky romantic ballads, “Breakdown” and “Twelve,” as well as the carnal cooing on “Breakfast Can Wait,” which, with its promise of coitus before croissants-and-juice, wouldn’t be out of place on 1980’s Dirty Mind. Both albums contain different versions of Prince’s new single, “Funknroll,” but whereas on Plectrum it’s just a fun rave-up, the one on Art is more intricately built, sequencing through distinct movements that accommodate rock, EDM, jazz, and funk for the truly wide-reaching survey of music the song’s title implies.
If Plectrumelectrum was meant to launch 3rdEyeGirl as its own act, it doesn’t: guitarist Donna Grantis, bassist Ida Nielsen, and drummer Hannah For Welton provide a fairly solid rhythm section and some rather wan lead vocals. The album, which Warner Bros. says was recorded “live and in analog,” certainly has its pleasures — check out the slammingly punky “Marz,” with its pointed lyric about a McDonald’s employee giving away food because he can’t watch another “black child go to school with nothing to eat.”
Art Official Age, by contrast, is a richer album, one to spend a lot of time with, because each listen reveals more subtle touches — abrupt time-changes that aren’t merely stunts; novel sound-effects that go beyond instrumentation to what sounds like (to take just one brief example) silverware clattering as percussion. It’s prime Prince, and it’s probably the kind of product Warner Bros. was hoping for when it reached détente with the former employee who once scrawled the word “Slave” on his face to signal his displeasure with the corporate giant. If anything, Warner is now Prince’s slave, obliged to release the pleasant little fripperies of 3rdEyeGirl in order to get the master’s mature yet totally timely, tuned-in work throughout Art Official Age.
And I even have a suspicion that if I keep listening to Plectrumelectrum, it, too, may give up pleasures I hadn’t heard on initial listenings. Because you should never underestimate Prince after first impressions.