In late 2014, Prince announced that he would be releasing two separate albums on his former record label Warner Brothers Records: “Plectrum Electrum” with his all female band Third Eye Girl and “Art Official Age,” which although mostly a solo Prince album, featured input by said members of female band. The new deal he struck with the label was also supposed to bring forth a newly remastered edition of his landmark 1984 album “Purple Rain.” However, this release still remains unreleased at the time of writing. After revisiting the album in May 2015, the urge was felt to write quite a lengthy track by track review. Whoomp, here it is!:
Art Official Cage: Certainly quite an unconventional opener for an album: School bells ringing, Prince welcoming his class back, George Clinton inspired slowed down and sped up vocals, Larry Graham styled slapped bass lines, Prince singing in an operatic tone, a man being drowned possibly to death, it’s absolute madness! You get all of this over a house groove and it definitely throws you off after hearing such a blistering closing track in the form of “Funk N Roll” from “Plectrum Electrum.” After a while though, it just dawns on you that this is Prince being Prince. So not much to complain about there. There are also references to some of his older songs such as the much-bootlegged “A Place In Heaven” and lyrical reference to “The Cross”/ “The Christ.” Great opening cut. Very extravagant!
Clouds: This song begins with the sounds of radio dials being turned, followed by some keys and Prince laying down a killer drum pattern with his legendary Linn Drum machine. When that bass comes in, you’re hearing some classic Prince. Lyrically it’s a commentary on the fact that everything happens immediately now and that life is a stage for pretty much anybody and everybody. Mr Nelson, as he’s later referred to does not like the iCloud either, nor does he appreciate the fact that people online are “bulling just 4 fun, maybe we’re better off in space,” a lyric that comes to us courtesy of British singer Liane La Havas, who then does a spoken word piece about Prince being thrown into suspended animation for 45 years. More madness from Mr Nelson.
Breakdown: When Prince was being interviewed by Arsenio Hall in 2014, he said that this was one of his favourite songs, perhaps because it seems to be such a personal, somber and reflective piece of work. He’s singing about wanting to have the biggest house with the biggest pool, but now he realises how foolish he was to have wanted all of those things. Prince was always very anti-drugs in his music, but here he very openly sings about being the first one to get drunk at his own parties. It’s quite rare that Prince is this vulnerable in his music. Plenty of high falsettos in this song and much distortion towards the end, which may’ve been Prince’s intention, as it’s also featured on the LP edition of “Art Official Age.”
The Gold Standard: The most obvious nod to that legendary ‘80s Prince sound where you had funky guitar riffs, pounding Linn drums, slapped and popped bass lines, slowed down and sped up vocals, chants that commanded you to get on the dance floor and do the New Power Side, choruses that sounded like a whole group of people singing together in harmony. The only difference is that he’s evolved so much over the years, that he’ll now tell you there’s no need to be rude or wild. Interestingly, in the previous song he was showing remorse for all of those times he got drunk, yet in this song he’s talking about how everybody in the place is drinking alcohol and having a good time. Towards the end of this piece, it sounds as though he’s sipping on some liquor himself and possibly reviving his old Jamie Starr persona: “Let me get in there…. this is exciting, it’s different!!” Suddenly, the next song begins and you’re wondering…. was there supposed to be more? Quite typical of him to end so abruptly.
U Know: Certainly quite a different song from Prince. For starters, he’s actually sampled another song called “Blinded,” which is by a hip hop artist named Mila J. Secondly, although Prince has always been an innovator in the music business, never has he ever sounded so futuristic. That’s due to the aforementioned sample and the Timberland-styled beat behind it. The slowed down rewind affect on his vocals was certainly quite bizarre to listen to at first, given that he’s never done that before in his career. Ditto for the AutoTune on his voice. As a huge vinyl collector, it was pretty cool to hear him beginning the first verse with, “For the record” and then the second with “For the player.” Of course he’s making mentions of not wanting to break contractual obligations…. on his first album with Warner Brothers in years, no less. Aside from that he’s talking about flaunting his girlfriend… she knows he’s going to, which is what you would otherwise expect from him.
Breakfast Can Wait: Prince likes to stay very much in the now, but by the time this song appeared on “Art Official Age,” it was already about two years out of date. By that stage, the hardcore fans had already heard and it moved on. Looking back on this album a year after its release, “Breakfast” doesn’t seem so out-of-place on “Art Official Age.” Although, had he included one of the remixes or an entirely different version like he did with “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” on “The Gold Experience,” that also would’ve been fine. Hearing this song back in 2013 was mostly quite a pleasant experience, as he was being quite seductive with the lyrics. Furthermore, as it’s already been stated, Prince is a quirky artist, so you just knew that he was going to do something towards the end of this song that could only be described as off the wall. In this case, he sped up his voice so high that he no longer sounded like Camille. This time around, he sounded more like one of the chipmunks. VERY strange indeed.
This Could Be Us: 2014 marked the 30th Anniversary of “Purple Rain,” hence the platinum records that appeared on the front cover of this album. Prince stated in an interview for “Art Official Age” that “This Could Be Us” was inspired by an internet meme featuring himself and Apollonia. Evolution aside, he’s still as seductive as ever with plenty of high falsettos and brilliant lyrics like: “You know you want me like a new pair of shoes” and of course who could ever forget: “You’re the cage to my dove, I’m just saying.” Prince and his crying doves… and his yelps and his screeches…. some things never change. Given that this song was inspired by said meme, it makes perfect sense that he would say something under his breath about giving Apples a psychedelic purple pimp slap. He did that in the movie after she told him she’d been with Morris Day. And guaranteed like Prince’s old buddy Morris, this song will make plenty of Prince’s female fans swoon.
What It Feels Like: The first collaboration on the album with Andy Allo suggests that they may’ve been an item at some point in time. There were plenty of rumours about that when Andy released her album “Superconductor” in 2012. She says that this song in particular is a sequel to “When Stars Collide” from said album, which was entirely produced by Prince under the name NPG. It also harks back to the “Late Night Remix” of “Come On” from 1998. In the first verse, Prince says she’s treated him like David, but now he feels like Saul. Presumably he’s talking about the Biblical characters of the same name. Andy then informs him that his name is not David and it “sure ain’t Saul.” Of course if this were Prince 20 years ago, he probably would’ve found a way for her to say, “Yo’ name ain’t David. Damn sure it ain’t Saul.” Still sounds like something he would come up with though. No doubt. “Silly rabbit need to stop doing tricks.” Yep, that sounds like Prince all right. They’re definitely hot for each other in this song. More on this subject later.
Affirmation I & II: Just a short spoken word interlude by Liane informing us that there are no such words as me or mine. And that he needs to follow certain procedures before engaging with members of the opposite sex. Yeah, this is the same guy who used to hump the stage and sing about a girl masturbating with a magazine among many other things, such as an “MF’er so fast it eats underwear.” He used to dance around in his underwear as well. All righty then, moving right along. This interlude segues into…
Way Back Home: Prince is back in a somber, reflective mood for this song. He’s very openly telling us all that he never wanted to have a typical life with a trophy wife. He just wanted to be left alone. Sad old Prince. He says he felt like he never belonged in this world and that most people are born dead, but he was born alive. That lyric in particular certainly leaves you feeling quite gobsmacked. Aside from that it’s unlike anything he’s ever come up with. Plenty of swooping vocals and once again quite a futuristic beat. Incredibly personal, too.
Funk N Roll: Despite the intro being identical to the version on “Plectrum Electrum,” this particular remix of “Funk N Roll” is entirely different. It’s fairly easy to dismiss it as the beat sounds just a tad bit too much like what Michael Jackson was doing back in the ‘90s. Towards the end, Prince screams out “I DON’T REALLY CARE WHAT Y’ALL BE DOING!!” Then he breaks out his guitar, throws in some incredible solos and synth lines, which make it sound a lot closer to what he was doing around that very same time. Not a bad remix but not as good as the original on “Plectrum Electrum,” even though the Camille vocals are in full effect.
Time: The second and final collaboration between Prince & Andy Allo. If there was ever any doubt that they were a couple, this song most certainly confirms the fact. Bizarrely, Prince has decided to record his vocals through a telephone. You can even hear him dialling a number right at the beginning of the song and striking a candle at about forty-four seconds in. The tension between these two can most certainly be felt while you’re listening to the dialogue between them. Andy’s saying she’s tired of lying and is running out of patience, yet they both want time alone with one another. At one point during this song, Prince calls Andy “an animal half my age.” She giggles like a school girl as soon as he makes that remark. Ms Allo can be heard singing: “Keep breaking you down, down down” towards the end of this jam. She must have hit him pretty hard for him to be making comments like that.
Affirmation III: One more spoken word piece by Liane La Havas, which also features her singing the chorus to “Way Back Home.” Her conversation with “Mr Nelson” continues in this song. At this point she informs him that even though he never felt like he belonged in the world, that “It’s all you.”
Verdict: Basically, if you took that eighties Prince and you thrust him to suspended animation, or rather, into the year 2014, this is what you would get. Certainly quite a futuristic type of album from Mr Nelson. However, it seems to be a concept album and as to what he was trying to say, perhaps one day we’ll all find out. Until then only Mr Nelson understands what he has done, but aren’t all geniuses often misunderstood? It’s a very good album. Simple and plain.