Art Official Age
You go and see Prince play live – even watch a clip online – and he won’t disappoint. He’s as strange and mercurial as ever in interviews, in the shroud of secrecy around any project he’s involved with, any detail can seem so tantalising. He’s a headline-grabber. And then he releases two albums – simultaneously, one a bit rock the other a bit funk (allegedly) and because it’s been four years since he released an album – even longer since he “properly” released an album, and longer still since he was on the label that supported him through that golden period where he made his name, turned heads and set the pace – the headlines pile up, the reviews tell you that one of the greats is back in form, the fans gush. Etc. Cue spots on TV shows and the promise of even more touring…
But guess what? Prince’s new albums are quite shit!
As a lifelong Prince fan feeling disappointed isn’t a new feeling – that’s part of being a fan, of sticking with someone and their music. Prince has let me down a whole heap but the really great stuff – and the promise of more great stuff – has always excused any silly indulgence, and false move. (Besides, most of his great work is stuffed tight with silly indulgence/s).
But Art Official Age is an overcooked brew of what might as well be offcuts from that too-busy period across the early/mid-1990s, when he was warring with the record company he’s just made peace with – the only difference is, where The Gold Experience and Emancipation seemed to get better with each and every listen, more gems and jewels revealed, Art Official is the opposite, it grows duller, the shine – if there ever was any – falls right away.
Those early hints – things like Breakfast Can Wait – that’s the good stuff here. And it’s only mediocre, re-treads and re-traces and not much happening besides.
The man who has inspired far too much in the way of plastic-funk and synthetic-soul is now content making exactly that, for the cruellest thing I can say about Art Official Age is that it sounds, vaguely, Prince-esque, a little too much of the esque nowhere near enough of the (good) Prince.
And it’s a problem that can never be fixed – for what’s most obvious here is just how dated and tired this overstuffed sound is. Like he’s trying too hard even with some lyrical nonchalance. The issue is Prince’s production – his choices, those same (stale) tropes. He needs an injection, a new band, a bunch of ideas-men (and women). A bunch of primed players to collaborate with not simply to be dictated to; an outside producer. But it could never happen.
Imagine though – as I do – Prince with Questlove and Thundercat, with Flying Lotus or even Danger Mouse. Imagine him as just the guitar player, singer and writer – that’s enough. Imagine him allowing space around what he does and knowing that these amazing players, or plenty of others (take your pick – and keep wishing he would too) have got his back, have the knack to let the music speak boldly and to give it sparkle, to let it sound interesting.
But that won’t happen, because Prince’s freak-flag is all about him being Control-Freak, take the control away and he wouldn’t be any sort of freak at all. He couldn’t allow that to happen. His career – an anomaly, absolutely – was built around being a pint-sized portrait of solipsism. And to cede in any way – to handover part/s of himself in a process that could benefit his music and reignite his muse is just not his style. Never has been. Never will.
We have to accept him for his boring records and his sometimes really quite shitty ones.
This is both boring and shitty. And trust me, believe me, it gets worse the deeper into it you attempt to go. That’s what happens when it’s all sheen and little else.
Sad. But then not at all surprising.
All that’s here is the faux-futuristic funk slop he’s done far too often and syrupy ballads that are cringe-inducing. One or two songs don’t embarrass – but how the fuck can that be any sort of recommendation. In this artificial day and age it probably is…pfff.