A Prince Realist loves Prince too, and dutifully buys all the records out of some strange sense of loyalty. The Realist has the utmost respect for the Apologist, but disagrees just about all of the time with the Apologist's assessment of the records in question. Realists have no trouble admitting how weak most of these records are. Realists are cynical. Apologists have more fun. Realists can be offputting. So can apologists.
Conversations between Realists and Apologists usually go something like this:
Tomorrow, Prince drops two new records and for our purposes today, I am a Prince Realist.
I've been listening to Prince's two new records for two days. I went into both with nothing but a glimmer of a glimmer of hope that the man who had blown my mind for just short of two decades-1978-1997-might still have some mojo left. Sadly, I think the well has been poisoned too many times and not even an "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind" blink will make "Art Official Age" or "Plectrumelectrum" anything I can sink my teeth into. I do not see myself returning to these records.
Terrible? Worst things ever? Of course not.
But that is hardly the point. I've seen some stellar reviews and I don't get it.
"Art Official Age" plays like a feeble attempt to bring back the lost Realists who have been clamoring for some classic Prince. If you want an hour's worth of second rate tunes that resemble earlier, better tunes, this is the record for you.
The album's big opening is not unlike Prince addressing the "Dearly Beloved" in "Let's Go Crazy" and before the song finishes in a little under four minutes later, the man has already reached into his bag of tricks too many times. There is narration, house beats, funk grooves, second-rate rapping (thanks Mr. Nelson for reminding me of the saboteur of your "symbol" years, one Tony M.), and gentle nods to alter-egos Bob George and Camille. It's an exhausting way to get started, all for nothing really.
There is the slow jam of "Breakdown," which is the "Do Me, Baby" or "Slow Love" of the set. "Clouds" is an inferior rewrite of "Strange Relationship," at least musically. It is lyrically awkward even for Prince, and sabotaged with a terrible spoken word section. "The Gold Standard" is "Grind" from "The Black Album," and so on. The record is staggeringly average. It defeats its own purpose. Rather than thrilling me with reminders of all the songs I love, it pisses me off by reminding me how much better the older songs are.
"Plectrumelectrum," the album made with 3Rdeyegirl doesn't fare much better.
"WOW," the opener, like the opener on "Art Official Age," addresses the listeners with a trite "Hello. How are you?" It borrows more than a bit from LZ's "The Ocean," but stalls soon after that intial trigger where you think "Hey, that's the riff from The Ocean!" Prince allows 3Rdeyegirl to take the reins on a few songs, and one song kind of works. "stopthistrain" is a sweet soul groove that back in the day, wouldn't even be a C-side, let alone B-side. Today, it is one of the better tracks on the record. (Man, that bar is low.)
Partly a collection of Led Zeppelin riffs and classic rock power chords all crying for a hook or a melody, with additional pop/soul material recalling some of Prince's past ingenues like Nona Gaye and Vanity 6, "Plectrumelectrum" desperately needed a producer.
Prince records were once more than bells and whistles and knowing there are scores of bootlegs containing far superior material adds insult to injury.
(At this juncture, many of you might be thinking about Prince's guitar solo on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from that awards show. Come back. I'm almost done.)
It's easy to call me a curmudgeon. Hell, there are 16 people in Monmouth County alone who make a living out of it. But I'd like a little credit for not breaking up with Prince a dozen bad records ago. If there was some long layoff or retirement and Prince released either one of these records as his return to the spotlight after 10 or 15 years, I might feel differently about what I'm hearing. But The Artist Currently A Shadow Of The Artist Formerly Known As Prince has been foisting these half-baked releases on us for years now.
You go ahead and listen to these records for yourself. If you come out thinking they are great returns to form, then all the better for you. You are clearly having all the fun, though I've been known to 180 if the arguments are strong. For me right now, "Art Official Age" and "Plectrumelectrum" are two more records tainting the once brilliant career of one of the world's greatest musicians. Do the math. The percentage of good records to bad should be a thing to make you go "hmmm."
(Special thanks to Tony S.)
For a reminder of what Prince can do with just a piano, listen to "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore," a flippin' b-side for Pete's sake!