Prince is an artist on a level few others will ever achieve but even his staunchest supporters will admit his output in the late 90’s and 2000’s has not been awe inspiring and at times simply tepid. Art Official Age is the artist’s 33rd studio album (which is a testament in itself) and there are blindingly bright, tantalizing flashes of the purple ones timelessness funky best, but as a full disk things become unfocused and jumbled.
The best songs on Art Official Age happen early and can be placed with some alongside his high points throughout his long career. The opening “Art Official Cage” is a frantic slap to the ear holes as it finds Prince accepting of new musical styles, both commenting on and incorporating them; before getting his unparalleled knack for groove to shine through in dramatic fashion. He opens the track by literally welcoming home the students then displays guitar funk, pulsing EDM beats and loose booty bass proving Prince can adapt with today’s technology/trends, still be himself, confound expectations, and come away with a hell of a tune.
Also worth hearing are the incredibly personal “Breakdown” which cuts close to home for both singer and listeners who have followed his career and the high energy throwback jam “Gold Standard” with its crisp modern production and retro styled chicken scratch funk complete with horns. These tracks offer major hope, but the album has 10 more tunes on it and there are stumbling blocks on the horizon.
On the confusing front, Prince tries for a semi thematic flow to the disk as a “Mr. Nelson” comes out of suspended animation to find a world not ruled by time, at least that is what the English accented nurse tells us in “Clouds”. This unveiling arrives at a strange juncture because “Clouds” is a bass thumping get down jam about unexpected kisses on the neck (and well produced one at that) but this story just clutters the sexy. Showing up variously in the randomly placed “Affirmations” the theme disappears just as oddly and the whole concept seems half baked, if potentially great; an accurate synopsis of Art Official Intelligence.
Including a track like “Breakfast Can Wait”, originally released in early 2013 doesn’t make much sense to the story and is itself a pretty silly sex jam, which turns creepy the minute some altered baby-talk vocals come into things. There are a few average to dull R&B jams as well including “U Know”, “What It Feels Like”, “Time” and “This Could Be Us”.
Prince throws in a last gasp funk workout that unfortunately doesn’t contain the energy it strives for in “Funknroll”. In an age of quick roll-outs and minimalism, the sound on Art Official Age must be commended, as Prince along with co-producer Joshua Welton have made one of the best sounding disks to incorporate modern elements, laser samples, slap bass or anything else for that matter.
However in the end what frustrates, after starting off so promising, is that disk can’t coalesce into greatness. On recent efforts that wasn’t a big deal, one good song seemed to be enough but Art Official Age is flirting with being a late career complete renaissance for Prince and it just can’t quite get there.