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Two Princes: The Purple One Returns In Stereo

Prince has two new albums out, Art Official Age under his own name and Plectrumelectrum with 3RDEYEGIRL (pictured). (Courtesy of the artist)

In the last 20 years, Prince has gotten more attention for his acrimonious spat with Warner Brothers — and the shenanigans surrounding his name — than for the music he's continued to make. And yet, as a performer, Prince is still undeniable, one of the living best.

This shows on PlectrumElectrum, one of two new Prince albums that mark the Purple One's return to Warner. According to the press release, Plectrum, a collaboration with the rock band 3RDEYEGIRL, was recorded live in the studio on analog equipment. It's the first time in many years that Prince has captured the spontaneous-combustion feeling of his live work on a record.

Curiously, that energy is mostly missing from the companion effort Art Official Age, a science-fictiony "concept" album. All of the Prince tricks are here — the salacious bedroom-bound refrains, drum programming that's wickedly, effortlessly funky. But it feels somewhat airless.

For a long time now, critics have been saying that Prince has lost his touch as a pop composer; that nothing compares to the writing on his first nine or ten albums for Warner. This twin look at his current creativity suggests that material isn't really the problem. Incredibly, he's still cranking out clever and catchy tunes. It's just that in the studio, he sometimes loses touch with the thrill-seeking intensity that comes to him naturally on stage.

Call it the unexpected; call it the "wow" factor. He seems to have found it working with 3RDEYEGIRL.

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The artist currently known as Prince has mended fences with Warner Brothers Records. The label is the home of his biggest hits and the target of his derision after a highly public contract dispute back in 1996. This week, the label released not one but two new Prince albums - the solo "Art Official Age" and "PlectrumElectrum," which is a collaboration with the rock band 3RDEYEGIRL. Reviewer Tom Moon says the albums herald a return to form for the prolific composer and multi-instrumentalist. Just don't call him a comeback.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRETZELBODYLOGIC")

PRINCE: (Singing) Oh, wake up.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Over the last 20 years, Prince has gotten more attention for his spat with Warner Brothers and the shenanigans about his name than for the music he's continued to make. Curiously, he remains a force because on any given night he can walk on stage and do this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AINT TURNIN ROUND")

MOON: As a performer, Prince remains undeniable, among the living best. That track is one of several rousing blues-rock jaunts on his collaboration with the female trio no known as 3RDEYEGIRL. According to the press release, this was recorded live in the studio on analog equipment. It's the first time in many years that Prince has captured the spontaneous combustion feeling of his live work on a record.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AINT TURNIN ROUND")

3RDEYEGIRL: (Singing) We came from a people who built everything in farmer land. Let's stop looking for a reason to die and just sound the alarm. Maybe the hand that you're looking for is at the end of your arms, end of your arms, end of your arms.

MOON: Curiously, that energy is mostly missing from the other release, a science-fictiony concept album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREAKFAST CAN WAIT")

PRINCE: (Singing) Breakfast can wait. Finally my eyes are open. I dream about you all night long. The only thing that I've been hoping for is before you go to work babe, we get it on.

MOON: All of the Prince tricks are here - the salacious bedroom bound reframes, drum programming that's wickedly, effortlessly funky. But it feels somewhat airless. To make the contrast clear, Prince does a song called "FunknRoll" on each record. On the solo album, it sounds like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUNKNROLL")

PRINCE: (Singing) Another mother further you're committing a crime. Let's roll. Let's roll, baby, baby.

MOON: And with 3RDEYEGIRL, the tune sounds like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUNKNROLL")

PRINCE: (Singing) So finally, beloved, we meet at last. Middle of the here, never mind the past. Only way to get to where you never been is to party like you ain't going to party again.

MOON: For a long time now, critics have been saying that Prince has lost his touch as a pop composer - that nothing compares to the writing on his first 9 or 10 albums for Warner. This twin look at his current creativity suggests that material isn't really the problem. Incredibly, he's still cranking out clever and catchy tunes. It's just that in the studio, he sometimes loses touch with that thrill-seeking intensity that comes naturally to him on stage. Call it the unexpected. Call it, call it wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WOW")

PRINCE: (Singing) You can call it, call it wow.

MOON: Whatever it is, he seems to have found it working with 3RDEYEGIRL.

MARTIN: The latest works from Prince are "Art Official Age" and "PlectrumElectrum." Our reviewer is Tom Moon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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