This year was a great one for Prince fans. After waiting and being told for about a year that a new album was coming, Prince stepped up and delivered two instead. One of these was PLECTRUMELECTRUM with his new all-female band 3RDEYEGIRL. So why did I rate this one lower than the other, Art Official Age? One major reason is that this one lose a few minor points by not being fully fronted by Prince’s vocals. While the songs here are really good and enjoyable, I just prefer Prince’s voice to one of his protegees’ voices. And secondly, I think I am more of a fan of the funk side of Prince than his rock side. I love both. I love that he has so many styles to choose from. But while AOA sounds like a cohesive funk/R&B album with a kind of Prince world storyline, PLECTRUMELECTRUM feels more like a fun project Prince did on the side. However, I have really enjoyed this album, and think some of the songs on this are some of his strongest in years. So Prince is the first artist to have two albums in my top 25 of the year.
Here’s my original review…
This week Prince puts an end to the wait for a new album with not one, but two album releases for the masses. Art Official Age is the album that focuses on Prince alone and leans heavily towards funk, R&B, dance and electronic experimentation. PLECTRUMELECTRUM is almost its opposite. The album is credited to Prince & 3RDEYEGIRL, his fairly new 3 piece band of all women, This band features Hannah Ford on drums, Donna Grantis on guitar, and Ida Nielson on bass. As many have seen in the past year and a half of shows and TV appearances, along with special MP3 releases, 3EG has breathed quite a bit of new life into Prince, making him break away from the comfort of his carefully assembled New Power Generation. Just as there was a tremendous shift in Prince’s approach when he went from having The Revolution, and post-revolution lineup, to officially calling the band New Power Generation, there was a tremendous shift in approach when Prince took on 3EG as well. Unlike the rock-focused Lotusflow3r album, the songs worked on with 3EG weren’t trying to be the Prince of old. Instead he just vibed off of the girls. Much like how he used to vibe off Wendy and Lisa. He allowed himself for once to be inspired rather than be the band director.
So does this album, PLECTRUMELECTRUM live up to the year-long wait since it’s first mention? Does it prove anything? Well… mostly. I’ll explain, but to do so I need to one again break this down track by track. PLECTRUMELECTRUM is a mixed bag. A bag mostly filled with goodies. But it doesn’t quite have the same type of cohesive thread that Art Official Age has. But maybe that’s a good thing. So here we go with part two of two…
The album kicks off with big rocking bombast that quickly breaks to a gently strummed guitar. Ahhh.. space! Dynamics! Prince gently starts with “Hello. How R U? Ur so fine” (which has to be a nod to the backwards message on Purple Rain, “Hello, How R U, I’m fine…”). The song has a great swaying rhythm to it, and 3EG prove to be a worthy band here. One downfall though, and I will get this out of the way right away, is the heavy overdriven compression on these tracks. This was painful and glaring on the first 3EG track “Live Out Loud”, which is not included here. If you pretend it’s feedback static, maybe that works. It surprises me that someone with Prince’s careful ear lets this go though. Back to this song though. Prince trying to romance and woo a woman. He’s still got it. Especially when he rambles off sweet purple nothings at the end, which he hasn’t done in a while. “You look like.. like you wanna *go* somewhere”. He doesn’t have to say where. You can fill in the blanks. Top notch track here.
This song was out as a single a few months ago. It’s growing on me. The beat, the riff, all that is really good on this. The chorus seems like a mouthful. Is it about the girls? Is he dreaming about them? Is it about nobody in particular? It is strange Prince has ever written a song about being sleepy. I mean Prince doesn’t sleep does he? But someone’s trying to rob the band and they are too sleepy to “get the gun”? Wait, “credit’s overrun?” Is Prince saying he’s *gasp* normal? Strange topic and lyrics, but the soloing here, the groove, the bass solo breakdown, all of it is good stuff and I’m finding myself liking it more on each listen.
This one kicks off with lead vocals by Hannah. And immediately the album has now gotten categorized into “Oh, this is a side project album” on first listen. Hannah’s a decent singer. But she’s not Prince. Prince is definitely right there jamming with the girls though. That is what makes this album fairly important. How often does Prince share the spotlight or the billing especially? The last I can recall is “Chelsea Rogers” from Planet Earth where he left Shelby J’s vocals take the lead. But you get the feeling that unlike Apollonia, Vanity, or any of the albums where he basically gave them finished tracks to sing on, that Prince guided the band through exploring their own songs. That makes me unable to dislike this song. The music sounds like what I would expect hearing a Prince & 3EG jam session. It also sounds like if Prince took one of the Chaos and Disorder songs and had some actual fun with it. two thirds of the way in, Prince (I think) kicks in with a blistering solo that makes up for any so-so-ness.This swells into feedback and a Rush 2112-esque voice saying “What you are listening to now is an ultrasound of Donna’s brain”. Okay, they really are having fun here.
This is about 5 minutes of really fun instrumental jamming, with a theme that feels a bit Jimi Hendrix. What many don’t know is that this a “cover” of a song written and released previously in 2012 by Donna and her Donna Grantis Electric Band under the name “Elektra (Elektra Suite)”. But while Donna plays lead on the original, Prince is said to be playing lead here as evidenced in a short video clip that was leaked last year. This is interesting when you realize that her soloing style has a lot in common with Prince. Definitely a fiery jam.
First of all, I had to look up the meaning of the title, since I’d really not heard it used in everyday conversation (I’m a midwesterner). The lead vocals are by Hannah again here, and this one has gotten past the folded arms of my first listen and my “you’re wasting valuable Prince time!” reaction. This is actually quite gorgeously played. The gentle guitar parts actually make me think of what Wendy Melvoin used to add to some of the songs… just that gentle touch. The lyrics are about windy and troubled waters type feelings once a lover leaves and worry sets in. I think the music captures the idea better than the lyrics. I find myself coming back to this one.
Chances are you’ve heard this one. Prince performed this in public last year on one of the award shows and it was fairly dazzling. It’s a great song to show off the new energy between Prince and 3EG. Prince gets a little finger-pointy here. But it’s forgivable when the song rocks this hard. And points for the line “A girl with a guitar is twelve times better than another crazy band of boys”. The solos showcase Prince being alive and in the moment. That alone deserves praise. The slap funk bass under the racing solo is a really cool touch also. This one definitely deserved a place here on the album.
What is that she’s saying? It sounds like confusion hypnosis or something. Funky shuffle and a downright nasty beat and then.. Left Eye? Iggy Azalea? Wait what happened? Is it one of the girls rapping? If you like rapping, it’s fairly good until the “99 problems..” line. By the way Jay-Z didn’t write that. Ice T did. And Iggy Azalea used it on the Ariana Grande song. Seems fairly soon to use a line that’s now become cliche. But I digress with my OCD. The song is really funky and the music gets my head bobbing. But it feels almost like when NPG took over parts of Diamonds and Pearls or O(+> and you feel like “wait what happened? I was liking that!”
Ok back to Prince, Well… kinda. Hannah sings with Prince on this one. Layered vocals by Prince add the right touch. This song is a laid back one with a xylophone melody and reminds me slightly of “Blue Light”. The key to this track is subtlety. It works in that way that worked when Prince would sing beneath Sheila E. on “A Love Bizarre”, although it’s not the same kind of song. Short and sweet.
Now we’re talking. This is Prince scorned. A heartache breakup song, but not a quiet one. The guitar pulls out that anger and hurt that really needs to be there to make a song like this feel honest. I didn’t realize til after several listens that this is a *cover*! The original is by Alice Smith from 2013. However Prince’s version is a complete revamp musically. Prince really nails it on this one. If you’re going to cover a song, do something to make it your own. And he does. Definitely one of my favorites on the album.
This one is different. It has a jazzy relaxing groove to it, with gentle breezy guitars. It grew on me quick because it just sounds fresh and yet so simple. I’ve said it several times before, Prince is at his best when he’s not trying to hard, just relaxes and goes with his feelings in the moment. This is one of those songs.
“Ronnie Talk 2 Russia” and “Sister” had a fight. This is a short burst of heavy, in your face heavy almost punk rock (okay the Prince version). Social commentary mode on, talking about starving children, the state of the world and moving to Marz. Short, sweet and slammin’! Oh, the seven reference is in this song for those playing Prince bingo.
The original. This is the grand finale of the album no doubt. Everything great about Prince and 3EG playing together is in this track. Rock & Roll, guitar licks, classic Prince funk guitar plucking, a bass line you can’t resist. This jam alone is worth the price of admission. This is the live instruments version, and then Art Official Age contains a remix with the same intro. I love elements of both. I get a bit of The Black Album‘s “Rockhard In a Funky Place” here too. Some rave up crazy playing heats up the ending, only to trail off in an extra half minute of a jazzy post-funkgasm outro version of the song. The End.
So… do I like this one as much as Art Official Age? Honest answer? No. Do I feel it worth of being in my collection? Absolutely. One big thing that shines through on this album is that Prince is having fun. He isn’t worried about if a band will outshine him. He isn’t worried about hiding behind a curtain either. For once he is truly trying to nurture someone else’s talent, learning from the experience and giving back to them at the same time. This isn’t like Bria Valente’s album where Prince needed a mouthpiece for songs he wrote from a female perspective. This is a true collaboration. I like it when Prince collaborates. Prince really is at his best when he has someone around to teach him some things or show him a different perspective. If you trap yourself in a room alone too long, everything gets stale because there’s nothing *else*. His playing and singing sounds inspired here. And it was definitely some perspective he needed before he could make Art Official Age. This album is a lot of fun and I definitely recommend it. Especially if you like hearing Prince rev up the guitar and rock out. But also if you like hearing really good musicians just having fun.
Here’s a couple videos from the album:
“FUNKNROLL” (live on Arsenio Hall):
and the recent Saturday Night Live episode: