Today sees the U.S. release of Prince’s new albums ART OFFICIAL AGE and, with his band 3RDEYEGIRL, PLECTRUMELECTRUM. Even for an artist who’s put out plenty of albums in his three-and-a-half decade career, these releases stand out.
They cap over two years of increasingly public activity that have included a whirlwind U.K. tour; a barnburning set at the Essence Festival; a “takeover” of the Arsenio Hall show and a starring role on New Girl (complete with Zooey Deschanel duet); Prince’s emergence on social media (with a little help from his bandmates); his renewal of a relationship with Warner Bros., the label that released his classic material in the 80s and 90s; the celebration of the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain (an occasion first shrugged off, then wryly acknowledged, by Prince); and a series of performances and “listening parties” at Paisley Park that will climax with a live-streamed event tonight.
Perhaps most significantly, both releases are deeply collaborative albums. In addition to the three women of 3RDEYEGIRL, Prince continues to collaborate with members of the New Power Generation and even shares production credit—with Joshua Welton (husband of 3RDEYEGIRL’s Hannah Ford) and dance music producer Chris James. To the delighted surprise of the Minnesota music community, a track on PLECTRUMELECTRUM is anchored by raps from rising stars Lizzo and Sophia Eris; singer-songwriters Lianne La Havas and Andy Allo also make prominent appearances on ART OFFICIAL AGE, and there’s even a rapped shout-out to Minneapolis on that album’s opening track.
Some of these songs are brand-new to listeners’ ears, but many already have long histories of release and live performance. Here’s a breakdown of the songs on each album.
PLECTRUMELECTRUM, by Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL
This song originally appeared as the title track of New Power Generation member Liv Warfield’s album The Unexpected. (As the chorus goes, “You can call it the unexpected, or you can call it wow!”) It’s been a favorite of Prince’s to play for guests at Paisley Park in recent months leading up to the album release. Hear Liv Warfield talk about her music, and about working with Prince.
This crunchy jam served as an apt introduction to the collection’s hard-edged sound. Fans first heard it in January, just as Prince dropped his lawsuit against online bootleggers. It was the only song from either new album to be played by Prince at his live-streamed Paisley Park concert held on the night of the albums’ release.
Hannah Ford takes lead vocals on this tempo-switching rocker, which was one of the tracks Prince played for Andrea Swensson at Paisley Park in June.
An instrumental track featuring a fiery guitar duel between Prince and Donna Grantis. Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL opened with this number when they played a surprise Paisley Park show on the eve of Purple Rain‘s 30th anniversary. After one of Grantis’s ripping solos that night, Prince smiled quietly and murmured, “I’ll accept that.”
In a “genteel, understated ballad” (the Guardian) that’s been on SoundCloud for a few weeks now, Ford takes lead vocals again—this time with Prince singing backup.
A call to arms, with Prince on lead vocals, this track was released as a very early single in May 2013.
This girl-power anthem features guest raps from Lizzo and Sophia Eris as well as singing by their Chalice bandmate Claire de Lune. “99 problems but this boy’s not one!”
A mid-tempo number featuring Ford on lead with support from Prince, Ohio News calls this “funky R&B that benefits from a series of trademark Prince moans and groans.”
“I was just something you flaunted,” sings a hurt Prince over a guitar vamp that builds to a roar for the anthemic chorus: “If you don’t like this, baby, find another love.” Jon Bream of the Star Tribune says this song “starts like slow-burn Prince before blossoming into a slinky, Fleetwood Mac-evoking rocker.” Unfortunately, Fleetwood Mac missed an opportunity to cover the song in Minneapolis on the day of the album’s release. It’s actually a cover itself: not a Prince original, “Another Love” was written by Alice Smith, Rebecca Jordan, and Reginald “Syience” Perry. Smith’s version appeared on her 2013 album She.
Prince and the band keep the lights low with what the Telegraph calls a “sensuous groover.”
A galloping romp about being a star and taking a rocket ship to…you guessed it. Prince Vault notes that the Artist teased the song’s opening line, “I lost my job at Mickey D’s/ Gave away too much food for free,” on the largely improvised track “Midnight Blues” streamed in June 2013.
The only song to appear on both albums, this song was premiered on Prince’s Arsenio takeover in March.
ART OFFICIAL AGE, by Prince
1. ART OFFICIAL CAGE
This alternately funky, rumbling, and burbling opening track features a shout-out to Minneapolis.
A song premiered last month at the same time as the album-release announcement, featuring vocals by British singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas—who welcomes Prince (“Mr. Nelson”) back to life after a 45-year deep freeze. (Around the time this song was finished, Prince would have been 55 years old, so 55 + 45 = 100.) If the theme sounds timeless, take a close listen to the lyrics: these may be the same “clouds” U2’s new album dropped from, the clouds you’re syncing your new phone to.
4. THE GOLD STANDARD
His falsetto skipping over horn blasts, Prince seems to present his new tunes as…well, the gold standard. A growled break features the phrase “hashtag put your phone in your bag” and proposes a “New Power Slide.” In the first (and, as of this writing, only) question answered by Prince in a Facebook Q&A, he suggested that “the gold standard” is the frequency 432hz, sharing this article by Elina St.-Onge (St.-Onge: “I cannot state with complete certainty that every idea suggested in this article is 100% accurate, nor am I an expert on the subject”) that says tuning instruments to 432hz will yield the best results for human consciousness generally. A small but enthusiastic community of people around the world attribute near-magical powers to this frequency.
5. U KNOW
This slice of funk, built on a sample of Mila J’s “Blinded,” was previewed by Prince in early September via SoundCloud. At the time, Rolling Stone said it “could be the singer’s catchiest cut since 3121‘s ‘Black Sweat.'”
6. BREAKFAST CAN WAIT
The first song to be heard from the new album, “BREAKFAST CAN WAIT” was released in late summer 2013 via Prince’s website. There was much buzz about the single’s artwork, featuring Dave Chappelle as Prince. “That’s a Prince judo move right there,” Chappelle told Jimmy Fallon in June. “You make fun of Prince in a sketch, and then he’ll just use you in an album cover. What am I going to do? Sue him for using a picture of me dressed up as him? That’s checkmate right there.”
7. THIS COULD BE US
Prince’s meme-inspired song, teased this summer on Twitter. Standout lyric: “Sex with me ain’t enough. That’s why we gotta do it metaphysically.” (Also: “You’re the cage to my dove. I’m just sayin’.”)
8. WHAT IT FEELS LIKE
This loping track is a duet with Cameroonian-born singer-songwriter Andy Allo. She’s been in the New Power Generation since 2011, and she collaborated with Prince on three songs on her 2012 album Superconductor.
9. affirmation I & II
A spoken-word commentary by La Havas.
10. WAY BACK HOME
A poignant song with skittering instrumental accents under a thudding bass drum. Ben Greenman of The New Yorker calls this “a self-portrait painted in the strangest and most accurate colors imaginable, a melancholy confession and bruised boast.”
This version begins the same as the 3RDEYEGIRL version, but breaks down into bleeps and blips instead of rumbling bass guitar.
A summative call for more time—alone with you, specifically. Listen for motifs from the album’s other songs appearing throughout, and finally for the synth “horns” at the end: quintessential Prince.
13. affirmation III
“How are you feeling today, Mr. Nelson?” asks La Havas, seeming to welcome Prince into a newly enlightened world over the quietly reprised chorus of “WAY BACK HOME.” There is only one destination, she concludes, “and that place is…you. All of it, everything, is you.”