“Clouds,” a single from Prince’s long-awaited album Art Official Age, details a story of the persona Mr. Nelson (Prince’s full name is Prince Rogers Nelson) as he is awoken from nearly half a century of suspended animation. Surely, this is a metaphor for Prince’s troubles as an artist—over the past decade, Prince has struggled in finding ways to make his music resonate with contemporary listeners. Although Prince had been struggling to stay relevant before this record, his influence can be broadly seen in the work of other contemporary artists. Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, Daft Punk, along with various other musicians, are employing the same high, fluid vocals and funk beats that Prince has been using throughout his career. With Art Official Age, Prince reasserts himself as a pop legend—he is truly just as good as he was at his prime. Prince has always been different, and by bringing storytelling to the forefront of his music, he separates himself from R&B artists of today.
This album shows Prince’s depth as an artist. While parts of the album keep with Prince’s upbeat, electronic style, Art Official Age also features more intense ballads. “The Breakdown,” for example, is a beautiful, sad account of unrequited love. It features the same electronic beats as some of the record’s other songs, but slowed down to add a tender, emotional appeal. “The Breakdown” is a testament to Prince’s lasting vocals and diversity in style.
“Art Official Cage,” the album’s sort-of title track, has a chorus that is pretty much everything Pharell’s most recent hits have been attempting to do—but Prince does it better. This intro track takes gorgeously synthesized chords and paired them with R&B influences to make for truly entertaining music. Because of his longevity in the music career, Prince has a fine-tuned sense of how to use the basic elements of R&B to create a multi-dimensional song. His verses are quick and heated, with the pacing of rap song, then balanced out by a distinct funk groove and sweeping choruses. Because of his knowledge of popular music—and what creates truly successful songs—Prince shows that he hasn’t been under a rock these past few years. He’s been listening, paying attention, and this album reflects that.
This project is full of potential hits, and “Time” seems to be a top contender for the charts because of its relaxed nature. It’s less frenzied than many of the other songs on the record, instead featuring Prince in a duet of sorts with an easy, light, female voice. The two collaborate in a romantic way amidst an instrumental R&B backdrop, and its natural feel makes it more accessible than most moments on the album. The listener doesn’t have to follow any bizarre storylines or fall in love with a heavy electronic aesthetic to enjoy this particular song.
“Breakfast Can Wait” is another important track on the record, as it strikes a smart balance between new and old. It is more rhythmic than much of the record, and its lyrics match with the beats in a unique manner. “Breakfast Can Wait” is enhanced by a classic R&B vibe, adding a seductive texturing to the song. Strong funk beats, distorted voiceovers, and an overdriven sound make this track standout from the rest of the album.
Prince is still just as eccentric as he’s always been—perhaps even more so. Without explanation, Prince places tracks “affirmation I & II” and “affirmation III” at random points in the album, continuing the story that started in “Clouds.” These two tracks are essentially eerie voiceovers, detailing how Prince is getting adjusted to a new, active life. There’s not much to say about these “songs,” other than that no one but Prince could get away with them. His music transports people, and its experimental nature is something unique to Prince.
Ultimately, the balance between genres in Art Official Age is what’s most remarkable about it. Prince even dedicated an entire song to this idea of genre-bending, called “Funkroll.” The song is driven by a ’90s hip-hop beat, but then also incorporates rock, funk, and smooth R&B. It’s not rock and roll, but it’s not just funk either. It’s uniquely “Prince,” and this innovative flavoring spans the entire album. “U Know” and “What It Feels Like” are other great examples of unique style being incorporated into storylines. Unified by Prince’s legendary style, the variety of sounds featured in Art Official Age work together seamlessly.
Featured Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures