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Review: 15 Thoughts On Prince's Gloriously Vital (And Refreshingly Weird) 'Art Off

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Prince proves he can still come up big in late innings with his impressive 'Art Official Age' LP.The well worn, dimly lit cliché is always lurking within the deep recesses of our all-too crowded memory banks. It's a knee-jerk, prisoner-of-the-moment reaction that derails nuanced critical dissection and gives even the best of us an easy way out. The music stops. And after absorbing the entire wonderful, wacky and defiant damn thing you are tempted with the lazy urge to proclaim the latest album from arguably the most gifted and enigmatic pop star of the last 30 plus years, Prince Rogers Nelson, as the artist's best work since [fill in the blank with any of His Royal Badness' G.O.A.T. era '80s works or maybe his more underrated '90s statements]. But let's steer clear of such banal drivel.

Here's the lede: Art Official Age, the 34th studio album from Prince on the heels of his quite shocking return to Warner Bros. Records, following a very bitter and public divorce, finds Minneapolis, Minnesota's one-man-band pulling off the improbable. The iconic 56-year-old has delivered a 12th round knockout to Father Time. Infectious, ageless, conceptual, forward-thinking, playful and deeply layered, Art Official Age doesn't so much hail a (cliché alert!) return-to-form for a visionary who transformed the decade of decadence into his own personal Rude Boy playground with a string of groundbreaking statements—Dirty Mind, 1999, Purple Rain, Parade, Sign O' The Times, LoveSexy—often times putting his peers to shame with delirious, prolific obsession.

The Purple One's first long-playing set in four years—which will be released Tuesday (Sept. 30) alongside the performer's rock-leaning 3rdeyegirl project Plectrum Electrum—presents an inspired highlight clip of a talent reveling in his own Princely-ness. This is indeed headline-worthy news after hit-or-miss years of Prince running away from his towering sexy beast of a mojo. That's not to say the concert staple hasn't released any credible projects over the last 15 years or so years. But most recently his output has had a faded copy feel; in a sense Prince covering Prince.

So why is Art Official Age an album that will make even the most jaded, bring-back-the-the-Revolution! fanatic crack a pooh pooh-eating grin? We break it all down, in 15 nuggets. —Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)

Click the arrow above to read VIBE's review of Prince's Art Official Age >>> Prince album review1. It's a celebration, bitches! Prince is weird again. Like who else would unleash an opening track like "Artificial Cage," a number that starts off with a cheesy, Euro disco scamper that sounds like Daft Punk having a laugh (or is Prince simply trolling "artificial" techno dance trends)? You may be compelled to click to the next offering, but don't. This wacked-out number soon morphs into a sci-fi funk-rock throwdown filled with distorted vocals, an 808 booty drop rap, something about blowing up Lady Liberty's dress, and at the 2.44 mark, a synthesized Middle Eastern dub-step inspired flip complete with you know who wailing his ass off on guitar. It should be a mess, but it all works.

2. There's a futuristic concept that weaves in and out of AOA as noted on "Clouds," a simmering, bass-slapping, mid-tempo standout that sounds like it could have been given to Prince's mighty funk protege band the Time back in 82'. According to British soul vocalist Lianne La Havas (the woman's buttery soft VOX is the type of voice you want waking you up in the morning), our high-heeled hero has been in suspended animation for 45 years. "But where you are at now is a place that does not require time," she says.

It's just as well. This time from which Prince hails is a mess. "All of our lives' a stage/Everybody stars, reality so blurry," he notes of this vapid era of Kim K. and the never ending onslaught of screaming, cat-fighting cable TV Housewives. But Prince's solution to all this is love... and some healthy, monogamous sex, preferably in the shower.

3. Prince is still cool. And not in that old-man-in-the-club-trying-to-be-cool way. [See entry no. 5.]

4. The man's ballads have always been grossly underrated. "The Breakdown" backs up this point with heart-tugging, tear-inducing emotion. A melancholy piano melody twinkles as Prince opens up a tale that "could be the saddest story ever been told." We are talking sad as in cold one-night stands and lost loves. Wasted time = unfulfillment. What a beautiful bummer.

5. The "Prince" meter is way past 10 on "The Gold Standard." It's as if he strutted into his storied Paisley Park vault and picked out an unreleased ass-shaker from a late '80s Black Album session. Live horns and warm synths flirt and get it on; chicken grease guitar adds funky inflection; vocals are stacked; and a swaggering Prince cuts up and delivers some ironic wisdom from a rebel who once performed onstage in a bikini drawers and flasher's trench coat extolling the virtues of oral sex.

"You don't need to be rude, you don't need to be wild, " he advises today's Selfie generation. No, this is not throw-back Prince simply because he drops some Linn drums into the mix and sings in falsetto. Like much of the album, the "Prince" feel comes from a shot of unbridled naughty quirkiness, serious hooks, and a willingness to color outside the lines with a coy wink. By the end of the song, we hear the resurrection of the sardonic Bob George who may or may not be partaking in some horny horizontal activity. Let's just leave it at that. Prince6. There's a lot of talk about Art Official Age being Prince's most contemporary album in years. But let's be more concise. It's as if Pharrell, Drake's studio man Noah "40" Shebib, DJ Mustard, and the production crew behind British blue-eyed soul sensation Sam Smith handed the man a bunch of new sounds and said, "Now make a Prince album with this shit." The Mila J-sampled "U Know" exemplifies Prince's fresh musical turn-ons. It's a sexy and playfully robotic come-on all at once. He even sings in a stutter-step rhyme delivery! But when the groove literally switches backwards we get a sneaky, pure Prince curve pitch.

Of course, Prince stays true to his "produced, arranged, composed and performed" tag-line. But this time around he enlists the fresh ears of in-house producer Joshua Welton to add an in-the-now gleam to his trademark sound. The result is the veteran superstar's first headphones album in quite some time that pushes listeners to experience AOA from start to finish. It's purple ear candy.

7. The tale of safe Prince vs. Sex Machine Prince. Really, there is nothing particularly offensive about the easy-listening

And yet this is color-by-numbers Prince; a somewhat low-hanging composition that seems out of place on this futuristic, thematic statement. By contrast, the uber-sensual slow jam "This Could Be Us" oozes with baby-making aplomb. Prince is in fine vocal form here. I don't know any other devout Jehovah's Witness cooing lines like,"Sex with me ain't enough/That's why we got to do it metaphysically."

The rockist contingent may attempt to dismiss "This Could Be Us" as standard quiet-storm-Prince, but there's a lot going on in this layered cut playfully inspired by an Internet meme of all things. It's as if he is allowing you to come into his panty-soaking world where gorgeous women ride bareback on unicorns. As unfiltered passion goes you can place this one in the same company as "Scandalous" and "Pink Cashmere." And the muscular guitar solo drips with morning after glow.

8. Can we get a Prince/Andy Allo duet album going? As evident on the sweet and breezy "This Is What It Feels Like," the pair seem like they were made for one other.

9. Back in story mode. Prince is debriefed during his adjustment to his new, enlightened environment. "There are no such words as me, or mine," the otherworldly host explains over some floating new age orchestration. Self-Indulgent Spinal Tap wankery? Don't worry, the big payoff is coming.

10. Grammy bait! Stuffy voters will surely be rewinding the soaring "Way Back Home" in awe. Quite simply, this is the most personal we've heard Prince in, like, forever. "I never wanted a typical life, scripted role... trophy wife/All I ever wanted is to be left alone/See my bed's made up at night 'cuz in my dreams I roam," he opens up. If Prince's mantra during his outlaw, censorship-destroying days was made clear on the sweaty electro funk of 1982's "D.M.S.R." ("All I want to do is dance, play music, sex, romance/And try my best to never get bored..."), an older, wiser Prince seeks fulfillment for the soul. Prince is back!11. But wait, there's more. A marching snare drum paces the slow, deliberate dream-like buildup on "Way Back Home," with Prince later declaring, "Most people in this world are born dead/But I was born alive." Prime era lyricism that more than proves that Prince can still pen a stunning verse.

12. "FunkNRoll" provides an exact litmus test for a Prince fan. If you worship at the altar of Wendy & Lisa-era Prince you will most likely have no use for this sparse mash-up of crunchy guitar rock theatrics, Bay Area hyphy hip-hop, and Trap Music sonics.

13. But if by chance you are willing to follow a "turned up" Prince into his freshly minted wall of sound your patience will be rewarded. And that reward clocks at around the 2:55 mark. "I don't really care what y'all be doing!" Prince announces to his legion of Purple party people as a freaky EDM coda seemingly jumps out of nowhere and slaps you in the face. Well, damn.

14. More Andy Allo. Prince is ready to settle down on "Time." His voice is distilled to trippy perfection while his partner's is lovely and clear. But this is not some laid-back cutesy affair. Prince plugs in his bass and commences to put on a funk-face clinic. "I'm thinking that you really need to be my pet/And let me put you in my cage," he quips in a refined sleazy droll. Live horns and synths follow suit. What a pleasant, dirty surprise.

15. No, Art Official Age is not in the same weight class as Prince's career-defining work. But it does something just as impressive. It proves that Mr. Nelson can grow old with both grace and thrill-seeking ingenuity. This is a Prince album for our times, mining the emo, atmospheric, new wave rhythm & blues and urbanized pop of the day while reaching back to his own much welcomed musical hallmarks. It's a thoroughly realized work featuring songs that deserve a place on commercial radio and beyond.

There is no reinvention of the genius wheel, just a man delightfully comfortable in his own butterscotch skin. As the emotional closing track "Affirmation III" makes clear, the road to finding one's way back home is not achieved through chasing worldly toys and back slapping accolades. "Remember, there is really only one destination, and that place is you... everything is you," says Prince's guide. If the likes of Kanye West, Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake can ever pull off a bold, brave statement like this in their golden years, God bless them.

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