“Art Official Age” is the 33rd album that Prince (Rogers Nelson, of course) has released over the course of his almost four-decade-long recording career – but who’s counting? The record is a tightly knit, charmingly zany and, most importantly, rhythmically captivating piece of work that just happens to fall into the latter portion of Prince’s lengthy career.
There is something all at once timeless yet ephemeral about Prince’s latest solo effort — the bouncing synths and over-the-top production are almost painfully 2014, yet Nelson’s songwriting soars above any type of pigeonholing, as per usual.
Let’s talk about “Breakfast Can Wait,” which falls at about the midline of the album, because this song is about exactly what you think it’s about, and there’s nothing veiled about Prince turning down hotcakes – hotcakes smothered in honey, yet – for a couple additional moments in bed with some very lucky lady. Even with oddball vocal samples that one can’t help but imagine coming from some impossibly tiny, squeaky-voiced soul-singer, the general aura of the tune is precisely what Nelson must have wanted: a clever, sexy tune all worked around a simple, yet very solid, groove. This has everything to do with Nelson’s capability as a songwriter and nothing to do with wherever “Art Official Age” places within the relative hierarchy of his stunning catalog.
“The Gold Standard” delivers a perfect dose of “music about music,” a tired trick that Nelson expertly transforms with masterfully honed horn punctuation and that crazy amazing “chk” James Brown rhythm guitar that pops up throughout the album. Directly from the moment the relatively short tune starts up, Nelson is already hitting the listener with his trademark goofy, computerized vocals that only he can make work so effortlessly. And, as always, that just doesn’t make his sounds any less appealing.
If there is anything that runs solidly through Nelson’s career, it might be his affinity for making music that sounds somehow right-in-the-moment while maintaining a tight rhythm that makes almost everything he touches absolutely sonically addictive. Sure, there are occasionally themes throughout “Art Official Age” that the listener can’t really relate to, but that does nothing to the appeal of the music itself. Throughout the album, a lush female voice updates the listener on Mr. Nelson’s 45 years in suspended animation, a no doubt gorgeous alien communicating sci-fi themes that absolutely fall into comical territory. But this is not at all a detractor from the quality of the album, much like how “International Lover” is simultaneously one of the most hilarious and grooviest songs throughout Nelson’s discography.
“Affirmation I & II”, as well as “Affirmation III” are all about juxtaposing those humorously presented statements about love, connection, romance and suspended animation (finally, an explanation for Nelson’s practically unnoticeable 56 years of age) with tracks that could only be described as stunning hybrids of rock, funk and pop. Take, for example, the way that “Affirmation I & II” bleeds into “Way Back Home,” a stripped-down, punchy pop song.
“Art Official Age” also plays with segues, jamming certain tracks together head to head and slowly transforming sounds into entirely different tunes. “The Gold Standard” and “U Know” fit together almost seamlessly, even though the actual feel of both of the songs is markedly different. While “The Gold Standard” serves as a jammed-out semi-rocker, “U Know” is one of the slower tracks on the album – because Nelson knows better than anyone that sometimes you need to bring down the pace to up the pleasure for the listener. It’s all about that tension, and Nelson has that tension absolutely nailed into place.