Sound — 8
With nearly three dozen full-length studio albums already under his belt, it's safe to say that at this stage in his career Prince can do just about whatever he wants to in regards to his musical approach. The multi-instrumentalist is most readily known for his 1984 studio album "Purple Rain," which in itself utilized a peculiar stylistic compilation comprised of elements from new wave to funk to R&B to rock, all of which stem from the musician's personal variety of influences. When first placed into words, Prince's new studio album "Art Official Age" can easily be interpreted as a bizarre listening experience, which is because, well, it is; there's no sense of consistency as each song on the track listing alternates from genre to genre, however what matters here is that Prince manages to make it work, to similar degrees of success and failure, just as he has on the previous thirty-two efforts in his discography.
The aptly titled opening number "Art Official Cage" could be interpreted as Prince breaking from the confines which most artists are subjected to upon discovering a successful commercial approach, as musically the song frantically transitions from Maroon 5-esque chord progressions to rapped lyrical lines and dubstep-style instrumentation. The subsequent "Clouds" is centered around a funk groove almost reminiscent of Earth, Wind & Fire while our vocalist of topic can be found talk-singing the lyrics with the unnecessary aid of autotune, used here primarily as a vocal effect as opposed to a necessary crutch. "Breakdown" more or less maintains that same feel while minimizing the tempo to an adult contemporary ballad, whereas "The Gold Standard" could serve as the running mate to "Kiss" from 1986's "Parade." "U Know" embraces a R&B approach similar to what we found on the aforementioned opening track, while "Breakfast Can Wait" reintroduces that similar Minneapolis sound hybrid that's made multiple appearances during earlier numbers, however this time around focuses upon high female vocal harmonies.
"This Could Be Us" and "What It Feels Like" reinforces the soulful vibes of "Clouds" while being gradually propelled forward by a gyrating computer-processed beat. "affirmation I & II" serve as a moderately humorous breakdown similar to what one might find on a mediation recording, with transcendent harp playing moving the forty-second track into the reflective "Way Back Home." "Funknroll" is the most appropriately titled selection on the album as far as the sound portion is concerned, as it combines rolling vocal melodies with occasional blasts of distortion guitar. "Time" is an authentic contemporary R&B cut, through and through, and has the longest running time on the album after clocking in at nearly seven minutes long. "Art Official Age" is ultimately concluded by "affirmation III," which begins in a similar manner as found on it's predecessor before transitioning into a somewhat psychedelic-meets-funk combination that ends the album on a strong note.
Lyrics — 8
A lot of this diverse instrumentation is held together by Prince's recognizable singing style and lyrical execution, however we rarely find the vocalist tackling the main microphone on his own throughout this thirteen song compilation; with the main exception being the previously mentioned "Breakdown," Prince largely enlists the aid of female backup vocalists to compliment the album's frequent visitations to funk and R&B territory. From a lyrical standpoint, Prince has yet to lose his "edge" in that regard as well, as indicated on "Art Official Cage": "Louder than a bomb since the day of my birth/ Got me second class when eye got here first/ Lovely score but how am eye supposed 2 know what it's worth/ Art official age in the future."
Overall Impression — 8
After nearly four decades of experience and an impressive discography to boot, Prince is still going strong on his new studio album, "Art Official Age." In what is a largely diverse effort that implements a somewhat bizarre compilation of pop, funk, rap, folk and rock elements, the outcome remains overtly standout, which serves as a testament to Prince's musical abilities as a songwriter and musician.