3rdEyeGirl have given Prince a new lease of life.
Ever since The Revolution backed him in his 80s prime, Prince has benefited from having a real band to work with. The all-female 3rdEyeGirl (guitarist Donna Grantis, bassist Ida Nielsen and drummer Hannah Ford Welton) have practically lived in Paisley Park since Prince carefully assembled them, like a less creepy Charlie and his Angels. They’ve inspired each other, with Prince also more focused on the solo Art Official Age (recorded with Welton’s husband Joshua) than he’s been in many years.
Prince loves classic rock.
Plectrumelectrum was recorded on analogue tape, live on the studio floor, with vintage Zep and Fleetwood Mac among the ideals 3rdEyeGirl discussed for the feel they were after. The instrumental title track is a fine example, as a long, snaking guitar solo morphs into chicken-shack funk followed by an overloaded squeal, Prince and Grantis’s guitars finishing in dirty unison. The shredding that launches heavenward over Welton’s sludgy bass on Ainturninround deserves a mention too. Prince can’t repeat his Purple Rain trick of remodelling Little Richard and Hendrix’s primal black rock for the present-day. But the swagger of Funknroll (on both albums) and Wow is still worth hearing.
**Prince still loves women, too. **
Art Official Age is a bonkers, funny but heartfelt concept album in which Prince is woken from 45 years suspended animation by a posh young Englishwoman. He’s soon back in the lascivious funk groove, deciding “the power of the breast is just a test” on U Know, and giving romantic instruction on Clouds: “Every time you catch her in the shower/ You should grab her foam/ No matter what the hour/ And rub it in her back, rub it in her back…” Impish humour and genuine interest in women separate him from many younger, colder R&B lovermen. Plectrumelectrum also puts his female band on a rock’n’roll pedestal, where “a girl with a guitar is 12 times better” than “another brick in a misogynistic wall of noise.”
**Album comebacks are tougher than live ones. **
3rdEyeGirl’s surprise gigs at London’s best club venues was one of the rock events of the year, even his band unsure where they’d be playing next. The day-long queues for £10 tickets beat the touts and presented Prince close-up to his most devoted fans, an old-school M.O. reminding everyone how terrific he is live. Writing songs to match When Doves Cry is, though, a more fiddly job. Nothing on either album gets near that exacting grade, and there are meandering moments (though less than on his last two-dozen LPs). Prince’s sheer life-grabbing exuberance, backed by young, loyal virtuosos, makes both albums a pleasure anyway.