‘You remember first time we met?’ Prince enquires in Wow, Plectrumelectrum’s barnstorming start. ‘You think that was good, you ain’t seen nothing yet...’ Most fans first met Prince as one of the 80s’ Big Four alongside Madonna, Michael Jackson and Springsteen. Though his hit-making power fell first and furthest, Prince’s stardom is the most intact, unsullied by sordid facts.
The only gossip his new band, 3rdEyeGirl, have brought back after many months with him in Paisley Park is that he likes to play ping-pong. Aged 56, he seems physically unchanged, as if preserved by living in his own purple world. The Hit and Run club gigs he and 3rdEyeGirl stayed in London for this summer were played by his truly spontaneous, tout-confounding rules. They were such a brilliant success, they’ve made us care about his records again.
Plectrumelectrum, Prince’s debut with 3rdEyeGirl (guitarist Donna Grantis, bassist Ida Nielsen and drummer Hannah Ford Welton), theoretically reconnects him to Purple Rain, when he morphed from funk provocateur to rock guitar god. This is a more conventional album, recorded live on analogue tape with the ambience of 70s Zep and Mac in mind, not screaming 80s futurism. But it still travels a long way from its guitar-heavy, funk-rock template.
Breakdown is an atmospheric keyboard ballad which builds to a laser-zapped climax as Prince’s falsetto becomes a fusillade of ecstatic shrieks, as if he’s simultaneously preaching and coming during a Star Wars battle scene. ‘Promoter tried to rob us/We said go ’head, son,’ he drawls in Pretzelbodylogic (mostly about 69ing). Such streetwise lyrics are a reminder of the worldly side of this enigmatic eccentric, and this sex-crazed Jehovah’s Witness’s moral perspective is clearest on Art Official Age’s SF concept album. Behind its freakier conceits stands Prince Rogers Nelson, a middle-aged Midwesterner worried by the internet, phone-addicts and materialism.
Tunes and sound both stay below the Gold Standard a song here brags of, an ‘upper echelon of groove’ Prince set the bar for himself. The compensation is his undimmed exuberance for a job that still makes him scream and shred his guitar./o:p