Being a fan of Prince the musician rather than Prince the hit machine or Prince the phenomenon, ‘PlectrumElectrum’ was an album I looked forward to. Unlike most people, I was particularly fond of the guitar oriented direction of the ‘Lotusflow3r’ album and the prospect of an album made with his all-female backing trio 3rdEyeGirl seemed to promise the band feeling that characterized the best material of Prince and the New Power Generation. And indeed: ‘PlectrumElectrum’ might just be the most band driven material Prince has released in a long, long time. Possibly ever.
First things first: Prince and 3rdEyeGirl have an incredible chemistry. It works that the band consists of fantastic musicians. Especially Danish bassist Ida Nielsen, who had been backing Prince for a couple of years already, really shines here. She impressed me at two Prince shows I attended recently already, but her star shines almost as brightly as the purple one himself here. Her fantastic basslines range from beautifully melodic to viciously rocking whilst never forsaking that essential groove. I tend to slightly prefer John Blackwell’s grooves to those of Hannah Ford Welton, but she lays down some awesome fills.
What’s most important, however, is the songs. Luckily, Prince has delivered his most consistent set of songs since ‘Musicology’. The material largely focuses on grooves and guitars. Figuring that this is Prince, the grooves are generally sultry and seductive, but the record rocks surprisingly hard at times as well. When the riffs kick in during the second track ‘Pretzelbodylogic’, it’s obvious that the focus isn’t just on Funk and Soul. And that’s not where it stops, ‘FixUrLifeUp’ is one of the album’s highlights with it’s huge riffs and melodic verses, the killer title track is a jam heavy instrumental that brings to mind Hendrix and Led Zeppelin – not in the last place because the main riff brings to mind ‘The Ocean’ – and the socially conscious message of ‘Marz’ is backed up by R’n’R riffs that put Status Quo to shame.
One of the album’s finest moments is the fantastic cover of Alice Smith’s ‘Another Love’, which has a monstrous groove, moving vocals and a mind blowing solo section – which seems to be Prince trading off with Donna Grantis – lifting the song to a level the original didn’t reach. The rest of the album moves between accessible Rock (‘Wow’), pure Funk (‘Funknroll’, unsurprisingly), balladry (‘Whitecaps’) and even contemporary R’n’B (‘BoyTrouble’). The only misstep is the syrupy ‘TicTacToe’, which drowns in its own overdose of repetition.
In the recent past, Prince often seemed to favor either composition or performance, based on what his ideas for the songs were. All the material on ‘PlectrumElectrum’ shows that both directions can mingle and intertwine with fantastic results. Though I really liked ‘Lotusflow3r’, this album has the consistency that so many critics have accused Prince of having lost. This material just screams for the live environment, like ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, ‘Peach’, ‘Guitar’ and ‘Colonized Mind’ before it. And that’s exactly the type of album Prince needed at this point in his carreer.
Recommended tracks: ‘AnotherLove’, ‘FixUrLifeUp’, ‘PlectrumElectrum’