Review Summary: Well produced album in the upper ranges of Prince's new millenium discography
Prince’s 33rd album is his first release in collaboration with Warner music since 1995’s The Gold Experience. There’s more common ground between these albums, such as the fact that both albums try to convey some sort of conceptual idea. However, AOA never reaches the overall musical quality of TGE. While this album is credited solely to Prince, he released companion album Plectrum Electrum with all girl band 3rdEyeGirl at the same time. The latter not being his most meaningful artistic endeavour, releasing two albums simultaneously still proves that Prince is never short on musical ideas and continues to (try to) surprise his followers.
AOA is another one of Prince’s better albums after a couple of mediocre releases (20ten, MPL Sound), and actually stands pretty close to his best albums in the new millennium; 3121, Musicology, Lotusflow3r and the jazzy Rainbow Children. Although the overall quality is maybe a little less than the music on these albums, there is a similar coherent feel to the album. The ingredients also do not differ very much from previous efforts. There’s large doses of old school funk in album highlight "The Gold Standard" and "Breakfast Can Wait", while "Clouds" offers a more slow burning funk. Dreamy, almost stoner pop in "U Know" and impressive vocal acrobatics in "Breakdown". The album opener "Art Official Cage" however is a bit of a strange beast. Best described as futuristic Euro Dance/Pop, it needs a couple of spins to get used to and has a bit of a hard time connecting with the rest of the album.
The album slows down with the mediocre ballad "This Could Be Us" and the following "What It Feels Like" is a boring duet with Andy Allo that would have been better left off the album altogether. From there on the album drifts a bit, the quasi interesting spoken word interludes "Affirmation I" and "Affirmation II" (by Lianne LaHavas) not helping in that respect.
"Way Back Home" however is a nice song with great vocal work and the reworked (from 3rdEyeGirl’s version) "FunknRoll" sort of connects with the opening song with a similar Euro Pop/Dance vibe and very nice synth-guitar work at the end. "Affirmation III" is a nice encore of "Way Back Home", again with spoken word parts, that further ties the album together.
Production-wise this is one of Prince’s most elaborate albums. The album is very nicely recorded overall and there’s a lot of little stuff going on. The whole album is just a joy to listen to on a high class hi-fi system or headphones. Very different from the dry sounding and sparingly produced albums of the eighties and nineties.
Art Official Age certainly doesn’t disappoint. There are some great songs to be found here, especially in the first half of the album and from a technical perspective, the album is one of Prince’s finest achievements with it’s polished production aesthetic and crisp, organic sound. All in all, a high quality album that proves that Prince continues to be a relevant force in music today.