Do you remember where you were late Saturday night, November 1, 2014? Some of us may have to think carefully to remember where we were, but for others it may be a very simple answer. Many music fans were watching Saturday Night Live, awaiting the heralded performance of Prince. Once the segment of Prince’s eight-minute performance was over, the world of social media was buzzing. The last time Prince gave a similar performance was the halftime at Super Bowl XLI on February 2, 2007, which was carried to 140 million television viewers, the largest audience of his life. On February 4, 2010, Billboard.com ranked the performance as the greatest Super Bowl performance ever. Of course, when anyone completes such an epic event, much commentary follows. Just like his Super Bowl performance almost eight years ago, his SNL performance drew just as much observation. Although this online journal is called Weekly Music Commentary, I will not offer commentary on the SNL performance. I will strive to offer commentary on the recently released music of Prince’s two albums, Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum.
Most artists work extremely hard to release one album of music and hope all the hard work pays off. Prince released two albums of music without flinching. There is much to say about the measure as well as the quality of Prince’s music. On September 30, 2014, Prince released studio albums number thirty-four and thirty-five simultaneously. He has produced ten platinum albums and thirty Top 40 singles during his career, written several hundred songs, produces, and records his own music for his own music label. In addition, Prince has promoted the careers of Sheila E., Carmen Electra, the Time and Vanity 6, and these artists and others, including Chaka Khan, Cyndi Lauper, The Bangles, Sinéad O’Connor, and Kim Basinger, have recorded his songs. At this time, hard-rocking outfit 3RDEYEGIRL is enjoying the opportunity of accompanying Prince, as well as one of my personal favorites Lianne La Havas. All shared the spotlight of the recent SNL appearance.
One thing I have noticed about Prince is that he has been extremely consistent for over thirty years. Sure, he has changed the sexually explicit lyrics and his stage apparel is somewhat different. However, Prince continues to make astoundingly great musical choices. Since he takes total responsibility for songwriting, musical arrangement and production, you could expect errors in judgment from time to time. Prince just keeps on rolling out well-constructed music. That was the first thought that came to my mind as I listened to Art Official Age in entirety.
In my opinion, both albums are very good even among the incredible amount of music within the Prince discography. The new music follows a similar path as most of Prince’s previous music. Perhaps it is because of the music that shaped Prince into the artist he eventually became. His artistic influences include Sly & the Family Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic, Joni Mitchell, the Beatles, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Miles Davis, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Marvin Gaye, the Isley Brothers, Todd Rundgren, Duke Ellington, Curtis Mayfield, and Stevie Wonder. That list is extremely eclectic, but if you listen to any Prince music, all of his musical influences can be heard.
Above everything else, the musical talent of Prince always stands out. During Prince’s 2007 Super Bowl performance, a friend asked me about the style of clothing worn by Prince on stage. To be exact, the person said he considered Prince weird. If he is weird, to whom are you comparing him? I went further to explain that none of us could comprehend having as much musical talent as Prince. He is a true artist, and as such expressing ideas may be different from most of us. In fact, his mode of expression is different from most modern-day musicians. Prince proved my point as he finished his electrifying halftime Super Bowl set.
At this stage in his career, Prince seems to be in a happier place than earlier years. He is back with Warner Brothers Records after the period of being known as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince”. In addition, much of the copyright battles with You Tube seem to be in the past. I hope that Prince will produce a few more performances that are historic along with albums of great music.