Is Prince on the Verge of Irrelevance?

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Recently, Prince announced he will release two new albums at the end of this month: Plectrumelectrum and Art Official Age. That's a pretty big outpouring of new music from the artist, who since 2009 has only released elusive singles and an album that could only be found in copies of a UK newspaper.

However, despite relentless attempts to keep his face in the spotlight, including an appearance on the Fox sitcom New Girl, those aforementioned singles, and a Dave Chappelle reference that showed he still has something of a sense of humor, it's worth asking where Prince still stands in the public eye.

Is he still relevant? Will these new albums have any impact at all? Or is Prince very quickly becoming a legacy artist?

It's not like he's done much to help his own case. Prince's constant fights over copyrights and refusal to allow any of his music to surface on Web sites like YouTube -- including live bootlegs -- has made him look like a dinosaur who can't let go of the old model of music sales.

Appearances on the now-cancelled Arsenio Hall Show might be nice because they show Prince with his guard down, laughing and talking like a normal human being. However, as long as his actions show him to be out of touch with the modern American youth and otherwise somewhat insane, it's hard to be on his side.

None of that would matter if his music was breaking new ground, or at least treading good old ground. Frankly, I think most of us are content when late-career artists like Prince just make albums that sound like themselves.

On the other hand, the many singles that have dropped from Plectrumelectrum (where he shares top billing his latest proteges, the trio 3RDEYEGIRL), and Art Official Age instead show Prince in a sort of creative rut. Oh, he can still rock a guitar, but nobody is ever going to question his instrumental skills or those of his band.

But take "Fixurlifeup," which came out in May 2013. It sounds like an outtake from one of Prince's worst albums, 1996's tossed-off Chaos and Disorder. Where that admittedly forgetabble album was at least a breezy rock-guitar record perfect for the summer, "Fixurlifeup" is essentially just forgettable.

"PretzelBodyLogic" has a similar boring rock feel, with an absolutely retch-inducing a cappella chorus line from Prince's latest band 3rdEyeGirl. If Prince weren't on this thing, we could easily just ignore this like we did Apollonia 6 or the awful Bria Valente record that came packed with his latest mediocre double-album outing, 2009's Lotusflower and MPLSound.

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"Breakfast Can Wait" is some nice funk, even if the lyrics verge on sounding like Turquoise Jeep's Prince-idolizing Slick Mahony. It at least sounds like Prince doing a decent job being Prince. "Clouds" is even better vintage funk, but "The Breakdown" is essentially just "Adore" all over again. It seems for every minor hit, there's a big miss coming from the Prince camp.

The biggest thing that gives me hope for the record though, is the latest single, just released last Monday. It's called "U Know" and what's so great about it is that it is the first time in almost a decade that it sounds like Prince has actually been listening to contemporary artists.

Prince has always stayed relevant by absorbing what was around him and doing a Prince-ified version of it. From the slick '80s pop of Purple Rain to the new jack swing of the "Love Symbol" album. "U Know" sounds like Prince rapping over a Flying Lotus rap, complete with glitchy vocals and futuristic synths.

Not only is it a great Prince track, but it shows that he knows what's going on in the world outside of Paisley Park. He's aware, and maybe he's going to shock us with something that will once again stun the masses and influence the pop landscape.

Maybe Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum are going to be the massive hits that Musicology, 3121 and Planet Earth were last decade. But first we need to see a little more proof that Prince isn't just fucking around.

So far I'm not entirely convinced. Although Prince's legacy is secure -- absolutely -- these two albums may finally seal his fate as yet another irrelevant aging pop star touring on old hits and reputation alone, after so many years of deftly avoiding falling into that trap.


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