By Kyle Anderson
November 08, 2014 at 05:00 AM EST

Prince is undoubtedly A singular talent, though he’s rarely flown entirely solo. Yes, he can play multiple instruments — at times, he’s been a veritable one-man orchestra — but his best work often comes with comrades at his side, be they the Revolution, the New Power Generation, or any number of single-named divas. His two new albums, one a solo joint, the other a collaboration with his raucous all-female touring band, 3rdEyeGirl, stand as a testament to the power of pal-dom.

PLECTRUMELECTRUM, the effort driven by 3rdEyeGirl, is the stronger of the two, if only because it better captures what makes Prince such a lasting onstage draw. He and the girls trade off vocal duties, creating a bold, dynamic playfulness. PLECTRUM‘s hooks are simple but superior, especially on the lighters-up power ballad ”Anotherlove” and the propulsive hybrid ”Fixurlifeup.”

His solo album Art Official Age, on the other hand, runs on unadulterated id, maniacally leaping between styles and genres — sometimes several times per track. Even the purest pop songs get derailed by the sheer volume of ideas he attempts to cram into every sonic cranny, including a confusing sci-fi narrative thread that periodically breaks in. (There’s a lot of nonsense about telepathy.)

Art isn’t a disaster; ”What It Feels Like” is a delightfully sinewy R&B jam, and ”Breakfast Can Wait” remains the best song ever written about choosing sex over pancakes. But it often feels insular to the point of suffocating. The 3rdEyeGirl ladies reestablish a rule that has always been true for Prince: Invite your friends along.

Art: B-

Best Tracks:
”This Could Be Us”