As most people who’ve read my reviews know by now,I’ve spent much of the past five years being rather disgusted by Prince. Not only hadn’t he released any new albums,but he seemed to be going out of his way to be as inaccessibly unlikable as he possibly could. Fact is,I’d written him off as someone so past his prime musically that he was depending on people to pay attention to the spectacles he was making of himself. Still,all the while I was hoping to buy any new music he chose to put out because I respected and appreciated his musical legacy. Rather suddenly Prince announced he was putting out two new albums,on Warner Brothers no less. And again sporting a huge afro. Indicating the possibility that the arc of his career was about to come full circle. And here he was,Prince was back!
The title song opens the album with a very theatrical mix of Hi NRG house/disco that’s also played very cleanly and features Prince playing some like minded lead guitar. “Clouds”,with it’s use of percussive drum machine effects and “The Gold Standard” with it’s mixture of early 80’s Minneapolis sound synths and James Brown style horn breaks,something of a modern day “Housequake” are by far the funkiest numbers on this album. And they personally stick right out for me as favorites. “Breakdown” is an interesting attempt at Prince doing a modern hip-hop/pop type song-stereotypically sing in one note monotone as if to jest a commonly accepted musical ethic he likely feels is totally beneath him.
“U Know”,”What It Feels Like” and “Way Back Home” have this sweeping mix of electric orchestration and epic melodicism that defined Prince’s arena friendly ballads from his salad period-all with a somewhat more modern R&B twist production wise. “Breakfast Can Wait” is a stripped down,jazzy funk piece filled with cute and delicious double entendre’s and some superb electric piano playing. “Funkinroll” is presented here again but in a totally different arrangement-as a kinetic blend of instrumental funk with early hip-hop type production values. “Time” just pulls in the synth,electronic percussion and arena friendly orchestration all together while “Affirmation III” presents a very interesting spoken word/metaphoric outro with psychedelic effects.
Considering this is Prince we’re talking about here? I expecting this project to be full of exciting surprises. And it is. On the other hand,Prince is not and never has been quite the instrumental circus performer that he comes off as to some people. His sound actually has a strong rootedness about it. I was not in fact expecting a total revisit of his early/mid 80’s musical breakthroughs. Or for that matter anything musically groundbreaking. What was received from this was a very alive sounding Prince,with a lot of sleek and clean production elements that in a way reminded me of something else. What if Prince’s career arc had been based more on the slick production and technical excellence of his debut For You in 1978? And he hadn’t been such an eclectic experimenter? Sure his music would’ve been a lot less interesting. But this album still would’ve existed because while it doesn’t sound the same? There’s a similar attitude about much of it. It’s a Prince making music as good and funky as he can-with no particular expectations to be daring and challenging. And that may be just what he and his admirers need to hear from him right now!
Originally written on October 1’st,2014