If 1990’s Graffiti Bridge project was a clear case of diminishing returns for the Prince side project industry, then the years to come were downright dire. In fact, this week we’ve finally arrived at what most fans agree is the all-time nadir of Prince’s work for other artists: the dreaded 1993 album by model/actress/2004 MTV Movie Award Best Kiss winner Carmen Electra. But first, as a palate cleanser/stalling tactic, let’s look at a less-reviled 1991 project by Marta Marrero, better known as Martika.
A former child star (Kids Incorporated, Mr. T’s Be Somebody…Or Be Somebody’s Fool!), Martika launched a career as a pop singer in the late 1980s, reaching Number 1 with her 1989 single “Toy Soldiers.” For her followup album, she approached Prince to contribute a few songs, giving him a notebook of her own lyrics for inspiration. Four of Prince’s tracks ultimately showed up on the album in 1991: the title track, “Martika’s Kitchen,” plus “Spirit,” “Don’t Say U Love Me,” and lead single “Love…Thy Will Be Done.” Prince also demoed another song, “Open Book,” for the sessions, but it didn’t make the final cut; it would ultimately be released by Jevetta Steele on her 1993 solo debut Here It Is.
Like Elisa Fiorillo’s album the previous year, Martika’s Kitchen is pleasant but not earth-shattering. Probably the most remarkable track was its sole Top 10 hit: “Love…Thy Will Be Done,” for which Prince wrote music to accompany a prayer composed by Martika. It certainly seemed to be Prince’s favorite: he was known to perform it himself onstage from 1995 until his last solo piano tour in 2016. Incidentally, today actually marks the 25th anniversary of Martika’s Kitchen‘s release; I didn’t plan it that way, but hey, it’s kinda cool when things work out like that.
But enough stalling; we all know what we’re really here to talk about. Carmen Electra was born Tara Leigh Patrick, and first encountered Prince in 1991 during auditions for an all-woman rap group he was putting together around our girl Robin Power. After that idea was wisely scuttled, Prince came up with something even worse: he would write and produce a solo album for Tara herself. Oh, and also her name was “Carmen Electra” now, because Prince was apparently incapable of speaking to an attractive woman without giving her a fantastical stage name.
1993’s Carmen Electra is infamous simply because it exists: it’s widely believed to be a major reason why Concrete Jungle, the long-unreleased solo debut by New Power Generation singer/keyboardist Rosie Gaines, never made it out on Paisley Park. If that’s true, then it’s easily one of the worst decisions made by Prince–even in an era that, quite frankly, won’t ever be remembered as his most artistically or commercially astute. Carmen was/is undeniably gorgeous, but as an M.C.–because Carmen Electra was a “rap” “album”–she makes the aforementioned Robin Power look like Missy Fucking Elliott. Her lead single “Go Go Dancer”–the closest the album came to spawning a “hit”–was basically invented for preteen boys to watch on mute after their parents had gone to bed.
I know I’ve been hard on some of Prince’s side projects, especially in the last few posts; Carmen Electra, however, is truly terrible. Listening to it in full is a test in endurance I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. For hardcore fans of Prince, it’s arguably even worse, as he had the gall to dig up some of his own songs for Carmen to, er, spit over. Second single “Everybody Get on Up” samples Prince’s unreleased 1986 cover of the Esquires’ “Get on Up“; even more sacrilegiously, slow jam “All That” is a godawful remix (de-mix?) of “Adore,” arguably Prince’s most enduring ballad.
If Carmen Electra was meant in earnest, then it was a decision many orders of magnitude more baffling than when Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable glyph that same year. If, on the other hand, it was some kind of passive-aggressive act of self-sabotage against his parent label Warner Bros…to be honest, it still wasn’t worth it. Perversely, though, I kinda like the fact that it exists. If nothing else, it’s an important reminder that Prince, amazing as he was, was only human. Really, we’ve all done things we regret for people we wanted to bone; Prince just happened to do it in public, on a major label, for a woman who later went on to bone Dennis Rodman and Dave Navarro.
Next weekend I’m out of town, so my guest post series will be skipping a week; I’ll be back on September 10, though, for a look at Prince’s ill-fated side projects during the Symbol Era. Summer isn’t technically over until the 22nd of September, so Prince (Protégé) Summer will be going at least until then; in the meantime, if you’re interested, feel free to check out my work at Dystopian Dance Party and dance / music / sex / romance.