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Prince-One Year Later: “The Gold Standard” (2014)

Prince surprised a lot of people after a five year absence by releasing two albums on the same day: September 30th,2014 to be exact. It was an event that was just in time to be covered by this particular blog as well. Out of the two, Art Official Age seems to be the album that got the best response. During this time,Prince was expanding the NPG off into an all female side project called 3rdEyeGirl. The husband of one of its members Hannah Ford,Joshua Welton marked the first time Prince worked closely with an outside producer. Presumably to give his sound a more youth friendly sound for the 2010’s.

Welton’s contributions to Art Official Age were not as prominent as they’d be on the rather more modern teen EDM styled Hitnrun Phase 1 a year later. Prince was still ever deeply in control of the writing,instrumentation and yes-production on the former album. Still,its likely Welton’s presence reminded Prince of what made his music so appealing when he was at his most vital creative peak in the 1980’s. So with that Prince decided to reinvigorate his classic funk sound and came up with a song for the Art Official Age album entitled “The Gold Standard”.

A one note Linn drum kick starts of the song before a descending synth brass riser punctuates his slowed down rhythmically spoken vocal. The high on the neck rhythm guitar,slightly digitized live bass line and the accenting charts of the NPG Hornz. On the first bars, Prince is singing mainly with the drums and bass alone. Then the horn sections JB’s like charts take higher priority in the mix. The synth brass finally joins in with the live horns After a hand clap powered rendering of the chorus,a P–Funk synth bass initiates as bass/guitar/horn based cadence that fades out the song.

“The Gold Standard” brings together two different sides of Prince’s 80’s funk approach. His classic Minneapolis sound is represented by the brittle synth brass and stripped down arrangement. His rhythm guitar sound at its ever peak performance here as well. Aside from some modern production touches,particularly on the bass line,this also brings out his horn fueled mid/late 80’s period from songs such as “Girls & Boys” and “Housequake”. What it all does so well is showcase how much of an innovation for its time Prince’s condensation of funk was for the genres future-especially in the 2010’s.

 

 

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Prince And His Music’s Deliverance From Official Release

deliverance-ep-prince-500x500

Prince’s infamous vault of unreleased music-spanning almost 38 years now,has been something that has been thought of has having the floodgates released on following his passing last year. That tons of Prince music no one’s ever heard will be pouring out to the public from now on. It was announced earlier this year that new Prince material would be seeing the light of day soon. It came in the form Deliverance-a six song EP that was set to be released on the first anniversary of his passing. It was even available on Amazon Prime. Than…its release was abruptly pulled. From everywhere.

It would seem that Prince’s longtime recording engineer George Ian Boxill planned on releasing these half a dozen songs (recorded between 2006 and 2008) independently. But he was hit with a cease and desist by the Prince estate. They claimed he never received any proper authorization to release this music. If this reminds anyone of the sort of vexatious litigation Prince practiced in life, they wouldn’t likely be far off. As for me,I managed to snag it as a download before it was pulled and listened to it. So what exactly is Deliverance in musical terms?

The title track of the album is a combination of Southern gospel soul and blues rock-full of organ,piano,choir singers and Prince’s falsetto.  “I Am” is a bluesy rock with Prince speeding up his voice and delivering some heavy power chords. “Touch Me”,clocking in at under 2 minutes,is a pop ballad with European classical guitar and string overtones. “Sunrise,Sunset” is more of the same-only with a somewhat more soul inflected chorus. The closer “No One Else” is basically classic stripped down,live band funk/rock from Prince-coupled with some strong synth and horn orchestrations.

Deliverance conceptually comes across as something of a gospel album. As was typical of the Prince material of the early/mid 2000’s heavily built around his Jehovah’s Witness faith. There’s a lot to enjoy here…if your a big fan of Prince as a rocker that is. Only one song-the closer “No One Else” offers up anything right in the groove. While the material does showcase Prince as the amazing guitar player that he was, it also brings out a quality that I’ve only noticed more looking back at Prince’s music from the 90’s and beyond.

A YouTuber calling himself Morrisman,notable for being so critical of Prince as to declare him not to be a musical genius at all,did make one point on Prince’s music that could have strong objective merit. While I do not agree with him that an artist first album is always their best, he did say that some artists who get heavily revered by a devoted fan base can start taking their own music for granted. And sometimes even resort to releasing less than stellar music based on name recognition. This is a huge factor in the rock world. And yes,it did occasionally seem to happen to Prince.

After listening to all six songs (including an extended mix of “I Am”) on Deliverance? I’d have to say that aside from Prince’s unique performance style shinning out,more than half the songs on this album just don’t stand out as having anything particularly special about them. They sound like possible filler tracks Prince would’ve put on albums such as Planet Earth and Lotusflow3r. So aside from a strong book ended start and finish,  Deliverance certainly doesn’t sound like a prime example of what Prince had in his vault. Nasty as this may sound, its fairly by the numbers music by Prince’s creative standards.

 

 

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Prince-One Year Later Since He Left Us

Prince blog photo

It was a Thursday morning one year ago that I first heard that Prince had passed away. It was via a Facebook post one of my friends there shared from TMZ. Being a tabloid agency,it came across as just another online “fake news” story about a dead celebrity. It was my Aunt Deb who confirmed the unfortunate news. Prince Rogers Nelson had been found dead in an elevator at Paisley Park earlier that morning. It turned out to be just one part of a huge “funkapocalypse” of musicians dying in 2016-among them people such as David Bowie and EWF founder Maurice White.

In the weeks following Prince death, there was much ugliness unfortunately. Because he left no will in regard to his enormous musical output,the future of his art was in question. Therefore there was more concentration on people suddenly coming forward claiming to be his child (and a potential heir to his fortune),as well as conspiracy theories about Prince having died of HIV/AIDS. The reality of his death wasn’t any prettier. He’d died of an accidental overdose of the pain medication Fentanyl,part of a series of medications he’d been taking since an injury he’d sustained onstage in 1985.

Now that 365 days have passed since we lost Prince, there remains much mixed appraisal of the man and his music. The fight for control over Prince’s estate still remains fairly hot-with family representatives such as his half sister Tyka and record companies in the process of figuring out how to manage his music releases and online presence. Articles circulate consistently on fan sites all over the internet-especially Facebook and Twitter. And the debate between restorationists and preservationists of Prince’s legacy has proven a true example of the messiness of democratic dialog.

All of this being said, the year since Prince’s death has not been about complete uncertainty. Currently his mid 80’s era band the Revolution have begun for a US tour-indicating that its helping them cope with the loss of Prince. There was a somewhat rushed compilation released by Warner Bros. entitled Prince4ever,which included one item from Prince’s vault from 1982 entitled “Moonbeam Levels”. The CD release of Prince’s final album Hitnrun Phase II also took place a week after his passing. And now,its promised that a floodgate of new Prince material is about to be opened.

Following the Grammy Awards tribute,much of Prince’s music was re-added to streaming sites such as Pandora and Spotify. And there’s also the promise of a deluxe edition of the Purple Rain soundtrack at some point this year. This week however, the Prince estate has filed a lawsuit against against his former engineer George Ian Boxill for attempting to a release an EP of unreleased Prince songs from 2006 entitled Deliverance. In addition,Prince’s music has yet to re-appear on YouTube. And that brings me to what I feel is the most vital aspect of Prince’s creative legacy.

Myself, Henrique Hopkins and Zach Hoskins have been having many discussions since Prince’s passing about the lost opportunities for his continuing legacy online. As for Prince,that’s all in the past now. Because his music is in danger of being somewhat unknown by future generations (and some members of current ones) due to this problem,I hope that those in charge of Prince’s estate realize the mistakes he made in his final decade about publicizing his art. It would be a fitting tribute to him if they continued to maintain the presence of Prince’s musical legacy for the future.

 

 

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‘Sign O The Times’ At 30: Prince Bares The Cross Of His Time To Settle Down

Sign O The Times

Sign O The Times is the tale of three different Prince album projects. Because Prince was cutting edge in terms of the presentation of music as well as the sound of it,he recorded enough music during 1986 for three albums. Two of which were multi album sets. Those were The Dream Factory,Crystal Ball and an album credited to a pseudonym Camille. Due to Warner Bros. displeasure with so much Prince music coming out during a years time,all of this content was whittled down into a double album set. And it was all finally released thirty years ago today as Sign O The Times.

My own personal history with the album came with seeing a very choppy take of the music video for I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”,one of the albums rockier hits,on a VHS tape of music videos my father recorded for me at work from MTV. That was early in 1988. I first heard the hits for the album years later on the collection The Hits/The B-Sides. It was shortly after the albums tenth anniversary that I first picked it up on CD. I’d only read about it through Allmusic Guide before. And unlike with many written reviews,after hearing Sign O The Times so often I still totally agree with the guide’s positive assessment of the album.

Sign On The Times is generally considered to be either his best or most significant album of the 80’s. The obvious reason for this album being considered is best is probably because,even with Prince’s trademark eclecticism,all of the musical ideas and combinations on this album work perfectly for what they are. Its detractors sometimes point out how disjointed the album is. To the point of being highly uneven. In a way, that’s also why this album is so important. As my friend Henrique pointed out to me, its perhaps Prince’s best early use of his vault material. None of this music was meant to heard together,but it sounded as if it were.

Any album that managed to put such disparate music, all intended for different projects,into a context that had some semblance of conceptual unity is the sign of a highly creative mindset. In many ways,the internal maturity Prince seems to showcase throughout this album comes out in his approach to its presentation. Its not him so much trying to fuse different genres into a whole anymore. But rather showcasing his ability at playing funk,soul,dance and rock ‘n roll with equal vitality and identity. Writing my review on Amazon.com of this album was a bit daunting. But it did manage to convey more specifically what the album was musically.


I’m not sure what I can say that hasn’t already been said about what is very justly regarded as a classic album. Well maybe the best thing to do is discuss a little about why it might be so revered. In the three years or so since his commercial breakthrough with Purple Rain,Prince had been carefully balance creativity with his need to communicate with his audience. It was a restless struggle that’s basically defined his career and,to an extent his personal character up to this point. Somehow here he managed to make it all work.

Basically this is a double album pieced together from from three aborted 1986 album sessions and reworked into what ended up being one of his 80’s classics. As with any Prince album the sound is eclectic yet somehow consistent. On this album though the range of subject matter lyrically is much broader in scope and in a lot of ways more mature. During this time Prince was also interjecting strong live band and solo elements of jazz into his sound. It’s not only in the instrumentation but in the arrangements too and,not only that his production elements-especially his noted,inventive use of the LINN LM-1 drum machine is on full display here.

The title song here is a completely stripped down,pulsing musing on outwardly focused social ills of the day and very surprisingly became a big hit as well. There are also a good deal of genuinely sunny weather sounding pop/rock tunes such as the bouncy “Play In The Sunshine”. At the same time these songs,being that it’s Prince are not mere “fun” tunes and give you the full spectrum of weather as each song concludes with these minor chorded jazz-funk/blues instrumental bridges that express the human race’s duel consciousness very well.

There’s also a couple of dense,moody funky rockers in the explosive “It”,the tough grooving,hip-hop beat inflected “Hot Thing” and the stomping “Strange Relationship”. This album also offers up enormous doses of funk. Both the classic “Housequake” and “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night”,with their precise horn charts and chunky rhythm guitars not only showcase the obvious James Brown influence but give a possible wink to out JB might’ve sounded had his career not been stalled after the mid 70’s and had he just continued on innovating.

So Prince is actually kind of picking up here where one of his musical heroes left off. There are also a series of songs here that just pull everything he does best together. One is the slinky,electronically polyrhythmic jazz-funk of “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker”-one of my favorite Prince songs and one containing an intentionally misleading come on in the lyric. “If I Was Your Girlfriend” has a similar musical idea married to a lyric that plays on the idea about how opposite sexes may not relate to each other as well as they think.

“Forever In My Life” is a very poignant bluesy funk number that is about Prince maturing when it comes to matters of love. “U Got The Look” is one song here that does sound a little bit like his 1984 era material well,by degrees anyway although Sheila E’s percussion effects and the slicker production make it very distinctly it’s own beast. On an early nod toward what would later become known as praise rock “The Cross” has a very anthemic guitar god styled flavor and is one of Prince most rock oriented songs ever.

On the horn packed soul ballads “Slow Love” and “Adore” Prince is at his most sweet and romantic since the lyrics on his debut album For You. So across the sixteen songs on this album you get a Prince musically and personally in transition,augmenting his musical sound into yet another new territory while still keeping a foot in his original style. Also the lyrics illustrate Prince’s psyche in a similar place and in a way this stands as something of a peak of the stylistic progression he’d been working on since the 80’s decade got started.


Sign O The Times stands as a significant example,be it by accident or partial design, of Prince’s understanding of what his classic soul and funk progenitors had done. Artists such as Ray Charles were expert at playing many different kinds of music-from the soul style he innovated ,jazz and country music. And Prince was able to bring his own artistic personality to multiple styles here as well. It also showcased him in a new musical period too. It was one where he was no longer an on the loose partier. His outlook on nuclear war and other social issues here is not that of resignation anymore. Its one of concern for the future and a better life.

It was author Jason Draper who, in his coffee table book Prince: Life & Times in 2008, described the overall atmosphere of the album best. To paraphrase his words,the album jacket features an out of focus Prince in the foreground. He is walking away from what appears to be the set of a local production of Guys & Dolls. There is a glowing plasma ball in the center of it all. Draper speculated,and perhaps correctly so,that it was not only representative of Prince focusing more on music and less on the rock lifestyle. But also on Warner Bros passing on his planned releases as well.

Prince also delivered an album here that seemed to have provided a better viewpoint for music writers. My father described one such instance where Downbeat magazine (which is generally highly critical of even jazz releases) gave Sign O The Times a 5 star review-essentially describing it as Prince’s magnum opus. This was either in the late 80’s or early 90’s.  Now I can only relate my fathers story about this since I cannot find any confirmation in online archives for it. But it does speaks volumes about how the musical and personal maturation dealt with on the album has had positive results on even professional music journalism.

On its 30th anniversary,this album is also a shinning example to artists and producers who,today, inspired by Prince’s instrumental condensation of funky dance grooves. The Minneapolis sound has become the mainstream production approach now. But what is important for modern producers inspired by Prince is to take a listen to how even on these songs,most done by Prince himself,are possessed of strong chord changes and thick grooves. In fact, Sign O The Times should be experienced fully by any DIY producer/musician today before their next production because it remains that strong an album for that ethic.

My Favorite Songs From The Album For You To Hear:

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The Rise of Prince is Out, and It’s Very Good

rise-of-princeAbout a month ago, I posted about a new Prince biography from the author of one of my favorites. Well, that book came out last Tuesday, and I’m happy to report that it’s a very good, well-researched read. Below is a review I wrote for my own blog, dance / music / sex / romance; I’m cross-posting it here because I think Andre has enough followers who might be interested. Long story short: If you’d like to read up on one of the biggest musical icons we lost in 2016, The Rise of Prince is a great place to start.

As I wrote in my post last month, Alex Hahn’s Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince was my first Prince biography, and it was until recently my first choice for the “Prince book to read if you only read one Prince book.” Dave Hill’s Prince: A Pop Life from 1989 was quite well-written, but lacked a strong perspective on the artist due to its early publication date; Per Nilsen’s Dance, Music, Sex, Romance remains near-definitive in its level of detail, particularly about recording processes and unreleased material, but is arguably too dry and “in the weeds” for more casual fans. Possessed, in my opinion, struck the perfect balance. It combined a gripping but unshowy writing style with Nilsen’s deep, journalistic research acumen, while also presenting a fascinating enough narrative arc for even non-obsessives to enjoy the glimpse at the man behind the music. It was juicy, but not tawdry; even the negative bits (which, it must be said, remain controversial in some segments of the Prince fan community) felt justified, not to mention backed up by multiple sources. If Possessed was still in print and The Rise of Prince didn’t exist, I’d still heartily recommend it.

But Possessed is no longer in print, and The Rise of Prince does exist; this alone would make it an easy recommendation, as the former book is fetching absurd used prices on Amazon and eBay, while the latter book can be had for as little as $8.99 on Kindle. More importantly, however, the new version is an improvement in almost every way. Though I recognized brief passages of Possessed in The Rise of Prince, the book as a whole has been thoroughly overhauled: this is not just a quick cash-in reissue. Of particular note are the early chapters on Prince’s family background and youth, which to my knowledge represent the first significant original research conducted in this area since the 1990s. If nothing else, these should be required reading for anyone with ambitions to write about Prince in the future: Hahn and his new co-author, Laura Tiebert, are perhaps the first biographers to approach Prince’s family history as journalists and historians rather than rock critics, and they have done much to winnow out the facts from decades’ worth of myth created, in no small part, by Prince himself.

The other, less tangible advantage for The Rise of Prince is, quite simply, perspective. I’ve seen much being made on social media about the book’s title, which excises the “…and Fall” half of Possessed’s subtitle in favor of a more optimistic tone. But I would caution fans from assuming this means the book is entirely positive–or, for that matter, that it should be. The Rise of Prince ends in late 1988: arguably an artistic high point for Prince, but inarguably a commercial and personal low point. It is, at first glance, an odd way to revise a biography that went on for some fifteen additional years in its original editon; and yet, it makes sense when read in tandem with the book’s lengthy prologue, to date the most definitive recounting of Prince’s final year. All of the things Prince was grappling with in late 1988–his conflicts between the spiritual and the carnal, his clashing, oft-frustrated desires for both commercial success and artistic respect, and most importantly, his inability to connect intimately with others–would continue to define his life until his tragic death early last year: alone in Paisley Park, the vast recording facility and living space where his ashes are now permanently enshrined, like a pharaoh in a pyramid of his own design. Reading these later chapters, knowing how the story ends, was a poignant and deeply moving experience. And while I would have gladly read another 300 pages covering 1989-2016, I can’t fault Hahn and Tiebert for ending the story where they did. For better or worse, Prince’s emotional arc was complete.

So, yes, The Rise of Prince is now my official recommendation for the “Prince book to read if you only read one Prince book.” It might not always be that way: the latter decades of Prince’s life are an important part of the story, and one yet to be fully captured in writing. But for now, less than a year after the artist’s untimely passing, it’s hard to imagine a much better book to explain who Prince was–the good and the bad–and why, for almost a decade, he mattered more than any other singer, songwriter, musician, or producer on the planet. Again, like I said last month: there will be a lot of books published about Prince in the weeks, months, and years to come. Let’s hope more are as carefully considered and lovingly crafted as The Rise of Prince than are not.

You can purchase The Rise of Prince on Amazon, as either a Kindle e-book or a physical paperback.

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A Plug for a New Prince Book: The Rise of Prince 1958-1988

rise-of-prince

I don’t normally do this kind of thing–which is to say, normally if I’m going to promote a project using my tiny social media platform, it’s damn sure going to be one of my own–but since Andre has written about Prince biographies on this site before, I thought his readers might be interested in hearing about an upcoming project from a respected author in the genre. Alex Hahn’s 2003 book Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince was the first Prince biography I ever read, and it still holds up as an excellent, narrative-focused, warts-and-all retelling of the first 25 years of the artist’s career. So you can imagine my excitement to report that a month from today, Hahn and co-author Laura Tiebert are releasing a followup, titled The Rise of Prince 1958-1988. According to the authors, this book is not a revision of Possessed, but a drastic overhaul, with original research that should shed new light on Prince’s early years in particular. Pre-order links are already up on Amazon for both paperback and Kindle versions–the latter of which is only $8.99! And, if you, like me, are motivated by narcissism, Alex has announced on the book’s Facebook group that anyone who preorders the book before February 13th gets their name in the acknowledgements: just send an email by that date to theriseofprince@gmail.com.

Okay, so that’s out of the way. Now, because I would like my weekly Andresmusictalk post to be more than a one-paragraph shill (my shills are four paragraphs minimum), let me just say why I’m supporting this project. First, as I already noted, Possessed was an excellent, even-handed book on the Purple One, and The Rise of Prince stands to benefit from an additional 13 years of perspective–not to mention that one, huge dose of perspective we all got when Prince passed away last April. As a fan of the original, I’d love to see how Hahn’s point of view has evolved since its publication, and how the addition of a co-author might influence it.

But I also have ulterior motives. As some readers are already aware, one of my several (arguably too many) personal projects is dance / music / sex / romance, a blog discussing each of the songs of Prince in chronological order. So, when I see another independently-published work of Prince “scholarship” enter the market, it obviously makes sense that I want it to do well: the success of a book like The Rise of Prince is, in a way, my success. If nothing else, it will be another vital source to add to my own site’s ever-growing bibliography.

Less selfishly, there’s also this: with interest in Prince still at a high point in the wake of his death, there are going to be a lot of books entering the market; some released with the best intentions, others inevitably less so. And I think it’s beholden on those of us with an interest in Prince’s legacy to support the ones with the good intentions. So, after The Rise of Prince is released and I’ve had time to read it, you can expect to see a post detailing my thoughts on the finished product; the same goes for the handful of other upcoming projects I have my eye on. My hope is that in the years to come, we’ll see a renaissance in quality, nuanced writing on Prince; certainly, if any artist of his generation deserves such a legacy, it’s him.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “A Love Bizarre” by Sheila E

Sheila E has been written about so well by blogger on here Zach Hoskins,in his segment about Prince’s female protege’s. Her back story is so well known,and that pulled it all together. It was my mom who gleefully encouraged me to pick up Sheila’s debut The Glamorous Life on CD on a 1997 visit to Rochester,New York. She has never been someone too emphatic about recommending music. But on this one,she was very insistent. Hearing the song had me interesting in hearing as much Sheila E as existed at the time. And luckily within the next 6-7 years,I had all her output up to that point.

In the immediate post Purple Rain period,Prince began pursuing a far jazzier style of music. He began augmenting the Revolution with horns-starting with sax player Eric Leeds. And the music he was producing for (and with) his proteges was really starting to reflect this. The songs continued to stretch out in length too. One such song was one Prince had recorded in August 1985. And it was actually done in very close collaboration with Sheila as well. It was the final track on the first side to her 1985 LP Romance 1600. It was called “A Love Bizarre”.

Prince’s classin LINN LM-1 with the flanger filter effect starts out as the main rhythm for the entire song. Than his round,popping synth bass comes in just before Sheila’s percussion. Eric Leeds’ presence on the song takes two forms. First there’s him playing the main vocal chorus of the song pretty much by rote. Than he continues with a jazzy improvisation throughout the rest of the song. Matt Bliston joins him of a very Sly & The Family Stone pitch dip on some of the rhythmic accents of the song. Prince provides a West Montgomery like guitar solo as the song finally fades out.

The central rhythm to “A Love Bizarre” is very basically funky. But its the many instrumental touches that add the bite to this driving groove. There are musical ideas from all across the spectrum of classic funk in the 60’s and 70’s. There’s the jazzy soloing on the final half of the 12+ minute opus. Also Prince’s guitar solo starts playing the melody for “Frere Jacques” on the bridge of the song. That rounds out to this being a strong collaborative effort between Sheila E.,Prince and his growing band. At the same time,its got that Minneapolis funk touch that just never quits.

 

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‘Emancipation’@20: An Artist Free To Do What He Wants To

Emancipation

Prince’s 1996 triple CD set Emancipation is turning 20 today. I’ve read here and there that a lot of people consider this to album to be the  Sign O The Times for the 90’s in Prince’s catalog. In a lot of ways that’s true. Personally,these songs all sound as if they were recorded to go together from the outset,whereas Sign O The Times  was culled from three aborted album sessions. Whatever the case may have been, Emancipation was the ultimate flower of Prince’s 90’s sound. In the end,that’s not so much a matter of deciding if that’s a good or bad thing. But more looking at what Prince’s musical priorities were in the 90’s.

As one of my blogging partners Zach Hoskins pointed out on his own blog Dystopian Dance Party,Prince defined “Jheri curl music” in the 1980’s with the Minneapolis sound. By the mid 80’s many newcomers and funk veterans were embracing some variation of Prince’s stripped down electro grooves. As Prince’s music grew  into a more live band sound,it also grew somewhat more experimental. This resulted in a series of albums in the late 80’s that weren’t so commercially successful. With the major success of his 1989 soundtrack for Batman,Prince saw that his musical future may not lay in setting trends.

For his 1991 album Diamonds & Pearls,Prince heavily embraced the hip-hop sound. He had been weary and somewhat mocking of this genre in the late 80’s-almost behaving as if it was musically beneath his abilities.  Yet Diamonds & Pearls was his biggest commercial success in many years.  And he also found that,on album tracks that could be future hits,Prince could still exercise his eclectic musical outlook as he always had. Then came the battle with Warner Bros. By 1993-1994,Prince became very angry and frustrated at the music industry for what he saw as the financial enslavement of artists.

This anger and frustration began to become a key element of his songs. Interestingly enough,contemporary alternative rock and hip-hop became his primary musical focus. It all came down to Prince not using his own name anymore. I personally remember Prince appearing on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show at the time (with then wife Mayte Garcia),and actually discussing how on a psychological level,he felt very distant from “Prince” as a personal identity. That was the framework I had to work with at the time the Emancipation album came out. This was Prince,a man freed from creative shackles.

When I actually heard the album,the most interesting part for me was that Prince’s “liberated” music actually made heavy creative concessions to smooth jazz and still hip-hop. And the frustrated lyrics remained intact. On the other hand,it was a broader mixture overall. It gave up the funk many times. And the 2nd disc of it was basically an elongated love ballad (in separate parts) to Mayte. So to me,Emancipation is one part the sound of freedom and another the sound of musical concessions.  Still a now unpublished Amazon review of mine on the album went into more depth than even that.


Probably the most significant aspect of this album was that it was the very first brand new Prince album I purchased after becoming a huge admirer of his work. There was a lot of publicity about this album when it came out. The people who I talked to in record stores at the time would often says things to the affect of “this is going to be the crowning achievement of Prince’s career” and so on. At the time? I wasn’t aware of the intense level of idolatry of Prince’s musical abilities that might’ve been behind a lot of this.

All I did know is that Prince was leaving behind Warner Bros. and launching his NPG Records.beginning his unshackling from the record company burdens he’d been dealing with for the past several years. I also wasn’t aware that any and all musical expectations were simply not part of the game when understanding Prince. And while I had mine? This,my second actual full listening to this since it came out,has really helped to resolve my views on his era of his creative output.

“Jam Of The Year” opens with a strong jazz/funk/hip-hop number-full of muted trumpet and piano. “Right Back Here In My Arms”,the Ice Cube collaboration of “Mr.Happy”,”Joint 2 Joint”,”Da Da Da” and in particular “Email” all follow that hip-hop style sound. On the other hand “Get Your Groove On”,the JB horn styled “We Gets Up”,the synth bass driven groove of “Sex In The Summer”-with it’s percussion effect from he and then wife Mayte’s baby’s ultrasound and the stomping,bass heavy title track represent the strongest funk element of the album.

The hip-hop oriented “Slave” and “Face Down” as well as the bumping bass/acoustic guitar driven pop/rock ballad “White Mansion” all discuss the consequences of his liberation from his recording contract. “Betcha By Golly Wow”,”I Can’t Make You Love Me”,”One Kiss At A Time”,Soul Sanctuary”,Curious Child”,”Dreamin’ Bout You”,”Let’s Have A Baby”,Savior”,”The Plain”,”Friend,Lover,Sister,Mother/Wife”,”La La Means I Love You”,”One Of Us” and “The Love We Make” are all powerful,often epic soul ballads.

“New World” marks something a return to his original Minneapolis sound with it’s brittle,stripped down synth driven dance/funk groove. The one man band rhythm section of “Courtin’ Time” and my favorite number here “Sleep Around” are both highly kinetic big band jazz oriented pieces-the latter what I’d describe as “horn house” I suppose.

“Style” is the best of the jazz/hip-hop numbers here-with it’s descriptions of different (often humorous,always clever) actions Prince equates with “style being the second cousin to class”. “The Human Body” has a Hi NRG industrial dance sound while “My Computer” is a gurgling synth jazzy/funk/fusion mid tempo piece. The acoustic folk based “The Holy River” and the uptempo guitar driven “D***ed If Eye Do” are both the rockier numbers here.

36 songs over a 3 CD set that clocks in at exactly 3 hours makes this a lot of music. There were and still are many mysteries regarding the origins of what’s on this album. For me? It’s surprisingly ballad heavy. Functioning as something of a love ballad to his then wife. The uptempo songs here also tend to follow the angry hip-hop/funk approach of a lot of his early/mid 90’s work. Not only is it clear the man was still very angry at record companies.

But the lyrics also showcase a burgeoning paranoia. With numerous references to mid 90’s period conspiracy theories such as the anti vaccination and “cows are for calves” anti diary movements. When he turns up the funk however? The groove is often heavy and horn filled. Even with his likable embrace of the jazz/hop hybrid here as well. That gives him and the ever expanding NPG to really stretch their instrumental muscles with phat bass lines,horn charts and rhythms. Certainly some areas of this album are very dated and stereotypical for it’s era. Yet it’s still likely Prince’s strongest overall release of the 1990’s.


A little healthy self criticism reveals that I have no great love for musicians who embrace negative ideas (or even musical styles that happen to be trendy at the moment) simply to maintain their popularity. And do actually think Prince did that to a tiny degree on Emancipation.  But Prince never was a particularly commercial minded artist either. As a musician,his first concern seemed to generally be about how new ideas would fit into his creative ethic. At the end of the day,its an album with many songs that maintain their strong grooves. And others that are simply indelibly linked to its time.

Perhaps one reason for why this and much of Prince’s 90’s output didn’t age as well was the general musical atmosphere of the day. When Prince first emerged as a major star in the 80’s,he was essentially spicing up a 60’s/70’s style funk-rock framework with newer instruments. But with that expansive musical period as his base,there was stronger room for flight. By the early/mid 90’s,Prince was starting to pre program more and more of his rhythms. So that left some of his music of the day having little base at all. Still, Emancipation showcased Prince on a strong path to even bigger and better musical things.

 

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Filed under 1990s, Amazon.com, classic albums, Emancipation, hip-hop funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, NPG Records, O(+>, Prince, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince

Prince 1958-2016: “I Wanna Be Your Lover” (1979)

Prince is an artist whose history really fascinated me. Up until the age of 16,I was so ignorant of Prince’s history that I actually thought his career started with “1999”. It was amazing for me to learn that Prince’s recording career began in the late 70’s. Not only that,but that it still had a sound that was recognizably his own. Over the years,this late 70’s period for Prince has become a personal favorite. One that I really enjoy discussing. One of the most important things about this era was that,even in a crowded funk/soul environment,Prince got his first major crossover hit before the 70’s decade ended.

Prince first hit single “Soft And Wet”. This was rooted squarely in funk and commercially ,it landed pretty much within the R&B Top 20. But just barely crossed over to the pop listener. And as the very prejudiced anti disco movement began to gain footing in 1979,both Prince and Warner Bros understanding crossover would be necessary for his career at that point. So the solution would to find a way to create a song with heavy pop structure that would still maintain Prince’s homegrown funkiness. The solution was in his first R&B #1 and pop Top 20 hit in “I Wanna Be Your Lover”.

A pounding snare drum kick kicks off the song. For the first 2 1/2 minutes of this song,the refrain consists of a deep rhythm guitar playing on one bright,melodic chord. A high toned and bass synthesizer back this up along with the drums. On the choruses,a string synthesizer plays harmony to this. After a space funk synth on the final chorus,the song goes into a 3 minute instrumental section. This section brings in a high bass line playing a funk riff high in the mix over a similar synth backdrop. Then a higher synth brass part comes in-occasionally accompanying only the drums before the song fades out.

The first time I heard “I Wanna Be Your Lover” was the single edit,which is basically the vocal oriented first 2:50 minutes of the song. The version on Prince’s self titled 1979 album is a 5+ version that predominantly emphasizes the final instrumental section of the song. The entirety of the song is very funky. Its also where Prince was able to harness the stripped down,loose jamming funkiness that defined his debut album while introducing it with a strong sense of song craft. An element that could sung and hum. That makes “I Wanna Be Your Lover” perhaps the most important song Prince recorded in the 70’s.

 

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Filed under 1979, crossover, drums, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, synth bass, synth brass, synthesizer, Warner Bros.

‘1999’: 34 Years Of Dance,Music,Sex,Romance

1999

1999 is celebrating its 34th anniversary today. Its understood as the album that really helped Prince cross his music over to a more pop oriented audience. A lot has been said about the album. Such as how the album was musically almost entirely the work of Prince himself. Also,how it helped establish the clearest headed example of the electronic based Minneapolis sound that he was pioneering at that time. Not to mention that it came right along with his first proteges in Vanity and (most importantly) The Time. Now I’m really realizing just how important this album was in terms of Prince’s entire musical history.

Prince debuted in the late 1970’s,fresh out of his teens as a disco era version of Stevie Wonder: a youthful funk wunderkind. As Henrique and myself were discussing at the time of writing this,he was first coming out when so much was happening around him. Stevie Wonder’s  Songs In The Key Of Life  still churned out hits,P-Funk were dropping “Flashlight” and “One Nation Under A Groove” while Dayton,Ohio’s Slave was hitting with an R&B #1 smash in their song “Slide”. And than came Prince,a young musical genius who played all the instruments and produced his own music so expertly.

When the post disco radio freeze out occurred in the early 80’s,the enormous level of pioneering and trailblazing by funk and disco artists disappeared overnight. On the other hand,it remained very present overseas in the UK with some rock and electronic elements added. This sound became known as new romantic/new wave/synth pop movement. In the very beginning of the 80’s,most black artists were integrating electronics into what was still a standard funk/soul rhythmic framework. By 1982,Prince suddenly became his own innovator as really the only black American new wave/synth rock oriented artist.

The 1999 album is endowed with some amazing funk such as the title song,the instrumentally organic “Lady Cab Driver” and the driving “DMSR”. In fact,the idea of the album being a double LP set with full,elongated mixes made it an idea format for his Minneapolis funk. At the same time,it was songs like the albums other major hit “Little Red Corvette” along with “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”,”Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” and “Automatic” showcase Prince as doing for the synth pop/new wave sound what Little Richard  and Ray Charles did for rock ‘n roll  and soul in the 50’s.

Prince infused his rockiest music,even the rockabilly hit of “Delirious” with tons of gospel influences and attitude. And brought those same elements into his ballads on here “Free” and “International Lover”. This also began the period when Prince was concentrating heavily on developing his single B-sides as musical works of art all their own. Songs such as “Irresistible Bitch” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore” (covered famously by both Stephanie Mills and later Alicia Keys) represent the first time other artist realized even a Prince flip side was ripe for another artist to be really successful with them.

As of this writing,Prince enthusiasts await the official release of “Moonbeam Levels”,a well known outtake from this era. So interest in 1999 era Prince is still growing. For me,its an album that represents his finest mix of funk and rock music in terms of an album. The extended lengths gave the grooves room for a lot of expansion. For the heavy funkateer, 1999 is far more funk endowed than its blockbuster followup Purple Rain. On a personal note,it was my aunts favorite Prince album too. In many ways,1999 might be the most defining moment of Prince’s Minneapolis sound.

 

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Filed under 1980's, 1999, classic albums, electro funk, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, New Wave, Prince, Synth Pop