Prince’s final album Hitnrun Phase Two , to me anyway, still lives in the shadows as the Prince swansong it was never intended to be. It was a completely different album than the more contemporary pop centered first volume in the series. This was generally a live band album featuring a 28 member lineup of the NPG-very likely the largest lineup of that band Prince ever had. It also featured contributions from other artists such as Ledisi and Cassandra Wilson. The oddest part about the album was that it was released on CD only a couple of weeks following Prince’s passing.
The album was originally only released digitally through Tidal,in a bundle with the first volume of the series, at the end of 2015. Up until April of the next year, it was slowly released for sale on CD in different places and venues. In particular at the Paisley Park gala performance of Prince’s Piano & A Microphone tour. With absolutely no bias on my part, I found Hitnrun Phase Two to be the strongest album of his 2014-2016 comeback period. Especially in terms of funkiness and musicianship. The song that stands out to both Henrique Hopkins and myself is “Stare”.
Prince starts out with a hard hitting slap bass line-starting out slowly and speeding up on the final part of its bar. This hefty bass run provides the basis for the entire groove. After the unaccompanied intro,the drum plays every rhythm change within the bass line. The NPG Hornz and Prince’s low rhythm guitar each accent these changes with ever more elaborate variations as the song progresses. There’s even a sample of “Kiss”‘s opening rhythm guitar early on. The bridge of the song is basically a false fade-followed up by an emphasis before the song comes to an actual dead stop.
“Stare” finally allows every type of funk that Prince ever dealt with coming into its full flower. It has his live band funk style he’d been perfecting on and off since the late 80’s. But also has the digitized crunch of his earlier electronic grooves even with the live instrumentals used for this. This also emphasizes the hard slap bass more than most band oriented Prince funk,which was generally paced on a higher pitched rhythm guitar sound that isn’t present here. Its funky,stripped down,Minneapolis and all the way Prince. And as it turned out,as good a funky swansong as one is likely to get.
Prince’s album 20Ten is celebrating its sixth anniversary this summer. It was Prince’s final album before laying low in terms of full length album released until he resigned with Warner Bros in 2014. It’s available for streaming and download today through the Tidal service. However not too many years ago,it was among the many rare Prince studio albums that wound up having a quirky distribution in terms of physical media. Personally, it’s one of the favorite Prince albums of his last decade. My favorite of that time period being Hitnrun Phase II-initially a Tidal exclusive until it’s CD release shortly after his death.
Always one to look to the futurism of his music,Prince seldom returned back to the stripped down,synth based Minneapolis sound he helped pioneer during his salad days. Wasn’t until well into the new millennium that he started to realize just how much the style of funk he’d spearheaded was effecting contemporary music. On the 20Ten album,he showcased this very successfully on a musical level. At the same time,these MPLS grooves were accompanied by his more matured lyrical content throughout a good majority of the album. One fine result of this is a song called “Lavaux”
A two beat drum machine pulse kicks off the song. A thick slap bass line comes in as part of the songs main section. This finds the thick sheets of analog synth brass accompanied by thick bass/guitar interaction and rhythm right in the pocket of the Afro-Latin clave. The rhythm guitar is very much out of the classic Prince school-chunky and played relatively high up on the neck of the instrument. Only on the choruses does the song break-changing melodic pitch with Prince’s vocals. After another few rounds of the songs main section,it very abruptly comes to a sudden stop.
In many ways,this song could’ve been something Prince had recorded during the 1999 sessions. Especially with it’s phat analog synths and the masterful drum programming. What makes this song stand out from Prince’s early 80’s sound is its thematic content. This isn’t a young man with seemingly conservative attitudes about fearing nuclear war and indulging in hedonism. This is a song from a middle ages artist who’s travelling across Europe because being back home is “another form of slavery” and that”the cost of freedom is anything but free”. Its therefore the MPLS sound most fully realized.
Filed under 2010's, analog synthesizers, drum machine, elecro funk, Funk Bass, Minneapolis Sound, naked funk, Prince, rhythm guitar, synth brass, synth funk, Tidal