Why I Love Prince 1995-2016
"Heard about the party now
Just east of Harlem
Doug E's going to be there
But you got to call him
Even the soldiers
Need a break sometimes
Listen to the groove you'll
Let it unwind our mind
Unless you see what I see
Dancing hot and sweaty
Right in front of me
Call it what you like
I'm going to call it how it be
This is just another one
Of God's gifts
A lot of people think that Prince lost it some time in the mid 90s. His increasingly strange behaviour towards his record company, namely his changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol, and penchant for writing SLAVE across his face, alienated a lot of fans who had followed Prince since the late 70s. What these people singularly fail to understand however is that, a couple of lackluster albums aside, Prince never lost it. He kept recording and releasing brilliant, dazzling and altogether innovative and beautiful work. The story of Prince's underappreciated and unacknowledged work starts with The Gold Experience, released in 1995, and criminally out of print until just the other day when nearly the entire catalogue of Prince was made available on Spotify. While it was technically on Warner Bros Records - the last album of new, fresh material for Prince's long time record company until Art Official Age in 2014 - The Gold Experience marked a parting shot, and a signal that a new phase in Prince's career was around the corner.
Compare The Gold Experience to Come and see an artist who was deliberately sabotaging his own name, in order to emphasize the creative vitality of material that would be released under his new symbol name. The Gold Experience is a dizzying, brilliant and adventurous work. Radio ready from day one, it is a sign of the animosity between Prince and WB that The Gold Experience was not the biggest hit of Prince's career, because honestly, it's that damn good. Come is a daring and beautiful work, but it is deliberately obscure and anti-hit music. The title track is an epic veneration of the climax, and the album is dark and filthy and intentionally antagonistic towards the idea that a radio might play any of the songs contained within. Come was to be the final Prince album, and The Gold Experience was the first symbol album. Prince intended to get the final word with Warner Bros and use the promotional power of that record company to start a new phase of creative independence on their dime. This explains why Warner Bros failed so spectacularly to push the album as the Purple Rain beater it was.
The Gold Experience's biggest hit was The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, probably Prince's most celebrated love song - though arguably not his best, given the power of Condition of the Heart, The Beautiful Ones and U're Gonna C Me. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World was released by NPG Records, with the consent of Warner Bros, another sign of Prince's intentions to move towards creative independence. It is hilarious that one of his biggest hits of his career was done away from his record company, and the delay between the song's release in 1994 and the album a year later was likely the reason why the mega-hit didn't result in huge sales for The Gold Experience.
So why is The Gold Experience so damn good? Well, it is from start to finish, one of the tightest, most eclectic, in the best sense of that word, albums that Prince had done since Sign 'O' The Times. It is criminal that it didn't result in half a dozen number 1s. From the coarse and hilarious and funky as all hell Pussy Control, to the Housequake Redux of Now, to 319 to the electrifying Endorphinmachine and of course The Most Beautiful Girl in the World, The Gold Experience is up there with any album of Prince's career.
Emancipation was the follow up to The Gold Experience and the first triple LP of Prince's career - that saw release anyway. It is a bold and beautiful thing, covering more genres and styles than anything else that Prince ever did. It is, like most of his post WB albums, terribly underrated. From the slick neo-Soul flavour of Emale to the incredibly smooth production of Somebody's Somebody and the aggressive Rap of Face Down, Emancipation is in many ways Prince's bravest and most impressive work. Some critics claimed that Prince had lost touch with his audience, when it is really the other way around. Don't call it a comeback has never been so apt, as it is with Prince. Prince never stopped making good music.
Musicology, released in 2004, nearly ten years following The Gold Experience is just as concentrated an effort to get a hit record. It has aged remarkably well in the last fourteen years - interestingly far better than the follow up 3121, which was more praised by hardcore Prince fans at the time. A Million Days is the best song on here, an absolutely gorgeous production and song that could have been released in the 80s, without anyone thinking that it was a later creation. The title track is also great. A delirious, incredibly catchy paean to the power of music. Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance is hard as fuck, and pretty damn dirty, even with Prince's Jehovah's Witnesses restrictions on his language. Nobody can claim that he doesn't say "Fork" suspiciously close to "Fuck".
Shout out to three songs from 20Ten, a seldom heard or celebrated album, but one that has a special place in my heart: Future Soul Song, Laydown, and most of all, Sticky Like Glue. Sticky Like Glue is so sensual, and a MEGA HIT that never got to make an impact, largely thanks to it being released through a bloody newspaper and not through a record company. It is a flawless production and the delivery of the vocal just makes me want to DANCE. Future Soul Song is maybe Prince's most beautiful love song of the 21st Century. I'm torn on it, as I love A Million Days, Future Baby Mama and many more, but wow is it gorgeous. Laydown should have been a major hit.
Prince died in April of 2016, when I was taking care of my father who was going through chemo therapy at the time. I remember when he called up to me that Prince had died. We had shared an experience in Werchter in Belgium in 2010, where we saw Prince perform live. It was a life changing experience for both of us, and Noel always said afterwards that it was the best concert he had ever been to. Now that Noel is no longer with us, I like to imagine that he is up there somewhere with Prince now talking about the beautiful things that music can do for us.
Prince released three albums from 2014-2016. Yes, he went out as prolific as he came in. These three albums are, in my opinion, his greatest work since The Gold Experience. Art Official Age and Hit N Run Phase Two in particular are just so bloody good. Art Official Age is fresh, brilliant, genuinely moving, with hooks for days and days and days. What is so tragic about Prince's death is that he was starting to engage with modern music in a way that he hadn't for many years. On CLOUDS, a supremely sensual and addictive production, he duets with Lianne La Havas, one of the best new artists working in R&B and Soul. On Janelle Monae's second album, Prince also appeared on Givin Em What They Love, a sign that Prince was no longer threatened by great new talent but was starting to embrace it in a way that made his music and their music better.
Let's talk about The Gold Standard, because wow is it a jam! Addictive as fuck, it carries the listener along and makes them want to move. The poetry of the chorus: The gold standard, crazy amazing, upper echelon of groove. The gold standard, crazy amazing, turn it up, let Ur body move. Breakfast Can Wait... let's fuck, eat later. Prince never became clean, even though he stopped swearing. He was always the most sensual, dirty motherfucker in the world. Speaking of filth check Screwdriver on Hit N Run Phase Two. I'm your driver, you're my SCREW. Xtraloveable is re-recorded and released, thankfully without the horrible rape line. This is a case where Prince's faith resulted in the right move. The song never needed that kind of shock value. It was already a sublime bit of performance and production. He still wants to take a bath and a shower with you okay? Let's get wet.
As time goes on, I think people will realize better that Prince never really had a bad period. He had albums that didn't quite get there - Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic being one - but he recorded and released great material from The Gold Experience to the day he died. His last three albums in particular are among the strongest of his entire career. If you haven't heard much of Prince's post Warner Bros material, I implore you, please, please, listen to the playlist included below. Grab yourself a copy of New Power Soul, and Hit N Run Phases One and Two, and you're good to go. Prince, we love you, we miss you, you were one of the greatest to ever do it. Thank you sir. Wherever you are, I salute you.
PRINCE - 1995 - 2016