Being his 30th year in the business, for Prince 2008 was a rather mooted affair, spending it cooking up another project, a so far unnamed release for 2009 from which 4 tracks have be aired on radio in what promises to be his most critically acclaimed outing since Sign O' the Times.
A record exec once told Prince he had no more commercial tracks left in him. After spending the 90s indulging too much putting the artistry into his art, Prince finally relented to commercialism in 2004, putting out Musicology which immediately saw him rise through the charts in what became his most successful album since 1991. Following with 3121 and Planet Earth, it seems all Prince wants to do these days is just enjoy his music, even seeing him literally giving it away for 2007s Earth Tour. Thankfully, capitulate to the inaccessibility of his early projects of the noughties. Spending 2008, his 30th year in the business of show business, in his LA home, putting together tracks for a new album which is already stirring his critics to believe the seemingly impossible, that has Prince finally written the perfect album. Harking back to the intimacy and energy of Jimi Hendrix, Prince seems to have finally delivered an album that would really demonstrate his maturity, underlining his career, where the past 30 years have led him. The commercial success is clearly important to him, but I for one hope he will retire gracefully, topping up his pension releasing more live recordings as well as the captive from his vault, though Prince will never rest on his laurels, nor will take the easy option when earning his money. Once again, he aims to go it alone, distributing the album without the records companies. The old pattern is back, not content with going number 1 with Universal with 3121, or number 3 with Musicology and Planet Earth (Columbia), what method his plans are to release his next album will no doubt exasperate his fans who, for over the past 10 years know only too well that it is not as straightforward easy keeping up with Prince or getting hold of his music. So is the relationship we all have with the man and his ever-evolving music.
In this time of economic instability it is reassuring that even the Purple One is showing signs of much needed reliability. We know of his versatility, and of his partialness to schmaltz, and we all rest comfortably this new outing will certainly see less of one and more of the other, let us hope Prince had made the correct choice. We have heard the four new tracks. We wait for the others with excitement as well as a caution the years have taught us. Though were will the journey lead to, where indeed?
Every new album Prince releases leaves me wondering if it is his pension outing, his last hurrah and farewell to his fans. 20Ten was released as a newspaper covermount, as was 2007s Planet Earth. Between them released by different newspapers from different ends of the political spectrum. But 20Ten is essentially neither end of any spectrum, we have heard it before. It's easy, well-crafted, funky, rocky, smooth, but not the challenging, daring, envelope-pushing release the newspaper distributing is claiming: placing it on a par with Purple Rain.
The album's opener Compassion and finisher Everybody Loves Me both lean heavily on No More Candy 4 U. They set and end the tone with spiritual advice, environmental warnings, and just a little playfullness, but 20Ten is about its sound. It's very electric, eclectic, mid-tempo, synthesised and drum machine ridden, but well crafted: Beginning Endlessly a fine example. Future Soul Song is the quality ballad, however, guiding a very competent, smooth sound that leads to Sticky Like Glue (a touch of Earth Wind and Fire, or Prince of the 90s). The album although new has a strong familiarity to it: example, Act of God reminiscent of Old Skool Company. The familiarity of this album is rooted in its prevalent use of the Linn drum machine, planting firmly a thought of 'been there before' into the mind throughout.
Laydown, perilously a hidden track, is the standout entry on the album. It's sound is aggressive and sharp and is perhaps 20Ten's only truly fresh addition but underlines the fact Prince can still deliver the goods: a sound that would be influencing music-makers for years to come. We fans, however, have heard 20Ten before; in 3121, Planet Earth and last year's MPLSound. 20Ten is not a daring step forward for Prince, he does not need it to be. He is staying catchy and settling down. Comfortable and maybe thinking about his slippers, but be in no doubt, Prince shows he is still the master of his craft. He knows what he does best and he is staying there, even if he is plying his craft a little too safely. Perhaps we have been spoiled but let it grow on you.