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Prince album reviews

Goldie's reviews of Prince's albums from his post Warner Brothers career, as an independent and emancipated artist. When leaving Warner Brothers in 1996 and Initially entering single-album deals with EMI (1996), BMG (1998), and Arista Records (1999) to distribute his music, Prince set up his own outfit NPG Records to do the legwork himself and cut out the cost of the industry middleman. It started off successfully and after a highly successful distribution of Crystal Ball (1998), saw his financial situation improve as an independent artist. Prince would continue to distribute his future work largely under his own label. Rebuilding lost confidence in major labels, Prince would rediscover commercial success and inject new impetus to his later career.

Prince album: 20Ten

20Ten

NPG Records (2010)

20Ten is all about 'nice' beats rather than "new" music per se, but here it shows Prince is perfecting his sound, this homage to the Linn drum machine right from the off with the excitable opener Compassion, setting the tone of 20Ten: heavy on technology, low on guitar with scant flavourings of backing vocals and the trusty old hornz. Afterwards, we move on to Beginning Endlessly, a punching, funk-filled track showing Prince's craftsmanship is still as sharp as ever. As ballads go Future Soul Song is a true highlight. Sung, unusually, out of falsetto, Prince's deep voice pulls this writhing beauty of a song that will have you cranking up volume and reminisce of 96s The Most Beautiful Girl In The World. The album returns tempo with the bouncy although sadly average Sticky Like Glue and Act Of God before we go back to the 80s with Lavaux closing 20Ten's chorus-friendly middle section. At the end we close off with Everybody Loves Me, a happy but again very electro song, though with a little patients we are really rewarded with the hidden track, Laydown. Rocky, hard-edge and swathed in truly fantastic beats Laydown ends a not totally exciting but competent 20Ten on aggressive and gorgeously arrogant form. Is Prince listening to too much easy listening radio?

Prince album: MPLSound

MPLSound

NPG Records (2009)

Let's just sum it up: flawless. Released as a companion to LotusFlow3r, MPLSound actually is the better the more accomplished of the two. With expecting a collaborative, eclectic Madhouse-style album, however not only does MPLSound really surprise, its delivers ten fold too. This is a true Prince, There'll Never Be (Another Like Me) and Chocolate Box (featuring Q-Tip) start off an album that is strangely mainstream for what is, after all, one intended for the fans. A truly solid album which strikes hot from the outset, settles into a groove with Dance 4 Me, Here, No More Candy 4 U and Ol' Skool Company that will have you reaching for the repeat forever. 2001s Ur'e Gonna C Me even gets a glossier reworking, proving that perfectionist Prince really cant put a foot wrong these days. If its possible to pick a best from the CD is Valentina (Hey Macarena!), in fact every song is worthy of a mention, for this is Prince at his best, which before hearing MPLSound I would never have dared say. The only crime is that this was released on an exclusivity deal which is just plain barmy for an album this remarkable. But that's just it, being a Prince fan is a journey, as after all, there never really will be another quite like Prince.

Prince album: LotusFlow3r

LotusFlow3r

NPG Records (2009)

Kicking off with a dreamy instrumental the album really does go with a bang leading in with thumping Boom, thick with guitar it lays the tone of the album, accomplished and slightly on the right side of heavy for this is as close to Prince's Jimi Hendrix tribute CD as you're going to get. There are many radio-friendly tunes here, short too, 4EVER, Wall of Berlin, and The Morning After to name a few. Crimson And Clover, and Colonized Mind leave their mark of supreme quality, yet the songs that stand out from the rest is the funky $ and the fantastic Dreamer (where has that they been all my life!) this track that sounds so colossal, its just begging to be played live. Lotusflow3r does not disappoint, and Prince gives us his usual, head-bopping fair, quick lyrics and a much awaited return to indulgent use of guitar, truly excellent, utterly original. He still reigns supreme.

Prince album: Indigo Nights

Indigo Nights

NPG Records (2008)

Prince's second live CD, and he does not let up on attitude. Recorded at the Indigo Club during his already legendary 21 night run in London the album opens with the familiar 3121 / D.M.S.R. Here, there is plenty of jam (Indigo Nights), fun (Beggin' Woman Blues), and a flare (Whole Lotta Love) proving that even in his 50s, Prince's performances are tighter than ever. Beverly Knight (Rock Steady) and a flawless Shelby J. (Misty Blue and an impassioned cover of Mother's Finest's Baby Love) join him in a typically immaculate live set that shows yet again he could easily fund his retirement on giving more of his shows an airing on CD. A very bluesy Alphabet St. will be the only familiar track for the casual listener, but this is one the fans will gladly keep themselves. Released along with 21 Nights the book covering his exploits in London in August and September 2007, throwing this gem in to the mix was a sure-fire way to hit the best sellers list too. And why not!

Prince album: Planet Earth

Planet Earth

Columbia Records (2007)

Given away totally free in the UK, no other Prince album has received so much media attention since Purple Rain, plus it spawned a new industry concept, an album supporting the tour. His "Best in years" critics claimed. Planet Earth is a typically varied Prince outing showcasing his legendary diversity through rock, funk, rap and soul. The title track gives it a real mark of quality with a haunting, yet theatrical, scope. Guitar keeps the pace going before slowing up with Somewhere Here On Earth relaxing the listener into an album of absolute quality. Old habits die hard in The One U Wanna C which sees him talking his woman into bed by promising he will "come like thunder", however this, Resolution (providing the cheese) and Lion of Judah form nice simple old-style harmonies that fuse both maturity and fun into Planet Earth. Prince reminds us he is the master of ballads, the Grammy winning Future Baby Mamma is one of his most superior. Mr. Goodnight is as soothe as hell and is nice to see that Prince has not given up of rap. Though the highlight of the album is Chelsea Rodgers (the toffee), his funkiest song in years. Overall Planet Earth offers scope and maturity, taking the listener on a journey of absolute quality, that is so rare to find in this day and age. "So shall it be written, shall be sung" Prince clearly showing the real Planet Earth that it is 2007 which marks his prime, not 1984, and so not bad at all for a freebie.

Prince greatest hits album: Ultimate

Ultimate

Warner Brothers (2006)

This is no less than the third 'greatest hits' package from Warner's, like with The Hits/The B-Sides of 1993, they know how to target the core fan-base rather than The Very Best Of... offering for the casually interested hit-and-run crowd-pleasing listener. This is a two-disk set, one unsurprisingly containing 17 of the main hits up to 1992, apparently Warner's seem to think Prince stopped writing after 1992! So, how do Warner's get a hard core fan to fork out for music they already have? Simple, they add a second disk which is where this set comes into its own, for it puts on to CD no less than 11 extended versions that only ever previously surfaced on long deleted and hard to find maxi-singles. The bonus here is that every track has been re-mastered, this double set offers rarities and favourites with superior restored sound and superbly presented in excellently conceived artwork. Warner's can only release one more 'greatest hits' package on Prince then their contract is truly over, this set, though missing a few gems and should not really be considered as 'ultimate' - it is a reference to the artist than the collection hereon - this stereo food, however, will be a hard to follow.

Prince album: 3121

3121

Universal Records (2006)

His first album to strike number chart gold since Batman in 1989. There is something special about playing a new Prince album for the first time, there are so many emotions the fan goes through, namely, nervous excitement in wanting it to excel expectation. Expectations were smashed, 3121 excels by returning to old ground reviving excitement in the fans relationship with Prince's music. It is any ways both classic, but new, Prince. The title track, which reunites Sonny T. and Michael B., kicking out the funk that dominates the album (Lolita, Black Sweat, Love, and Get On The Boat) with incredibly infectious tracks that give the listener mere seconds to get their head bopping. Prince treats us to his rough - Fury - and the smooth - Incense And Candles - and also lets his old 'nasty' side occasionally peak through. Easing up with the soulful Satisfied and the catchy Beautiful, Loved & Blessed, schmaltzy Te Amo Corazón, and the rolling The Word. The standout tracks on this outstanding album is the electro-funk Love, summing up to production of the whole album - smooth as hell, making 3121 immensely enjoyable and that he can keep it fresh. Prince continues to amaze, when you think he had reached his creative extreme, he only goes and surpasses them. 3121 is easily and firmly up there with his very, very best, perfect joints for the party you will never want to leave. Musicology was intended as a lesson in music, but if you seek a master class in great music, then draw your search to a close right here.

Prince album: Musicology

Musicology

Columbia Records (2004)

A nice surprise to fans and more so to Prince since this turned out to be his most successful album since Diamonds And Pearls of 1991. "Music comes before the 'ology" says Prince. So the album is kind of intended to be an education in music - 'schools in' for Musicology, in we see a more chilled Prince finally succumbing to make a long awaited return to commercialism and finally give his fans the much awaited 'proper' album - one full of radio-friendly tunes - having found his voice again since the instrumentals of the two previous albums. Musicology is Prince's long awaited reawakened return to wider audience appeal, which made his name in the '80s, and the 90's trying to disassociate himself from. It is clear Prince wants to be played on the radio again. The songs are catchy and no longer the 4 minutes each. Although not art artful as The Rainbow Children (I believe Ology was written to be its intentional antithesis) it is equally inspired; technically marking his 'comeback' album, although P will never attest to that. The outstanding tracks are: A Million Days, Call My Name, Cinnamon Girl, The Marrying Kind and Dear Mr. Man all make for truly enjoyable listening. The surprisingly down-to-earth Musicology hits the mark perfectly. Will Musicology give you a musical 'ology'? No, as it is more commercial than conceptual. If only all studying was as enjoyable, example; Life O' The Party, the weakest track, itself which springs to life with repeated listening underlines the quality of the work. Warner Brother's better start repairing those burnt out bridges really fast, Prince has reclaimed his throne whilst proving that "money and art...[really can]...mix".

Prince album: NEWS cover

N.E.W.S.

NPG Records (2003)

Here he gives his voice a rest and lets the music do the talking. Four rambling tracks named North (funk), East (menacing), West (confused) and South (jazz). The music here is very different and reminds me of Holst The Planets. Yet this had got a hotel lobby vibe to all through, but what can be said of the album? Its got some great moments. North and East start the CD off well but by West the listener's finger is hovering over "skip". Though N.E.W.S. lacks the pace, it never sacrifices quality. The songs, lets call them jams, are appreciated better if not played often, this is an album to listen to purely to relax for that after dinner wind-down. If seems that Prince is either concentrating on rounding off his legacy and prove his diversity, or to get his style over substance flare out of his system. The music is what you would expect from Prince, masterful, but we oh we do miss his smart, albeit cleaned up, lyrics.

Prince album: Xpectation

Xpectation

NPG Records (2003)

For the first time in my life, Prince's music began to concern me. I felt him moving too far down the independent, self-indulgent, path, that he was isolating himself and his fans with completely inaccessible and even undesirable music. Even Prince later agreed that this music was not even worth putting on CD, yet another release, the 9-track, Xpectation, using up, and making up, 9 words that begin with 'X'. Indeed it never made CD, only put out as a download from his site. He is fallible after all, and this unfortunately proves it. As it turned out he got the taste for experimental music out of his system in a couple of years, but what it does show is a nice after dinner alternative aspect to Prince's vast talent. Is this the same guy who wrote Darling Nikki? Needless to say, it would be wrong to suggest this is uninspired music but it provides too few footholds for the listener to get inspired. These are albums you buy to own, not to buy to love. 2003 was one of those "skip-able" years.

Prince album boxset: One Nite Alone Live

One Nite Alone... Live

NPG Records (2002)

Always opposed to releasing a live album, Prince has finally given all what we've been longing for since 1978, an officially released live album. Prince once said if ever released a live album it would have to be of the definitive show, being that his shows are always so varied, we all knew there was no such thing as the 'definitive show'. But then came along the One Nite Alone Tour, in my view, his definitive tour. Worried that he was going to tour the piano album of the same name, thankfully the ONA Tour turned out to be the full-on rock fest we all dreamed of. ONA... Live captured the music which swept us all away in 2002 in Prince's new musical peak. A year since the curtain fell at the last show of the tour this double-disk set keeps that dream alive for those who went to what was really a demonstration in perfection and and experience that continues to blow you away even years later. My only gripe about the content of the double album is that they do not capture the shows edge, and may make the concerts seem flatter than the guitar-fest it ONA became. Presented in a wonderful box to make the collectors gush, which also contains a bonus CD of a collection of recordings from the after shows taken from the US leg, named after the chant used throughout the tour It Ain't Over!. This bonus disk contains the real jam-laden funk of the fabled after shows during the tour that adds the real fire to the set and will quite justly take price of place over your whole Prince collection.

Prince album: One Nite Alone

One Nite Alone...

NPG Records (2002)

In 1998 Prince treated us to an acoustic set with The Truth, so in 2002 he followed it up with a piano showpiece, One Nite Alone. It is perfectly inoffensive, you can play it to your mother quite confidently and there are many good tracks there such as the title track, Here On Earth A Case Of U (a cover from Joni Mitchell), Avalanche and Young And Beautiful. Pearls B4 The Swine has that catch feel to it, even though you think you have heard it before (think Little House On The Prairie). ONA... will not live in your stereo, it is a bride's maid not a bride, and will take fleeting appearances, which are good. For this album you have to be in the right mood to let it in. So, on some levels it works perfectly. As with The Truth, Prince will never turn down an opportunity to under produce his work, there are nice swathes of rhythm worked into the melody. Nice for a 'rare album' listening session

Prince album: The Rainbow Children

The Rainbow Children

NPG Records (2001)

Prince's creative peak (and his first album back again as 'Prince'). But perhaps his most inaccessible album to date, and thank god (literally!) that Prince decided to release this one in stores rather than side step it as an internet only album, for he finally releases an album that showcases his musical dexterity. Isn't it great when you listen to an album and you fall in love with every track? This is so beautiful, funky, yet musically inspiring, it really does take music to another level. It does not even take a second listen to grow to like it, easily one of his all time best though probably not one for the casual listener. This is a collection of songs and that could only go together on the same album, but it is let down by the religious undertones which comes across as preachy, you can hardly believe this is the man who also wrote Scarlet Pussy and Sexy M.F. but still, there are few albums as well crafted as this. You simply don't hear music like this today and, like fine wine, Prince improves better over time. This could well be the album which Prince's musical genius sees its peak, supported by his best tour to date. It also demonstrates Prince's hard fought epitome of musical freedom, he would never have been allowed to release this under a large label. Yet it blends funk, melody, lyrical godliness, with some truly stellar guitar. The title track and Family Name make the album, it is so nice to hear Prince being genuinely enjoying making music again and not using his craft to bicker about the industry that made his name, here Prince is back in love with music once again.

Prince greatest hits album: The Very Best of Prince

The Very Best Of Prince

Warner Brothers (2001)

Warner Brothers appear to believe Prince's career had ended when his contract expired. But lets face it, this disk truly showcases a remarkable post-Warners career. It contains all the stuff the casual fan should hear and its good stuff at that, but we all know this CD just looks like a half-baked effort to make Warner Brothers squeeze as much money as possible out of the Purple Reign that was loosing its steam, or so they thought. Does it truly contain The Very Best? Going by sales/familiarity yes, perhaps it should be called Essential Prince, since the 'very best' of his work lies elsewhere but that's what you get when a guy in a suit picks the track list. With all these hits in one place though, it does save changing the CD player and sometimes, even for the most obsessive Prince fan, hearing all the hits in one sitting remains a devilish pleasure.

Prince album: Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic

Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic

Arista (1999)

Every artist does a collaboration album and this is Prince's - Gwen Stefani, Chuck D, Ruff Ryder, Sheryl Crow and the arty Ani DiFranco - but Prince/Prince is clearly leading the way here as all his co-performers are given bit-parts as he was gearing up for his big year, 1999. Undisputed contains the most, lets say, interesting computerised drum beat(s) I can recall, but the album settles into its stride with the catchy Hot Wit U. His cover of Crow's Everyday Is A Winding Road is a perfect example of the 'Prince treatment', making the song is tighter, sharper, and classier than the original. Man O' War is the outstanding track and the outtake, Beautiful Strange, gets its airing on the remix version of the album, Rave In2 The Joy Fantastic. Speaking of which, Rave In2, to be completely honest, would have faired far better in the charts than the undercooked Rave Un2 version released just slightly too soon - left to languish at number 18. A highly engineered album, intended to be his comeback Arista did not know what to do with it, letting it sink without trace. His commercial return would have to wait until 2004, but he did declare "Heavy rotation never made my world go round, commercialisation of the music is what brought it down" oops!

Prince album: The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale

The Vault... Old Friends 4 Sale

Warner Brothers (1999)

The release of The Vault... proved Prince's point, that record labels can, and will, release music against the wishes of the artist who created it. One minute Warner's were wanting to limit the volume of output Prince put on the market, and since he has left them we have The Very Best Of Prince in 2001 - and this. However, it is a shame that it takes a contract dispute to get these songs released from his vault, unfortunately though it was Warner's vault and not Prince's. Nevertheless, we get some classics; 5 Women, There Is Lonely, and Old Friends 4 Sale - perhaps one of Prince's most revealing songs to date. There is some fun too, great swing on The Rest Of My Life and Its About That Walk, though the top track on the album is When The Lights Go Down a remarkable tune to just made to listen to over and again.

Prince album: Newpower Soul

Newpower Soul

BMG (1998)

Prince had not been this funky since Dirty Mind, and why did it have to take so long? With Mad Sex and Push It Up, he gets talking about his favourite subject again. Technically an NPG, not 'Prince/Prince' album but hey, with the photo on the cover and all over the tracks it's no secret whose album this is. In recent years Prince became more of a 'blues brother' than 'funk soul brother' and its easy to forget how funky Prince can be and thankfully that comes back with a vengeance on this collection. The best tracks are When U Love Somebody, Shoo-Bed-Ooh, and Push It Up, pausing for a breather with The One, but its Rhonda's bass, reaching its peak in Come On, that will get you loving it, there are no electronics here. Be sure not to miss the bonus track, Wasted Kisses, rounds off a much overlooked, but extremely solid, album. Prince may have sworn off swearing but he can still delivered plenty of attitude.

Prince album: Crystal Ball

Crystal Ball

NPG Records (1998)

After clearing out his new stuff with Emancipation, Prince began looking for material he could put out only on his website, he ventured deep into his fabled vault. Rather than look for B-sides and music owned by Warner's, Prince pulled together a triple album full of completely unreleased tracks versions and demos known only to the bootleggers. Everything was literally from the vault, even the title 'Crystal Ball' the original name for the Sign O' The Times album. The best here is what was dropped off Come: Interactive, Days Of Wild, and Acknowledge Me There is reworked stuff too (Love Sign and So Dark). But there is more to keep you interested across its three disks - Dream Factory, Hide The Bone, and The Ride. Great bass lines in 18 And Over, and Poom Poom give this album a great mix. If most bands have outtakes half as good as these at their disposal they would be delighted. If anything, Crystal Ball demonstrates just how good even Prince's second rate music is. More releases like these will put the bootleggers out of business, I hope he is listening.

Prince album: The Truth

The Truth

NPG Records (1998)

Many fans had been pleading for an acoustic album for years and their wishes did not fall on deaf ears. This 12 track acoustic set was simply tacked on the back of the Crystal Ball set maybe fearing it could not stand up on its own, I will admit it took me 9 years to warm to it, then all of a sudden, it hit me and actually, it is now one of my personal favourite Prince albums - period. Don't Play Me is a great track laced with real, honest, lyrics, getting plenty of airing on the One Nite Alone Tour in 2002. There is pure ballad on this album and despite it being a stripped down set it still it boasts a far from bland production value. There are stand-out tracks aplenty, The Truth, 3rd Eye, Animal Kingdom, Fascination, One Of Your Tears, Come Back and the great Welcome 2 The Dawn. This is pure honest simplicity enjoying smart lyrics, clever boy, and ain't that The Truth!

Prince album: Emancipation

Emancipation

EMI (1996)

The chains are broken and Prince/Prince celebrates his departure from Warner's and in typically abundant style; a critically acclaimed triple album in which for trivia lovers officially became the longest pop album in history (its 60/60/60 minute running times is intentional). The reason for the amount of material was due to him just passing out the old stuff to Warner's to fulfil the contract. And yes, he was so over Warner's, declaring on the closing song about their $100 contract - "Your money's turned from green to brown" - and furthermore Prince felt truly emancipated when it hit double platinum vindicating him for leaving the world's largest label. Revenge was sweet but the listener will notice a fair amount of samples from older songs from of the vault. Though it contains welcome fawning covers of Betcha By Golly Wow!, One of Us, I Can't Make U Love Me, and La La La Means I Love You are outdone with the funk of Face Down, and energy of Sleep Around, to the sincerity of One Kiss At A Time, the tracks that stand out above the others (and there are a lot to chose from) is the pulsating My Computer and the epic The Love We Make. Joint 2 Joint also worthy of a mention and not only for boasting the only sample of tap-dancing found in popular music. You don't need to interview its composer to hear of his life, just listen to the music - starting off with White Mansion, recalling Paisley Park and Prince's home life in freezing Mpls. A surprising marriage of quantity, quality and sheer variety that really does leave a lot to be said for artistic freedom.

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Rolling Stone Magazine Prince album reviews

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