“Everybody wants to sell what’s already been sold, everybody wants to tell what’s already been told. All that glitters…’ain’t Gold.” Prince, Gold, from The Gold Experience, 1995.
As a slew of Prince albums are dusted down for re-release this week – Cocoa Diaries sifts through the material on offer, and considers this latest chapter in his musical legacy.
You could be forgiven for missing it this week, with the understandable sadness surrounding Aretha Franklin’s passing at the age of 76, or the mild euphoria around Madonna turning 60 – but no less than 23 of Prince’s albums were made available to stream online for the first time.
Let’s think about that, 23 albums, and that list includes 4 triple album sets in the mix, and all from the supposed post-Purple peak spanning a period from 1995s Gold Experience, to 2010s appropriately named, well, 20Ten.
Prince’s musical legacy is a complicated affair, because with no will left behind and following two years of court cases, a Warner Bros led coalition plan to continue releasing albums that cover the start of his career – 1978 through his 80s years – while SONY music entertainment own the ‘Symbol’ 1990s years and post millennium content in the main.
We previously covered this tumultuous period in the artist’s life in our Prince in the 90s series, click here for a more in-depth analysis of the period.
Great to have all this material, but would it have been better to re-release these recordings in a more considered way? Albums such as acoustic gem The Truth, or his solo piano album One Nite Alone (featuring a cover of Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You), surely deserved better than this.
In the meantime, you have everything from Warner Bros contract filler in the form of 1996’s Chaos and Disorder, his freedom-filled 3 hour opus and love letter to wife Mayte Garcia, Emancipation (released once free from his Warners contract dispute), career spanning out-takes from 1998s Crystal Ball, every album considered part of Prince’s post 2000 ‘comeback’ spanning years which included the much lauded Superbowl performance, his 21 nights run at the O2 and pretty much everything in between.
If you have time to listen there’s an abundance of all of the things Prince did so well. There’s funk – check out Old Skool Company, Musicology, Chelsea Rodgers, Days of Wild, 1+1+1=3 or 3121 (take your pick). There’s soul – Eye Hate U, Shhh, U’re Gonna C Me, U Make My Sun Shine (duet with Angie Stone), Future Soul Song, The Greatest Romance Ever Sold, Call My Name or anything from disc two of Emancipation. There’s straight ahead jazz on N.E.W.S., Xpectation (check out the stunning cameo from violinist Vanessa Mae on the intro), plus jazz-funk a plenty in 2001s Jehovah’s Witness paean and concept album The Rainbow Children.
In attempting to select highlights from this period, a 37-track Anthology has been pulled together, but the set list will surely confound the casual listener. Mid-80s gems that were retrospectively mined from Prince’s vault in the 90s, like Crucial and The Dream Factory, are out horribly of context here (the latter track recorded with Wendy and Lisa from the Revolution), and they nestle confusingly alongside random tracks such as the rambling 8-minute plus instrumental Xpedition.
Also would Prince really have chosen P.(ussy) Control as track three here? We’ll never know how he would have felt about expletives and profanity being re-introduced back into his major releases, but it was clearly something he’d edited out of his live performances in the years prior to his early and untimely passing. Alternatively, perhaps he’s looking down with a knowing wink and chuckling at all of the consternation, knowing that all of this material would be released posthumously anyway.
There’s no doubting that there’s some amazing music here, The Rainbow Children and its subsequent live capture One Nite Alone have great moments, as do 3121 and Indigo Nights – which has live excerpts from London’s aftershows in 2007 – check out Beverley Knight’s blistering vocal on Aretha Franklin’s Rock Steady.
LotusFlow3r and 20Ten (which was given away free with tabloid newspaper The Mirror in the UK originally) also have some great cuts if you missed them first time round. The guitar driven psychedelia of Crimson and Clover, Wall of Berlin or Dreamer on the former, plus the synth-funk throwbacks of Sticky Like Glue, Lavaux and Laydown on the latter are all great moments.
Prince was a genius, which will again become all too apparent with the Warners release of his Piano and Microphone rehearsal tapes from 1983 next month, but surely his legacy (perhaps like his career to some extent) needed better and more considered curation than this.
Prince Anthology: 1995-2010 out now on Legacy Recordings, SONY Music entertainment.