After the horrid Rainbow Children dropped in 2001, I was about ready to renounce my Prince-ship for good. Years of albums that declined in quality coupled with my feelings about Prince as a person combined to leave a taste in my mouth so bad I thought it would take the most bristly of brushes to scratch away.
Apparently, all it took was an astounding Grammy performance with Beyonce to relevance again. Oh, and he followed the performance up with a sold-out tour, a Rolling Stone cover and a pretty decent album. Although he seems to have lost the plot again these days, there’s always the chance that he’s got another fantastic album in him.
Until then (have I mentioned I’m gonna see him in concert for the first time in a few short days? Yes, I’m gloating)…here’s the last few years in the career of Prince Rogers Nelson.
Musicology (2004)- Prince’s 2004 “comeback” album was his first major-label release in half a decade and benefited from a sold-out tour during which he announced that he’d be performing his classics for the last time. He lied, but that’s neither here nor there. Musicology isn’t a perfect album by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s his most consistently enjoyable album since Emancipation, and at 1/3 the running time. He’s not reinventing the wheel anymore, but he seems to be coming to terms (at least somewhat) with his age on songs like “Reflection” and settling down to married life with songs like “On the Couch”. Of course, that didn’t last, either. But yeah, Musicology was the man’s most solid effort in years. Grade: B
3121 (2006)– Buoyed by the success of his comeback effort, Prince rebounded with an effort that was even stronger. “Black Sweat” was a stark effort that harkened back to his “Kiss” days, and “Get on the Boat” and “The Word” were pretty darn good considering they were basically issues of The Watchtower set to music. In retrospect, there were signs that things would soon be amiss again (the use of Auto-Tune, the introduction of his first protege in almost a decade), but back when this album came out I was hoping that it meant Prince was back for good. Grade: B+
Planet Earth (2007)– Bad enough that I sold it, good enough that I eventually bought it a second time. Planet Earth is Prince’s most pop/rock-oriented album in quite some time, just in case anyone needed to be reminded what a fantastic guitarist he is. The unfortunate thing is that the more guitar-centric songs on Planet Earth are deficient in the lyrical department. The return of Wendy and Lisa for a couple of songs is almost worth the price of admission, but ultimately it’s the slow soul jams “Somewhere Here on Earth” and the Grammy-winning “Future Baby Mama” that make this album worthy of a space in my collection. Grade: B-
Lotusflow3r/MPLSound/Elixir (2009)– More than 60 minutes of Prince on record in the mid-Eighties? Extremely interesting and possibly genius. More than 60 minutes of Prince in the mid-Nineties? Tolerable. More than 60 minutes of Prince plus an album by a completely anonymous protege/plaything in 2009? Damn near intolerable. One disc of guitar heroics plus one disc of Prince trotting out the Linn drum machine minus good songwriting equals a colossal disappointment, even if you can find this Target-exclusive set for the price of a Big Mac value meal nowadays. Plus, horndog Prince at 50 just sounds like a dirty old man whereas horndog Prince once sounded dangerous, not to mention legitimately arousing. Grade: C-
20Ten (2010)– A year after releasing a mediocre, boring 3-disc set, Prince decided to put together…a mediocre, single-disc set? And then he decides to not release it in the United States? Great. I find myself a little more drawn to 20Ten than I was to the Lotusflow3r fiasco-“Lavaux” and “Everybody Loves Me” are fun if not slight-but in the end, this album is just more of Prince repeating himself. And even if you’re the greatest musician of your generation, the law of diminishing returns will eventually kick in.
The oughts were also the decade when Prince compilations started dropping like flies (to quote his protege Sheila Escovedo). The Very Best of Prince is a barely serviceable single-disc collection. Some artists’ best work can’t be contained on one disc no matter how hard the compilers try. Prince is one of those artists. Single edits and way too many missing songs doom this package from the very start. Even the two-disc Ultimate compilation is a bad place to start, although even casual Prince fans will delight in the second disc of remixes that appear on CD for the very first time.
I dislike live albums as a general rule, and although One Night Alone is damn good as far as concert recordings go, it’s missing something without the visual of actually seeing Prince in concert. What I am hoping is that Prince makes nice with the suits at Warner Brothers soon-ish and his catalog undergoes a massive remastering campaign, because those Seventies and Eighties albums need a sound upgrade something AWFUL.
Are we done yet? Hell no! Our final installment of the Prince-dedicated Blerd’s Notes will take a look at some of Prince’s many, MANY side projects.
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