Girl 6 OST (1996)
This Spike Lee tie-in starts with a Paisley Park (or is it Raspberry beret?) lead-in and then we’re led on a pavonine tour through a phone-sex call centre permeated with ringing phones, unmoored sax and breathy samples from the movie of the same name. Prince wrote the lyrics but not the music (credited to Tommy Barbarella) and it’s a soothing, smooth ride with a welcome cameo from a “SHUT UP ALREADY! DAMN!”, although the sample cuts out too late, leaving in a fraction of the first bar of Housequake. But then there’s no true beauty without some slight imperfection. It’s Marilyn’s mole. Brad’s chipped tooth. Catherine Zeta Jone’s tracheotomy scar. It’s the sound of the Great Spirit entering the Navajo rug as Persian weavers and Amish quilt-makers bow down before the infallibility of Allah and God.
Art Official Age (2014)
In 2014 two new Prince albums were simultaneously released, heavily enshrouded with the usual media spiel as a return to form. You’ve been burnt before but the press is all “fo’ realz this time” so you have hope in your careworn heart. A hope that diminishes during the artless rock of Plectrumelectrum and sinks completely when this Art Official Age opener begins. A new plateaux has been reached. Prince has gone full Eurovision. You should never go full Eurovision. And if you switched the album off at that point and unflinchingly walked away, not looking back at the exploding fireball of Prince’s career you would have missed his most creative, interesting and damn right listenable album since 1995’s The Gold Experience. What follows track one is such refined, purple genius that repeated exposure worms this eurodance pastiche into your soul. It’s ridiculously bombastic. I stand corrected – you should never go half-measures Eurovision. Crowd noise. Electronic hand claps. Ricardo Da Force style rap. The whole shebang. And just when you think he has emptied the entire Eurovision toy box, the pyrotechnic operatics kick in, followed by 16 bars of dubstep, Egyptian guitar and a waterboarding sketch??? The song buckles under the weight and shuts down like HAL 9000 singing Daisy Daisy. Istanbul plunges into darkness as the Israeli lightshow trips the city’s power. Douze points!
The Gold Experience (1995)
Partyup‘s grown up, holding down a job and now wants to fight for social justice instead of the right to party – and it starts superbly. Shimmering, celestial murmurs and a power chord beamed straight in from Saturn kick it off. Mayte quotes the 3 musketeers en Espanol and Prince punctuates with “We March” vocal stabs. But then the beat kicks in and it’s weaksauce. More Samantha Mumba than Selma. It would sound at home in any generic 90’s pop fluff and reminds me of the neutered Led Zeppelin break propping up Sophie B Hawkins’ Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover – the sound of John Bonham spinning in his stairwell. The overlaid screams and siren samples fail to mask the balsawood build and the marching samples seem out of place and out of step. An army that’s more Salvation than Seven Nation. He dabbled with this sound before – Free‘s intro begins with it but has the foresight to fade out before the song starts – yet I can’t help comparing it to other artists’ military backed rhythms. We March would rout at the threatening onslaught of Bjork’s Earth Intruders “grinding skeptics into the soil” or the steadily encroaching, off-stage tattoo of Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting (Organon Mix). But this is a song about cohesion rather than threat. Prince may throw in the odd “watch your back” and “we’re kicking’ down the door” but more importantly “All is what we’re marching for”. It’s the sound of the world marching to the beat of just one drum. And in 1995 it is not an all-inclusive drumbeat if you can’t imagine it being used to soundtrack a macrobiotic yogurt advertisement. The man’s a genius.
Graffiti Bridge (1990)
A misleading pop ditty with lyrics of pure filth. Elisa Fiorillo fires off bubblegum higher/liar rhyming couplets while a lusty Morris Day swaggers around in the background talking about how he’ll “Drink. U. Til. Dawn.” The Highlight being the conversational Q&A style on the final verse, later used on Love 2 the 9s. Like most Time tracks, Prince’s usual tension between sex and spirituality isn’t at play here – it’s more of a tension between sex and cartoon sex. This machine would never pass the Turing test.
This list’s only purely instrumental track (apologies Madhouse fans) mostly makes the cut by being imbued by the aura of Parade. It’s the cooling zephyr at the end of side 1 after you’ve been pummelled by mind-altering, percussive bad-assery for 18 minutes. A decompression chamber filled with all the notes Miles didn’t play. A respite before you’re plunged straight back into the pulverising, new funk of Mountains on the reverse. It’s hard to keep in your mind – very much like the film it featured in – but when experienced in its album’s habitat it can feel like that scene in Trainspotting when Renton dives into the lavatorial, blue azure.