155: Zannalee

Chaos & Disorder (1996)
What started life as a sketch on The Undertaker became the pinnacle of Prince’s 18th album and a masterclass in how twelve bar blues is done. Zannalee, the monster-riffed daughter of Bambi, is too on-genre to be played completely straight so ***KCHH*** the police radio from All the Critics Love You in New York gets an extended rollout ***KCHH***. He has to keep himself entertained somehow right? It’s just too easy for him. Funny and filthy with Faustian levels of RAWK, this is the only Prince blues you’ll need. You can discard 5 Women, smash up The Ride (well, maybe not The Ride), destroy your false idols; today we have a new primal goddess and her name is Zannalee.

200: Chaos and Disorder

Chaos and Disorder (1996)
Born out of the sea-foam of Peach, Chaos and Disorder was an after-show finishing coda that grew up to become the title track of Prince’s 18th album. It started off as the snarling riff you can hear at the climax of the Sacrifice of Victor video. Young and green but already red in tooth and claw, it soundtracks Mayte stage-diving into a pogoing crowd and ends with Prince smashing his guitar on the floor. Rock and roll that would shred the clothes on your back given half a chance. Studio time would later tame the beast into a song, adorning it with wry lyrics and forcing it to perform stunts with record scratches, Double Barrel samples and (proving the fruit doesn’t fall far from the peach tree) plenty of sound effects. Your clothes are now safe but maybe insure your guitar before cranking up the volume.

290: Dig U Better Dead

Chaos and Disorder (1996)
The vaguely cryptic lyrics powering this dark horse are battery-acid thrown in the face of Warner Bros, with a pH level that varies with your interpretation. The death in question could refer to the singer’s killing-off of his birth-name in 1993, or an accusation that his actual demise would be celebrated as a boon by the label, sadly topical in this posthumous era of remasters and anthologies. People have claimed that the first verse refers to negotiations leading up to Prince’s independent release of Most Beautiful Girl in the World. Possibly. Although being “a long time ago” I think we’re instead hearing about his first contract in the 70s, with the subsequent “experiment” being WB’s initial gamble on his career. Who knows. What isn’t in question is Prince is pissed! Whereas Face Down handles the subject with humour, Dig U Better Dead literally yells an incredulous “WTF!?” at those who hold his masters. In life there may always be “peaks and valleys” but this brickbat breakbeat is a steady, unrepenting javelin of righteous anger hurled at an insulting offer of “a toke or 2” from the fat profits cigar.

320: I Rock, Therefore I Am

Chaos and Disorder (2006)
Prince’s first ‘rock’ album contains two dance tracks that, depending on your tastes, either disrupt the flow or inject a shot of fresh energy. It’s the latter for me and what I love most about the first interloper, I Rock, Therefore I Am, is it’s a brazen attempt to purposefully piss off the purists. How else do you explain that the one song mentioning ‘rock’ in its title turns out to be a rapping, toasting, pop-funk behemoth with the guitars buried way down low in the mix? And how can you ever really know if you’re actually listening to rock or if a fiendish, purple demon is tricking you? Welcome to Mendacity. I can understand the haters to a point though. There are certainly off-putting elements that I can fixate on and enlarge until they sink the whole track – namely Scrap D’s crass rap and the “rock, rock, rock” chants – and I concede that Steppa Rank’s shouted slogans of “to the maximum” and “legendary” are of a 90s vintage that hasn’t aged too well. But as an unashamed pop anthem in a murky album of snark, it certainly has chutzpah. Never mind that the lyrics actually contains some of the album’s most pointed digs, with his record label, the bootleg industry and, unless I’m mistaken, the educational system all coming under fire. Yet Prince makes these grumbles sound like a triumphant war-cry of self-determinism, taking the “you gotta be all you can be” baton from Zannalee and amping it up to the maximum. Legendary. All the time. It rocks, therefore it’s rock!

420: I Will

Chaos and Disorder (1996)
Conjoined on this list as they are on the album, I Will builds on Into The Lights piano refrain and jettisons all earthly baggage to soar even higher. If the preceding track was the run-up then this is the subsequent leap of faith into the eternal unknown, gliding through skies like a snowman walking on air, as a Welsh choirboy serenades down below. We’re kept aloft by the aerodynamics of Rosie Gaines’ deep vocals pushing up against Prince’s high register. An effective gender reversal creating an upliftling Bernoulli principle of sound. A love letter to Icarus. The last sixty seconds features a guitar solo in graceful freefall, signalling the final moments of the flight into the sublime before the harsh bump back down to Earth is sounded with the first terra firma beat of Dig U Better Dead. Normal service has been resumed.

421: Into the Light

Chaos and Disorder (1996)
An appropriate title for this song. Not because the lyrics concern reincarnation, or that it’s influenced by Betty Eadie’s self help book Embraced By The Light which describes her near-death experience. Both of these are true, but the reason the title is wholly apt is that for the first time in Chaos and Disorder there’s a break in the bitter clouds, a lull in the hard guitars and snark, and for a six minute period we’re bathed in pure spiritual illumination. A piano-led grace. Unlike the false dawn of the earlier Dinner With Dolores, an incandescent bulb of a song that appears light and poppy but has dark, twisted lyrics which some have taken to be an allegory of his relationship with Warner Bros. None of that cynicism here. The lyrics are hymn-like and when the guitars do come in we get a flash of Gold before it settles into a luminous body of spiritual rock with a saxophone corona. Into the Light doesn’t end, it metamorphosises into the following track I Will, suddenly yet subtly, Abbey Road style. Reborn as a more enlightened being after shedding its light rock carapace.

445: Had U

Chaos and Disorder (1996)
A totemic middle finger to Warner Bros intended as an evil-twin bookend to the angelic debut track For You. The simple message of devotion chewed up and spat out 18 years later as a jaded sign-off. Spoilsports WB disrupted the symmetry by deciding to release it before The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale but that hardly dampens Had U‘s cold, downward-spiralling sentiment, sung in the key of fuck you. It suggests visions of a reminiscing Prince facing a lit brazier with a pile of his WB albums, succinctly giving each one a two word eulogy before dropping it into the purifying flames. For You “missed U” but Dirty Mind “found U” and 1999 “convinced U”. Parade “Kiss-ed U” and the pulled Black album was to “tempt U”. Twenty albums in and black smoke painfully fades out the guitar’s lament. Bitter yes but also hauntingly and macabrely beautiful.

487: The Same December

Chaos and Disorder (1996)
Coming from a contractually obliged album that’s strewn with scorned roses, high on filler and veering close to Ugly Kid Joe on a couple of occasions, this has never been a darling of the critics. However, being one of the first Prince albums I owned, released in the era of my indoctrination, it will always remain close to my heart. The Same December moves fast through shallow-rooted country-rock, not stopping long enough at any idea to ossify into saltpetre. A motion blur over hot coals. Swallows swerving and diving for mosquitos between a verdant swamp and a sky of lapis blue. Its components have an air of the dank but the composition is divine. Like the month itself I guess. People I happen to be born in the same December as: John Legend, Nelly Furtado, Katie Holmes, Jodie Marsh and a fleeting first love who half a lifetime ago was my spirit guide beyond the pomp, possibly permanently pickling purple a wide-eyed, teenage mind.