24: The Exodus Has Begun

Exodus (1995)
If I was a music-critic, I’d never make the gauche error of sticking my neck out and suggesting this slab of gospel p-funk was on a par with Prince’s greatest material. That’s far too off-script. Safer instead to stick with the agreed narrative that Prince lost his mojo in the 90s after losing a battle with hip-hop and was unable to ever reach his 80s peaks again. However, I’m not a critic. I’m a fan writing about the music that moves me and therefore unburdened by the baggage of general consensus. This is love, not lore, so I’m saying it: I think The Exodus Has Begun funks as hard as any of his big hitters. ALL OF THEM. 1999, DMSR, Controversy – it’s on that level. Fight me!

I offer no qualifying statement to redeem myself in your rolling eyes. No personal memory as alibi to dam my draining reserves of kudos. I genuinely think the song, on its own terms, deserves to be a classic and seeing it gather dust, only available on an obscure deleted release that no-one mentions nor seems to care about, is a travesty.

Out of my top 50 or so Prince songs, The Exodus Has Begun is the only one I don’t own on vinyl, and the only one unavailable on Spotify or Apple Music. Most of my CDs have long been retired to an attic I no longer live under, but (ironically, given its name) the Exodus CD is one of the few that never left. A back-up because ripped mp3s are too ephemeral to rely on. If I accidentally wipe my computer I don’t want to be hunting down lo-fi YouTube rips to get my weekly fix. Shudder.

Although I’d sell off family members to get the Exodus album repressed on vinyl, I don’t mind the gaping void on streaming services. That’s because, although I listen to Spotify, I find myself flailing in the vastness. The psychological gear-shift needed to go from tending a record collection to having immediate access to NEAR EVERYTHING is one a Digital Native couldn’t understand. Yes, the limits of choice have expanded beyond comprehension but those limits defined me. Cultivating a record collection went hand in hand with cultivating a self. You can’t sculpt an identity with a playlist, and yet spending money on music now feels like an indulgence. I’m cursed with an antiquated mindset that desires possession of music in a culture that wants only to lease it. A monogamist in an era of free love.

Soon, having a music collection will be as eccentric as owning a loom. Throw another Shellac on the mangle grandad! But at least I get to hear non-licensed epic p-funk bastards like this, without waiting in vain (sorry, wrong Exodus album) for distant board rooms to agree on licensing deals that will never arrive.

Exodus was Prince smuggling new music out to his fans, free from the confines of his contract which he intended to only fulfil with old vault material. He had done it before with NPG Records’ debut release Goldnigga, but on that album he was careful to hide his involvement. He took more liberties on Exodus, a title which, as Mayte told the press, represented “an exit from a way of thinking and a way of doing… something new”. He promoted it behind a thin pseudonym and an even thinner face-covering, and sung lead vocals on a couple of tracks, including the song we’re discussing now which ends with Sonny T eulogising over the death of the Prince persona. Who knows what legal ambiguities need to be cleared up, what pieces of cut Gordian red tape need reknotting, before this album can grace the streaming world. It’s not like there’s much public demand. Most people don’t even seem to know this Europe-only release exists so don’t expect to see it on Spotify anytime soon. 20th Century Archivists 1 – 21st Century Streamers 0.

Oh. It’s on Tidal. Fine! You win this round young folk. But the Cloud won’t be around forever. When the sky turns purple and the servers go down, I’ll be in my bunker blasting out The Exodus Has Begun while you’re scrabbling down the backs of digital sofas for long-forgotten mp3s to block out the sirens and screams. I just hope it’s reissued on vinyl before then. CDs don’t chime well with my Apocalypse aesthetic.

76: Hallucination Rain

Exodus (1995)
The first time you hear Hallucination Rain it’s Purple Rain with an electric violin. The second time it begins to grow a personality of its own. By the third listen it’s paint stripper to your sense of time. The album version is under six minutes yet seems to span double that length. And still it ends too soon. This aural illusion is due to the four-minute build up – a rollercoaster gently carrying us up to the first peak. Then, when we’re amongst the clouds, Sonny T repeatedly asks “are you ready?” before dropping us over the edge into the storm below. The ride back down is brief but intense. A wormhole through dimensions we’ll never comprehend. Sonny’s voice starts off as a lulling guide but soon melts into a scream, indistinguishable from the cosmic debris whipping past. The skit beforehand where Sonny drinks a witch’s “spooky soup” is woefully inadequate preparation for this brain-bending ordeal. More apt would be a health warning that Prince is about to extract your mind, carry it miles above your mortal clay and then gleefully let go. Are you ready!?

144: Get Wild

Prêt A Porter (1994) / Exodus (1995)
The Exodus party kicks off with this hedonistic cathedral built on sacred pagan soil. On the surface it may revere Versace and seem overly concerned with your outfit but underneath the high fashion lustre lies the sweat and beer of the mosh pit. Mosh Chic. The co-opted power of the old gods lies in the promise of the ego-stripping moment when the crowd consumes the self and you become a multi-limbed organism throbbing to the room’s heartbeat. But the only way to get that sensation is to be deep within a thronging mass and I fear the window has now passed for this song. My only faint hope is to hear a DJ pluck this NPG single out of obscurity and galvanise a primed crowd to fuse into a unified consciousness. Only then can I truly say I’ve heard Get Wild.

206: Big Fun

Exodus (1995)
“Big fun” is a phrase seldom heard in real life, but used endlessly in pop music. It’s given us Inner City and Kool & The Gang hits; Miles Davis and Shalimar albums; and is the name of at least three bands. As a euphemism it’s infantilising but in Prince’s hands, or more specifically Sonny T’s, Big Fun sounds seductively sordid. A siren song of liquidized George Clinton poured into a seven-minute come on. The track shares elements with Poom Poom and unwinds like the Crystal Ball number swollen on party vibes and grown to an adult sea serpent. P-funk tendrils coil around your hips and lure you lair-wards. Danger signals flare and you’re even warned your safety is not guaranteed but you’re too busy wrapped up in its promises of Darling Nikki’s devices to notice. Just a vague feeling persists that you should resist the insistent pull but your head can only bob affirmations to its forbidden rhythm. I doubt Barry Manilow’s Big Fun has the same effect.

240: Return of the Bump Squad

Exodus (1995)
This entire list is subjective but if there’s an lp more susceptible to the vagaries of personal taste than any other, it has to be the second NPG solo album. At an impressionable age, the leylines of my fondness for Prince and my obsession with George Clinton merged, resulting in the Exodus album blowing my tiny little mind. Has the history of music culminated here? Does anything more need to be recorded? It’s hard to tear away from my initial, jaw-dropped, smitten devotion and impossible to retain a cold, critical ear. So I’ll just say Return of the Bump Squad is better than all of y’all cerebral ballads and I have nothing to back it up except the song itself. Let my placing it mid-list be my one concession to the hilarious concept of impartiality. A fig leaf of respectability. My p-funk-loving id has placed it much higher.

278: Count The Days

Exodus (1995)
This Gangsta-gospel soul song veers on the right side of pastiche, as Sonny T coaxes and cusses, lulls and let loose, like a coked-up Bill Withers losing himself in the music and momentarily forgetting he’s pre-watershed. It’s hard to read the expletive-laden lyrics as anything other than Prince clockwatching on his contract with Warner Bros (and in 1995 what else would generate this level of anger in him but his record label?) but the song otherwise is calm and graceful – a sweet and fluffy pancake mix with the right amount of F-bomb currants mixed in for flavour. With different lyrics, you could walk down the aisle to it, but Count The Days will always be a coarse but lovable Cockney flower girl at heart.

354: The Good Life

Exodus (1995)
A tribute to the 1976 episode of The Good Life in which Tom and Barbara parry Margot’s condescending remarks that their relentless optimism is “fantasy” by replying it “never hurt nobody” and “whatever chills the illin'”. Margot then begins to lecture the couple about double negatives before slipping over in pig manure much to Jerry’s guffaws. Or at least in my Britcom-addled mind it is. The reality is that this ball of 90s pop was the only single from Exodus to see the light of day in North America (the album itself was only released in Europe) and its mainstream appeal is strong. The single featured two hip-hop remixes from Kirk Johnson, with the Big City mix being the stronger of the two and sounds like a new song in its own right, complete with different lyrics and a smoky jazz bassline that Digible Planets would be proud of. This mix (no relation to the Big City swan song on HITnRUN Phase Two) smashes the two nondescript house remixes that were released in the UK two years later and is a challenger to the original’s pop crown. But its grumbling, profanity-strewn lyrics sound curiously lacking in bonhomie, making the OG the one to turn to if you’re after a hit of la dolce vita.

397: New Power Soul

Exodus (1995)
Despite the title, New Power Soul is a solid slab of old-school jazz funk – a genre I have a low tolerance for after overdosing on it in my twenties, but this song could be extended to Herbie Hancock length proportions and I’d still call out for a rewind. There’s an extended version in circulation but at a paltry five minutes it’s still unsatisfyingly short. Featuring no discernible hook apart from the same chant as 1998’s otherwise unrelated Newpower Soul, the Exodus track doses up on background chatter à la Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? or Got To Give It Up and ends with Mr Hayes’ drunken shouting at the band. This all contributes to the music sounding like a steady dreadnaught riding a choppy sea of bar-room rowdiness. The background soundtrack to a hundred narratives intersecting on a Saturday night, played with soul and heart from the dependable house band. Happy hour foreplay to keep the night bubbling, before it’s time for the crowd to Get Wild.