60: Call My Name

Musicology (2005)
Like your telephone number, your own name is more useful for other people than it is for you. Prince understood this as he watched people tying themselves in knots trying to address him during the years he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. It was a period that started with the Paisley Park hotline promising to reveal his new name, but instead premiered the gleefully obstinate What’s My Name instead. This deliberate muddying of the waters was a flashback to the previous year when he released an album that started with him defiantly telling us his name was Prince, yet ended with a suggestion he’d change it to Victor. In 2004, on his first mainstream album since reverting back to his birth name Prince takes the opportunity to tell us he’s put all these hijinks behind him. He now loves it when we call his name. “Prince” he reaffirmingly whispers in your ear at 4:56. In his honeycomb of ballads there is no sweeter segment than this dispatch from deep within marital bliss. Elsewhere on Musicology there’s heartbreak and stormy weather, but here in the eye is one big heart-eyed smiley emoji. Post-divorce he would suggest this song was about his love for the Creator and while many of its lyrics could double as a prayer I’m not sure even Prince would address God as “baby girl”. He would also struggle to retrofit the lyric about carrying ‘you through the Bridal Path door’ – a line referencing the address of his marital home with Manuela. Whether a declaration of love, faith or nomenclature, the Grammy winning Call My Name was written from a place of deep contentment. Similar to how I’m feeling after getting through this whole entry without mentioning Adore or Al Green. They said it couldn’t be done.

243: The Marrying Kind

Musicology (2004)
Sandwiched between the two political songs on Musicology lies the infidelity quartet – a suite of songs forming the dark heart of Prince’s marriage breakdown album. The Marrying Kind is the second song in this section and is full of Yeats’ lust and rage. It’s the anger stage that follows the denial stage of What Do U Want Me 2 Do, and precedes the bargaining stage of If Eye Was the Man in Your Life and the begging-for-forgiveness stage of On the Couch. Prince covers a lot of ground in its 2 minutes and 49 seconds – spending the chorus mendaciously buttering up the woman he has this sights on, and the verses firing warning shots at her boyfriend. He also manages to find time to take retaliation at Missy Elliot for her 2002 Work It video that featured an unflattering Prince lookalike. Diamonds and Pearls this ain’t. The guitar adds a menacing undertone and the amount of malice he fits into the phrase “purple satin laces” alone could strip paint. My advice to the unnamed woman can be found in the closing lines: “run away!”

246: Satisfied

3121 (2006)
Long ago Prince was insatiable, but now he’s satisfied with his ballads as long as you are. And why wouldn’t you be? This is bluesy soul perfection. Okay, his slow jams are no longer intrepid walks through long undergrowth, that disturb and fill the sky with brightly coloured birds you’ve never seen before. Satisfied is well-trodden territory, but so’s the Inca trail and that doesn’t make the sight of Machu Picchu any less spectacular. There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you’re good at and executing it flawlessly, especially if the next generation are trying to steal your crown with their Voodoo. Satisfied is an Al Green-kissed message to D’Angelo, telling him “if you liked On the Couch, here, try it with honey”.

252: Musicology

Musicology (2004)
Tight and clinical funk is all well and good but for the real deal you also need to add a bit of rough treatment. Like roast potatoes when you first shake the pan: the flavour lies in the fuzzy edges. In Musicology this fuzz is provided by the synths battering the track towards the end. Those who prefer their old and new schools segregated will probably disagree but in my opinion Prince didn’t go far enough, and I would have loved another couple of minutes for the song to disintegrate into a total synth freakout: a tribute to the analogue days consumed by a digital wildfire. Prince may have built an impressive sandcastle of Mother Popcorn inspired funk but hearing it jumped on is the fun part. Speaking of The Godfather of Soul, when Prince was ten his stepdad briefly put him on stage at one of James Brown’s concerts before security intervened. In the Musicology video there’s a scene that alludes to this, and the accompanying crowd screams that begin to drown out the music is the kind of cacophony the album track misses – a delicious raucousness that echoes the giddy high of being swept up in events you have no control over. You’re about to be bundled off stage at any point but for this glorious moment you’re dancing in the presence of the Godhead.

280: Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance

Musicology (2004)
Pomp and circumstance: a phrase coined by Shakespeare to mean celebratory ceremony and fuss, but there’s little of that on show here. The very opposite in fact. The music underpinning Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance is mean and sparse – a thin braid made up of hip-hop drums, the lead synth-line from Sex, and the funkiest guitar-licks this side of the Black album. And space. A whole lot of space. This bare-bones beat focuses your attention on the storyline – reminiscent of Under the Cherry Moon – of a rich cougar and a young gigolo using each other for their own shallow ends. A stiletto-sharp tale of two characters “making”, to borrow another phrase from Othello, “the beast with two backs” as a loveless transaction. Murky with the mud of materialism, there’s no glory here, save for that found in Prince’s delivery. His exquisitely acerbic vocals show that in his hands even the grimiest canvas can sparkle with invisible fire.

301: Dear Mr. Man

Musicology (2004)
Prince rages against The Machine over bluesy, smoky back-room funk. Although the tone is more despair than anger. A What’s Going On for the Dubya years. With Maceo, Sheila, Candy, Renata and Rhonda in tow, and armed with a bible and a copy of the constitution, Prince dictates a letter to politicians unnamed, listing depressing signs of the times and signing off with the three words “we tired U’all!”. In his late 40s he’s witnessed enough corporate and political rapacity that there’s no outrage left in the tank, just world-weariness. Ripe conditions for the languid kind of funk Marvin used to make.

314: On the Couch

Musicology (2004)
A lurching, bluesy ballad where the singer begs his chaste fiancée not to send him to the couch after he ventured beyond the home plate. The lyrics are discreet and I’m not up on my base metaphors to determine which one was reached but we know a dress was unzipped and that may have been enough. In live performances, Prince liked to claim it was an anecdotal song about his second wife Manuela. I think that may be a story spun either for entertainment or with one eye on his church elders, but regardless of the inspiration Prince is the Laurence Olivier of dominated nymphomaniacs pleading for sugar and On the Couch is his Hamlet. It’s an Al Green routine we’ll hear again on 3121′s Satisfied and the vocals are more honey-dipped than a Rosh Hashanah D’Angelo. As puppy-dog pleas go these could pervert a Puritan.

330: If Eye Was the Man in Ur Life

Musicology (2006)
It starts with a fluttering intro that wouldn’t sound out of place on Purple Rain (but is actually cribbed from the end of the preceding track) and ends with jazz rimshots and a teasing glimpse of a guitar solo. In between is a piano-thumping, fire-breathing piece of solid-oak songwriting where Prince beats his chest and sings that he could sure as hell take the place of your man. The lyrics’ nod to jukebox-perennial Carly Simon only cements If Eye Was the Man in Ur Life’s status as the kind of belter-outer that karaoke was invented for.

371: What Do U Want Me 2 Do?

Musicology (2004)
This high-altitude mountain flower is delicate yet hardy, able to withstand the cold, hard frost of repeated exposure. Intricately arranged and improving with age, like the rest of Musicology it takes time to get its hooks in. It’s also one of many songs on the album concerned with marriage, featuring Prince playing the part of a wedded man knocking back the advances of somebody else’s wife. A position he doesn’t exactly stick to on the next two songs where he wants to orchestrate a break-up so he can swoop in amid a flurry of gifts. The lyrics may be noble but the music suggests an imbalance in thought and deed. Gentle and airy guitars grace a tightly coiled Linn beat, creating a tension between calm composure and twisted, distorted agitation. The music Bebel Gilberto would play if she was being slowly dragged down under the Earth’s crust by subterranean brambles, silently watched by a koala bear with fire in its eyes.

387: Life o’ the Party

Musicology (2004)
Self-centred, inorganic, but deeply and weirdly funky, this bullish song about high-status partying sounds like a 21st century reimagining of how the upper decks on the Titanic would soirée after hearing about what happens after-hours below in steerage. A jealous, monied reply to the real life o’ the party beneath the Plimsoll line. Three minutes in when the much lauded party arrives, it’s a spiky, staccato Latin affair that quickly descends into barbs thrown at Prince’s critics (“‘he don’t play the hits no more, plus I thought he was gay'”) and Michael Jackson (“my voice is getter higher and I ain’t never had my nose done, that’s the other guy”). This mix of disdain, ego and forced joviality creates a delectable cocktail and Prince plays the pouting preenster so well – a side of his psyche that he can tap into for devastating comic effect. Clattering percussion, spat lyrics and a jarring chorus presents you with a party that you wouldn’t ever want to attend but as long as this isn’t your world it makes for a great listen.

444: Cinnamon Girl

Musicology (2004)
Classic pop rock, with a title borrowed from Neil Young and a video that made more headlines than the song. The music may not have enough spiky eccentricity to make it anybody’s favourite single but it has an insanely catchy hook and the subject matter of Arab-American Victimisation In A Post 9/11 World can hardly be called trite. Ignoring the enforced black and white discourse of the time – the top-down message of patriotic us and evil them – Prince dabbled in the shades singing “both sides truly die” thus attracting ridiculous claims of terrorist apologia. “Hate begets hate you say? Them’s fighting words. Burn him!” The video brings more life to the scorched, blood-red skies of the lyrics but having a suicide bomber fantasy in a format not renowned for nuance caused many to be riled. The conservative New York Post called the video the “most tasteless ever” showing that not all the critics love U in New York. And all this from such a sweet little tune that your mom could hum along to. It’s a Christmas dinner argument hidden in a MOR Trojan horse.