Oh No! I’m going to write a blog entry about an album! How so very teenage!
Anyway. In 1988 I was exposed properly to Prince. I was lucky. I really got into him after I’d bought the album Lovesexy for a then girlfriend. Being in the 80s, I checked the vinyl for scratches and jumps – I was hooked. Quickly I bought my own copy and the began a journey back through time to the late-70s, gorging on a back-catalogue the equal of all and better than most.
I was unlucky. After Lovesexy came a couple of albums that were of questionable quality and then a commercial success built on arseless pants and a couple of catchy hit singles. The name change and the disputes and the “slave” all followed. In amongst all this there was still the music. Some of it sublime, some of it disposable. And this has been the trend really through til now. Some brilliant work – Come, The Rainbow Children, most of LotusFlow3r, the first half of 3121 – some not so brilliant work – blocks of Emancipation, Planet Earth, the second half of 3121, MPLSound, etc. And then we have the “he’s back to form” albums, especially The Gold Experience or Musicology. Now we have a couple of albums in a couple of years and I’m beginning to wonder at the loyalty I’ve shown this musician over all this time.
Art Official Age is a wonderful album. Albeit I could do without This Could Be Us and the chipmunk at the end of Breakfast Can Wait [a seemingly terrible attempt to modernise/play with the Camille schtick of the 80s] but it was an album of stone-cold great songs – Clouds, U Know, What It Feels Like, Way Back Home, Time – even the two incarnations of FunkNRoll (the other on PlectrumElectrum). It seemed to suggest that a consistency or a measure of quality control was back in place at the park that is Paisley. That plus the continued development of 3rdEyeGirl as a backing band – not to everyone’s taste, admittedly, but at least not quite so stale as the NPG had become – alluded to a new burst of creativity and energy in Prince. Wonderful…then we had the individual songs released to the net and – whilst Prince seems to seriously want to screw over so many people by setting up and tearing down websites – this genuinely appeared like a new dawn. Perhaps even a dawn we could be welcomed to. Then HitNRun appeared.
The bombast of the few interviews given by Joshua Welton may appear at odds with the man’s faith. The interview given by his wife and the rest of 3rdEyeGirl to the BBC on the eve of the album’s announcement massively overplayed the significance of the album’s content – “It’s phenomenal, there are so many hits on this album. It’s super experimental,” they said. It isn’t. There aren’t. It’s not.
The Beyonce-lite opener is a horrible way to tease and poke fun at Prince fans – especially given the manner of the song’s introduction. By opening the album with the triple whammy of Prince’s For You, 1999 and Purple Rain segueing together to usher in the bopping beat of a Judith Hill vocal that so insists that “you put a ring on it” it could be argued that Prince may be inclined to get a Pharrell Williams/Robin Thicke sweat on…Prince is suggesting that the musical content of this 2015 offering is the equivalent to those earlier in his career – in particular two of heavyweight albums 1999 and Purple Rain. It is insulting to the man he considers his only competition (“him in the past”) to suggest this. There is barely a moment on HitNRun that would get off the cutting room floor (or the musician’s studio version of) and make it on to either of these albums.
There is a wonderful bass solo towards the end of Shut This Down. It sounds like Prince. Moments of X’s Face and HardRockLover also sound like Prince. A 1000 X’s and O’s suffers from Welton’s noodlings – much like the rest of the album (in particular the execrable new version of This Could Be Us – a throwaway song that got worse) – and June…well, at least it isn’t a song about being the best at being better that all the others.
The best thing to say about this album is that it isn’t long – though unlike Dirty Mind, another short album, this doesn’t make you yearn for more. Listening to 1999 the other day, I was struck by the strength of the arrangement of this album. The songs are of length but there’s little meandering. There is a purpose about the groove on 1999. There isn’t on HitNRun. the Prince Twitter feed picked up a quote from someone or other – not sure if they were a journalist – that noted the tracks seem to be sequenced to run together much like the sequencing of Lovesexy. There was a comment about whether this was significant or not. Again, Prince equating this content with that of his most important albums. It isn’t significant. This album is not substantial. For a while now, the physical manifestations of Prince’s albums have been in cardboard packaging. This may sound silly but, there is a little bit of weight about the packaging. This time, HitNRun is packaged in the standard plastic jewel casing. This seems appropriate. It is lightweight, is fragile and bits break off it easily. It fits this music.
The promotion called this an experimental album – someone elsewhere has written very eloquently that the man who wrote Crystal Ball or All My Dreams or There’s Others Here With Us knows what experimental is. This isn’t it either.
I suppose, fundamentally, I want Prince to write songs that befit his age and his talent. The music of the second half of Art Official Age suggested this was occurring. Prince used to write so beautifully about life and living, about the conflict between desire and faith, about beauty and love. Increasingly he just seems to write about how loud he is. I want a more authentic Prince. Please.