I promised myself I wouldn’t do this…

but, here I go.

@prince3EG is posting various reviews and comments about his new album on twitter.  This is fine and good.  I’ve watched a couple and needless to say I disagree with much of the content – then again Prince is hardly about to start posting negative reviews about his work now, is he?  However, I do have a bit of a beef with one of the videos.

There is an online reviewer who styles himself the Nightchild and he has completed an extensive, track by track review of the album.  I’ve listened/watched the first few and, as mentioned, found myself not agreeing with much he has to say.  This video in particular really annoys me: Nightchild review Shut This Down.

In this video, Nightchild makes great play of the song’s lyrics – “It’s Prince being his funkiest…it’s boastful…it’s arrogance…it’s fantastic…it’s..um..brilliant.  The lyrics, as I said, fantastic…”.  Here are the lyrics, judge for yourself.  Nightchild calls this a party song.  He obviously has a frame of reference to work from.  He compares the opening to Slave from Emancipation, he notes the similarities between the delivery of the lyrics to that of My Name Is Prince from the Symbol album, and he links the humour of the end of this song with that on Cloreen Baconskin from Crystal Ball.  What he appears to miss, well at least to these ears, is the manner in which Prince has co-opted the persona of the rap merchants he bagged in Dead On It from The Black Album.  This is shame, because I think this is quite pertinent when discussing much of Prince’s work of late.

Prince’s party songs used to be earnest and then laced with a beautiful self deprecating humour.  He took us from Sexy Dancer to Party Up to, arguably, Sexuality to 1999 to Let’s Go Crazy to New Position to Housequake to, again arguably, Escape to Partyman.  You probably know the lyrics to most of those…I won’t post links. I’m sure I’ve missed a few…odd how I can’t think of a party song from the Around The World In A Day era…hmmm…America?  Surely not?  Even Daddy Pop (just about), My Name Is Prince and Loose! came liberally coated in parody making them acceptable.  And then something appears to have happened to Prince and his sense of self.  The self-deprecation disappears and the “I’m the baddest muddyfunster in the house” appears.  Ok, Prettyman is quite amusing – if looped to death…get a band!…- and Now teeters on the verge of being pompous but manages to pull its head in.  But ever since I Rock, Therefore I Am Prince songs of this ilk have vanished up their own self.

Shut This Down is just another in a line of Life O The Party, Everybody Loves Me, (I Like) Funky Music style shouting match that Prince once would have derided and felt beneath him.  It’s compounded by the fact it’s followed by another in this vein – Ain’t About 2 Stop.  The vanity of the man – he even got Chuck D to tarnish his image by jumping on-board one of these horrible tunes back on Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic – is quite bemusing.  There always used to be a knowing wink.  Behind those thickset sun-glasses, it’s difficult to read the expression.  It’s hard to tell if there is these days.

Some of this goes back to an element that has reappeared on a couple of Prince’s albums of late – equating the quality of this work with that of his older material.  On this album, as with Musicology, snippets of classic Prince material is played to help launch the album.  If you attend a Prince show now, you’re more likely to hear the medley of Take Me With U/Raspberry Beret than you are Play In The Sunshine, or 7 or The Most Beautiful Girl In The World or Anotherloverholenyohead – perhaps better comparisons.  And yet, you will hear “so many hits…” or the equivalent.  Prince doesn’t trust his new material live.  Or seemingly so.  Go back through the most recent tours and there is a solid scaffold of 80s standards augmented by one or two new songs and one or two obscurities/album tracks.  Increasingly there is a reliance on cover material, something which drives me crazy…when you consider just how many hits Prince has recorded.  And yet there is this in-your-face dictate that the songs your are about to hear are the aural equivalent of those I created back in the day.

I previously wrote that I was unlucky to have turned on to Prince in 1988, I’d missed the journey to Lovesexy.  In actual fact, I got into Prince when he was at his zenith.  I got into Prince when he started making questionable artistic decisions and began to challenge his audience and himself – in particular with his quest for some sort of religious identity, which is something I’ve personally found intriguing to follow.  Ultimately, this may have led to some unsatisfactory music being released, but it has been a hell of a ride to have taken.

This is veering off course.

Prince insists on insisting he still has “it”.  Go back and read all the press in the build up to any recent Prince album.  The acolytes he sends out and the journalists he lets in spew the same message about this being the greatest release since…As a consumer of music, and in particular as a dedicated consumer of Prince’s music, he has come close with The Rainbow Children, LotusFlow3r and Art Official Age…and lots of Crystal Ball (obv because it’s mainly vault material…but even the newer stuff stands up) – bearing in mind I think Prince’s genuinely interesting and worthwhile releases occurred up to and including the name change shenanigans (purely because that was an authentically interesting time creatively for him too (Exodus is one of his genius releases)). His albums have largely become throwaway.  In HitNRun’s case, this is fast-food music of the most greasy kind.  Songs like Shut This Down give you indigestion.

Stop insisting you have it, just show us you do.

Nightchild et al are all welcome to laud this work.  It is their opinion, just as this is mine.  And, as someone once said, “words are like shoes: they’re something you stand on.”  Inspired by the opening to HitNRun, playing as I type this is For You.  This is a better album.  The songs are better songs.  The vibrancy and the energy is real.  It is real music by a real musician.

This is, of course, just an opinion.

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4 comments

  1. NightChild · September 30, 2015

    Hi Simon,

    Firstly, Thank you for your comments regarding my video. Before I begin I do actually appreciate that you have engaged with the discussion in a detailed and constructive way, the fact that you have taken the time to consider the ideas and thoughts and not simply attacked differing opinions, I respect.

    Secondly, sorry if this goes on for a bit!

    If I may, I’d like to look at your points in a bit of a random order.
    Quite interestingly I discovered Prince at a very similar time to yourself, the first song that grabbed me was when I heard BatDance on my Walkman (On a Radio chart show) in 1989. The very next day I went out and bought what Prince work I could on video which consisted of Sign of the Times, Under The Cherry Moon and the recently released LoveSexy live VHS (Showing my age!). Like you I had missed the frenzied Zenith of the Purple Rain/ATWIAD/Parade era and often imagined what the hype must have felt like at the time. I still experienced a certain amount of that throughout the Nineties as Prince stayed relatively mainstream. I agree with you that the ride since then has certainly been a truly interesting one!

    Regarding your point concerning Prince talking about how great a song is rather than necessarily displaying it or by referencing his previous material, I have certainly heard that opinion expressed. A Peach & Black podcaster has said that he wants the songs to speak for themselves rather than being attached to previous works or being a song that self-refers as being great.

    Concerning the press reports, I think that whilst Prince has always had this aura of mystique, there is always a certain amount of hype about any new project and Prince has the added problem of having previously set the bar so high. Some may have business reasons for their opinion, some may simply genuinely like the work, some may want access. I have noticed over the years that almost every song is someone’s favourite!
    I think you make a really interesting point about the songs Prince chooses to perform in Concert. It is a difficult balance to attain for Prince in some senses. Matt Thorne in his book on Prince notes that Prince often seems to have the knack of pulling out a song for the hardcore fans when he wants to such as Empty Room at the Indigo Aftershows but doesn’t tend to do this a lot at concert shows. It is difficult in that for some people they will only ever attend one Prince concert in their lives so they want to hear Purple Rain, Raspberry Beret, Kiss etc and all the hits that they know. For example at the 02 shows a large section of the audience were more casual fans who often had the odd album or greatest hits cds (not all but certainly a percentage). I totally agree with the songs you mention, particularly Play in the Sunshine which I feel gets sadly overlooked, even at the time, as it sandwiched between two iconic songs on the Sign of the Times album. Prince does, as you say, have a huge back catalogue and we are led to believe that his band are proficient in several hundred of his tracks, it would be great to hear a larger selection of them. I think Prince ‘s use of covers is intriguing as he is one of very few artists who could play a different concert every night just with his own material so clearly there a purpose that these songs perform for him. Whether that is a respectful homage to his childhood hero’s, the inclusion of the odd song he wished he’d written, a touch of humility in an all Prince show, or just the chance to relax a little and jam, it’s difficult to say.

    Your choices of albums of note could have been lifted directly from my mind, The Rainbow Children, LotusFlow3r, Art Offical Age and Crystal Ball are all remarkable records. I also could not agree with you more about Exodus, an album that I find I return to often and love it every time.

    The party songs you mention are obviously all classic and I think you made a really fascinating point which I hadn’t fully considered before about the self-deprecation and humour which seems obvious once somebody has made it! Even Prettyman was partially obscured from view as a hidden track on Rave but the knowing cockiness, the humour and the smirks are all evident in a Prince/Morris Day persona.

    Regarding Shut this Down, I feel that Prince is in a very unique position in that he is not required to do anything he doesn’t wish to. By that I mean the liberation over time from record company demands, more financial freedom through independence and simply time mean that Prince could stop making music today and no-one could feel short-changed. I suppose you could argue that had he stopped after 2 albums no-one could really complain in the sense that he is free to pursue his own muse. Specifically regarding Shut This Down, I do note strong and relevant comparisons between this song and the others you mention such as Life O the Party & (I Like) Funky Music. These songs are straight party songs which contain a different type of swagger from previous tracks. I think part of this change may be age, not strictly in numeric terms but in that Prince is now into the latter part of his third decade of his professional career and it is, I would imagine, a very precarious and tricky thing to strike a balance between being emotionally open and vulnerable and having a sense of confidence and ego to continue to do what Prince does. I think certainly with ballads such as Way Back Home, the Breakdown and Somewhere Here on Earth Prince still has an amazing ability to be revealing and open. I also find his Funk jams can still contain some vibrancy such as the X’s Face & 3121.

    I would also like to Thank you for the mention of For You. I am shortly about to go back and start to look at Prince’s work from the beginning and experience that ride again in my reviews. My next review is a HitnRun brief conclusion (which you may well want to avoid as I imagine we would largely disagree!) followed by a look at Andy Allo’s albums after which I intend to begin at the beginning. You have really increased my desire and excitement in looking at those first albums, so Thank you. Words are like shoes and I really appreciate yours and I respect the way in which you have done it. Sorry for going on so long!

    The NightChild

    P.S. I call myself the NightChild as it’s actually my middle name. (Don’t ask!)

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  2. Simon Williams · September 30, 2015

    Hi NightChild, thank you for your response. I appreciate the thought, time and effort you have gone to.

    Again, this is all just opinion but a couple of things I might pick up on:
    The live material. Cast your mind back to the The Gold Experience Tour – 1995. All new material. No hits. Fantastic shows. Prince being a showman and a provacateur, thumbing his nose at WB and having a blast whilst doing it. That was such an interesting time to be a fan of Prince. The name change – albeit the sting in the tale being it WAS for financial reasons NOT for spiritual, as he insisted at the time; the Emancipation album (a Triple CD…suicide but such extravagant suicide); Crystal Ball and his initial dealings on the net. And the shows made money. And he had The Most Beautiful Girl In The World at No.1 AND – and this is where I think the industry really “shut him down” – he was about ready to have another massive hit with Lovesign when all support and funding, etc were pulled. WB bit back. Back to the shows though. They were enthralling. They are extreme, but I am certain Prince could put together a much more engaging set-list than the one he’s touring now (and has been for a while).

    Look at the Lovesexy show. Pretty much the entire album played (complete songs, now medleys or off a karaoke machine…sorry sampler) plus the hits and obscurities of the first act and the showstoppers in the encore. All Prince fans catered for.

    With regards the stage of his career he is in, it is about now that I would like to think Prince would open up a little and sing about his life, his experiences, his opinions, etc… or even just tell good stories – this is the Man who wrote I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, Raspberry Beret, Head, even Illusion Coma Pimp & Circumstance…Prince is a master storyteller but he chooses to be bombastic and proud. Shut This Down? Please. I’m not expecting Hurt, I’m expecting more of Way Back Home or Time…June is approaching that but it is spoiled by over-production…and that leads me to my last quibble.

    Two things about HitNRun:
    Many people, myself included, have wanted Prince to be open in his creative process. It is wonderful he now has a co-producer. I would have liked him to work with someone of the calibre of a Susan Rogers or a Femi Jiya again – engineers, I know, but people who have quality control written all over them. Unfortunately he has picked a protege-programme again. Joshua Welton has yet to learn subtlety. This mars songs like June. And why was he picked – cos he was better than some other guys working out of PP? Really? Prince had just been on Janelle Monae’s album. He had been produced by her. The song is sensational. It is all the super-hits, super-funky, super-experimental that HitNRun is not. Prince sounded relevant. On this album he sounds like an accident in an app.

    This album reminds me a little of David Bowie’s Earthling, from 1997. This was Bowie’s drum’n’bass album. An experiment in a new sound for him. It doesn’t work but is much more successful that HitNRun – it has some fine songs for a start – but it allows itself to fully embrace a new style, Bowie isn’t coasting. This is Prince absolving himself of responsibility and giving away songs, as I say, which wouldn’t have made the cut on the three albums included in the intro.

    Thank you for engaging with me in this discussion. I have enjoyed watching your videos, even when I disagree with you. I’ll look forward to your recap of Prince’s career from go to now over the coming months.

    Cheers
    Simon

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  3. NightChild · October 1, 2015

    Thanks for the reply and the comments, I do really appreciate it.

    I have to say you have hit me with quite a few killer blows in your reply! The Gold Experience shows are probably my favourite live era, the uncertainty of the WB battle, the anger, the hurt and the real desire to prove everyone wrong everytime he took the stage really propelled Prince to leave it all out on the field, as they say. To see the transformation from ‘WB & me making music naturally’ to ‘Warner Brothers used to be a friend of mine now they’re just a monumental waste of time’ was both sad and strangely liberating, like storming out of your work becoming self-employed for the first time which, I suppose, is exactly what it was. Even the idea that the Gold Experience might never see the light of day was strangely interesting.

    I still remember vividly when Prince finally got his first UK Number one song (still strange to think that he has written more UK Number ones for other people than himself!) which I believe was really one of the key turning points in his career as he now believed he didn’t need anyone else to be a successful artist.
    The sheer beautiful arrogance and belief to drop a triple disc three-hour album just showed the artist with a point to prove idea. Prince originally talked about touring it for years and releasing half the songs as singles, regardless of what happened the vision and determination was a sight to behold.

    Again you made an undeniable point in that I believe often Prince’s greatest concerts, certainly I feel from an avid fan’s perspective, are those where he doesn’t feature the hits and simply and extensively plays a new album. I often think of LoveSexy, as you mention, and One Nite Alone, Sign of the Times, even the Diamonds and Pearls/Act 1 era’s included a great number of album songs, at least initially. I would actually love to see the kind of show you recall from the LoveSexy era where an album is performed heavily and then a hits finale, like a firework display towards the end crescendoing upwards.

    Susan Rogers, well what can you say, she is responsible for engineering some of the greatest work of all time, I also liked Femi, I can’t think of the LoveSexy title track without seeing him in my mind.

    To my shame, I haven’t grabbed Janelle Monae’s album yet but will now seek it out. I think that HITnRun is the most back-seat Prince has ever been in an album in that he always fulfilled all parts of the production process. It actually reminds me indirectly of a Prince tribute album called Party of the Times, also one I think called Symbolism, in that people had taken Prince songs and put their own spin on them and much more often than not you realised how successful Prince was at getting the very most out of a song idea. It is difficult to lose the idea I have formed of Prince controlling everything and now allowing such freedom to another artist, interesting ‘though.
    I think it is interesting at this stage to see where Prince might go from here, tracks like Indifference and FreeUrSelf seem to chart a very different course from HITnRUN.

    Thank you for your reply and I really appreciate your comments, you have certainly made me think about the back catalogue and Prince’s direction a lot.
    I would also ask, (it’s fine if not) if I can share a link to your piece on my Facebook page as I think it would make interesting reading for many Prince followers who all share a multitude of different views!
    Take Care

    NightChild

    Like

  4. Simon Williams · October 1, 2015

    Hi NightChild,
    Thanks for the reply…I’m not out to hit you with killer blows. I’m just annoyed with the guy in Xanadu.

    I would be very happy or you to put a link to my piece on your Facebook page. I do intend to keep on with the Prince articles. You see, although I would like to write about other stuff too, no-one quite stirs the blood as much as this musician. Frustrating, hmmm?

    Like

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