Celebrate the Catalog: Prince

Treble staff
Prince celebrate the catalog

Chaos and Disorder

Prince ComeCome
(1994; Warner Bros.)

Come was released about six months after Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral, and the explicit, dark sound of that album most certainly had an influence on this, one of Prince’s harshest, most difficult albums. In one sense, it’s not too far from the Prince we’ve known all along; in not so many words, he’s been saying “I want to fuck you like an animal” a lot longer than Trent Reznor has. But the sexuality on Come feels a lot more edgy and dangerous than it did before. He tackles industrial dance on “Loose!”, eerie spoken-word funk on “Papa,” ambient electronic balladry on “Solo,” and a duet between guitar noise and moans of ecstasy on “Orgasm.” Prince also never made his raunch as explicit as he did on Come, particularly the title track which has what sounds like the sounds of some sloppy oral sex. Kinda gross to listen to, actually. Also, the title track did not by any means have to be 11 minutes long. The thing about Come is that it’s enjoyable in small doses, but too much of it seems to be attempting to provoke rather than be enjoyable, listenable pop music. And that’s too bad — there are plenty of interesting ideas here. – JT

Rating: 5.0 out of 10

Prince Black AlbumBlack Album
(1987/1994; Warner Bros.)

The true follow-up to the tour de force of Sign “O” the Times was not the similarly expansive, fervid Lovesexy (though it is an appropriate spiritual successor) but The Black Album, a radical reversal of direction. Recorded in 1986-87 while Prince was feeling immense pressure from the rise of hip-hop, this record finds him at his darkest. The project here, in fact, is to respond to hip-hop, and Prince does it with a shocking ferocity, delving fully into the matrix of psychosexual tensions undergirding his previous records (cf. Dirty Mind, Purple Rain, Sign “O” the Times) with some of his sparsest, funkiest and grittest compositions. Opening tracks “Le Grind” and “Cindy C” (both stone-cold-classic funk tracks, by any definition) attest to this immediately, featuring Prince at a new level of confrontation as he moves from leading an orgy to pleading desperately for sexual satisfaction from Cindy Crawford. The curiously-titled instrumental “2 Nigs United For West Compton” is straight funk, but “Dead On It” and “Bob George” find Prince again experimenting with hip-hop form, offering scathing repudiations of the genre’s violent culture (which he would subsequently ameliorate on Lovesexy). In other moments, such as “Superfunkycalifragisexy” and the dark reanimation of “When 2 R In Love,” Prince is making legitimately disturbing music — crooning “Come play with me / Let’s drown each other in each other’s emotion” through a haunting, murky mix. Make no mistake, this is an innovative record, one that is just now being seized upon in popular music. But, most importantly, it gets down. Way, way down. – CB

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Prince Gold ExperienceThe Gold Experience
(1995; Warner Bros.)

In the mid-90s, Prince was in full artistic maturity, and The Gold Experience is one of the best testaments to the strength of that period. Having been through a whirlwind of stylistic experiments in the previous years, Prince opts for a streamlined, funk approach here (coincidentally, this follows the release of The Black Album) and executes it brilliantly, kicking off the album with two classics (“P Control” and “Endorphinmachine”) that rank among the most impressive in his considerable oeuvre. The most striking aspect of The Gold Experience is this kind of hard-edged funk, which picks back up on threads from all throughout Prince’s career and brings them together in a concentrated, cohesive whole. It’s not monotonous, though: Prince breaks up the album at opportune moments with an interlude or a ballad (e.g. the lead single, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”) here and there, making for an extremely smooth listen. While perhaps not a masterpiece, The Gold Experience was quietly one of the best records in 1995, a year otherwise overwhelmed by hip-hop. – CB

Rating: 8.8 out of 10

Prince Chaos and DisorderChaos and Disorder
(1996; Warner Bros.)

For some reason, it seems that most popular rock artists who enjoy a career that spans decades are inclined to go through a hard rock phase at some point or another. In conjunction with the preceding The Gold Experience, the guitar-heavy Chaos and Disorder is the product of Prince’s. Listening to the heavy feedback and guitar layering at the beginning of “Chaos and Disorder,” one has to think that Prince had his ear out for grunge, and the result is a rather interesting combination. At its best, the incorporation of busy drumming and hard riffing into Prince’s formula puts some welcome muscle behind his catchy tracks and gives him a bigger sound. This is, more often than not, the case: the aforementioned title track, “I Like It There,” “The Same December” and “Right the Wrong” all feature Prince shredding on his guitar and well with anthemic force. At its worst, however, this new stylistic quirk results in some awkward juxtapositions and hurts the pacing of the album slightly (a flaw that The Gold Experience lacks). In spite of these occasional hiccups, Chaos and Disorder grades out pretty well in my estimation; it’s a worthwhile record, showing Prince again succeeding in an improbable experiment. And, if you’re not convinced by that, consider this: is there any better reason to adopt hard rock than political polemic? – CB

Rating: 7.8 out of 10

Prince EmancipationEmancipation
(1996; Warner Bros.)

It’s kind of incredible that Prince didn’t just release two studio albums in 1996 — he released essentially four, considering Emancipation is a three-disc, three-hour box set. That’s a lot of Prince for one year. Some might argue there’s no such thing, but that’s all relative. You can never have too much Dirty Mind. You can definitely have too much Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. It helps to have a little background here; Emancipation was Prince’s contract-ending album with Warner Bros., and to finish the job, he threw as much material as he could onto one huge-ass album, and it’s basically a huge-ass party. For three discs of material, there’s inevitable filler, of course, but what’s impressive is just how much joyful, show-stopping funk Prince crams into this thing. “Get Yo Groove On,” “We Gets Up,” “Jam of the Year” — you can basically tell just from the titles alone that this is the kind of record you can put on at a house party and just let it run without swapping anything out. There are ballads, of course, but so much of the record carries an unmistakable hybrid of New Jack Swing and g-funk — not to mention some carryover Minneapolis sound — that even the slower songs are funkdafied. So that brings up another question: Can you have too much funk? Again, that’s all relative. Emancipation really is best digested one disc at a time, and even then, there’s a lot to hear. You can absolutely edit this down to one disc and make it at least a 9.0 — maybe higher. At three discs, it’s far too unwieldy for that kind of commendation. But hey, even I’m surprised at how consistent this is. – JT

Rating: 7.3 out of 10

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