Celebrate the Catalog: Prince

Treble staff
Prince celebrate the catalog

Life ‘o’ the Party

Prince MusicologyMusicology
(2004; NPG/Columbia)

This album’s ambition is clearly stated in the title: Musicology attempted to highlight the brightest moments of Prince’s lengthy career and accent them under an umbrella of modern production techniques. In some ways, it succeeds. This wacky album of psychedelic R&B is a roller coaster of perky singles and trippier slow jams. Still, as Prince adapted to modern times, there were some slight missteps in production, particularly on the songs that most strongly embraced popular hip-hop percussion of the time. But overall the album’s effect is satisfactory: A delightful, soothing album with some surprisingly sophisticated moments, especially when you consider that Musicology was Prince’s 25th studio album. – ATB

7.8 out of 10

Prince 31213121
(2006; NPG/Universal)

Prince-philes and music critics alike point to this album and the immediately preceding one as two parts of the same comeback. Musicology in 2004 blew the horns outside Jericho, despite no hit songs; two years later this album brought the walls down, becoming Prince’s first Billboard No. 1 debut and seeing a couple of singles charting in the US and UK. But let’s not get carried away: Prince’s reach here has to be looked at through the prism of throttling CD sales and his own purgatory of self-distribution, and 3121 has more than a few moments where he tried to sound fresh using ideas lifted from his 1970s beginnings and 1980s heyday. “Fury,” “Black Sweat,” and the title track all suffer from stilted, dated instrumentation, especially synths that sound way too clean or should have been replaced by, say, a live horn section. Nevertheless, there are some fantastic singles on here, they just weren’t the ones Prince actually released. “The Dance” is better Sade-like mambo than “Te Amo Corazón”; you can just hear Justin Timberlake fronting “The Word”; songs like “Lolita,” “Love,” and “Incense and Candles” sound like all-star duets and shoulda-been hits. I found in this album parallels to Lenny Kravitz’s Let Love Rule—both skillfully crafted from countless overdubs of one guy playing everything, both pretty focused sets of music, both shoot-for-the-moon earnest to the point of being occasionally hammy. Mojo magazine suggested Musicology was better produced and performed than it was written; I suggest that 3121 was better performed and written than it was produced. Given that Damoclean choice, and especially considering that 3121 might still contain Prince’s best work of the last 10 years, I’ll take the latter. – AB

Rating: 8.1 out of 10

Planet Earth Prince discographyPlanet Earth
(2007; NPG)

The Prince of the ’00s is both nothing like Prince of the ’80s, and exactly like him. They certainly seem similar from a distance, pursuing a lot of the same ideas and performing a more-or-less trademarked Prince sound. In the ’80s, though, those ideas yielded better results. And while his span from Musicology up to Lotusflow3r/MPLSound finds him with the same kind of energy and vibrancy he had back before he was railing against Warner Brothers’ stranglehold on his catalog rights, or telling people not to call him Prince anymore. Planet Earth is arguably the weakest link in that string of albums, however. Part of that can be attributed to some squishy, quasi-political material that throws around familiar hippie slogans about saving the planet and believing in peace without really saying much of anything beyond surface-level platitudes. Also, he drops this bomb in “Somewhere Here on Earth”: “In this digital age/ You can just page me.” And “Guitar,” the rare track where he shows off his six-string chops, doesn’t even really have a good hook. So yeah, there are problems with this album — major ones. But if Prince’s discography wasn’t so unfuckwithable for so many years, this might not seem like such a crushing disappointment. A little corny, perhaps, but still not bad. But we don’t have that luxury; this is the artist that gave us Dirty Mind, 1999, Purple Rain and Sign O’ The Times in the span of seven years (with at least three other classics in between). We know he can do better. – JT

Rating: 4.7 out of 10

Lotusflow3r Prince discographyLotusflow3r/MPLSound
(2009; NPG)

By 2009, Prince had been riding about a half-decade’s worth of new energy, which reached an interesting turning point with the three-disc release of Lotusflow3r/MPLSound/Elixer. The third of the trio is actually not a Prince album — it’s a release by Bria Valente, a Prince protege, which was packaged with the other two. So, for the purposes of this review, we won’t worry about that one. But the other two are complementary pieces, each representing a different element of Prince’s sound. Lotusflow3r is the more guitar-driven rock record of the two (in a manner of speaking). It’s catchy and vibrant, and has a lot of interesting ideas swirling around, if not necessarily as many standout songs, save for the Hendrix-like jam, “Dreamer.” By contrast, MPLSound is a throwback to Prince’s old-school Minneapolis funk roots. It’s the more immediate and fun of the two, bursting with deep grooves and sexual energy. Not that either of them feels anywhere near as essential as any of his ’80s or even ’90s material. But it’s certainly fun to hear the guitar heroics, the new wave funk and the energy of a much younger performer coming from an artist three decades into his career. – JT

Rating: Lotusflow3r – 6.0/ MPLSound – 6.7

20Ten Prince discography20Ten
(2010; NPG)

The last album Prince released — 2010’s 20Ten — was packaged with a British newspaper and features one of the worst designed covers of any of his releases, which should tell you straightaway that this is a minor Prince release. It’s also an oddly political one, its song lyrics loaded with references to the banking crisis and global warming and other topical concepts. More importantly, it finds Prince bringing the funk of his early ’80s records back. And it’s a refreshing sound to hear, if one that doesn’t quite satisfy the same way those songs did. And there’s a reason for that — these songs just aren’t as good as those on Dirty Mind or Controversy. But for an album that felt more like an afterthought than a proper release, it’s a lot better than it should have been. – JT

Rating: 6.0 out of 10


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