Heard about the party now / Just East o’ Harlem / Doug E.’s gonna be there / But u got 2….call him.
Thus begins the new album Musicology, the latest effort from Minneapolis’ second favorite son, Prince. The title track which kicks off the album is unfortunately the best. I say unfortunately not because the rest of the album is bad by any means, but more simply because you should always bury the best within the album so that listeners get a chance to build up to it. The song is a straightforward funk jam a la the artists he actually performs shoutouts for, namely James Brown, Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Sly & the Family Stone. The only reason I can imagine to put the song first would be to use it as a message, declaring that Prince has not gone anywhere, and can continue to put out damn fine music.
It’s been five long years since Prince’s previous album, Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic, a sleeper album that featured a few gems and not much more. Judging from the new record’s title and the contents of the album itself, Prince has been on educational sabbatical, studying those things that went into his best work in order to recreate it. He has, for the most part, succeeded.
“Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance” is a song that stands alongside his great storytelling songs from the Parade album, telling the tale of a `true funk soldier’ teaching a rich society girl how to dance, prompting the eternal question, Who’s pimpin’ who?. “A Million Days” is as catchy a soul / pop tune as there is. “Life `o’ the Party” is one of Prince’s signature dance / party jams that he seems to feature on almost every record, such as “Housequake” or “Gett Off”.
This is Prince’s first album since he changed his name back from that unpronounceable symbol, so in a way it is a kind of a rebirth. If nothing else, the change causes the song “Call My Name” to make a little more sense. His rebirth not only includes the mining of the past, as in some of the aforementioned songs, but also a dive into politics. Prince has always tackled controversy in the forms of sex, religion, peace, love, corporate America, and gender roles, but never the government. With “Cinnamon Girl” and “Dear Mr. Man”, Prince addresses world politics and specifically G.W. Bush, putting him in the ranks of Radiohead, TV on the Radio, Blur, Pearl Jam, and a host of other acts going all activists on us. At one point Prince tells Bush: We tired U’all! But remember, Prince is a man of contradiction, so alongside his anti-Bush rants are messages from his faith of Jehovah’s Witness.
There is nowhere that Prince returns to form as well as in “The Marrying Kind” and “If Eye Was…The Man in UR Life.” In pre-1999 fashion, Prince plays the Lothario who steals underappreciated women right from under their boyfriends’ noses. Both are musically sound as well, combining a quasi-melodic rap with funk guitar. As is usually the case, Prince plays the majority of instruments on the album, with the exception of some horns and backup vocals.
If Musicology stands for the first step in Prince’s return to his original name, it is an adequate and acceptable one, and an assurance that the man has not strayed too far from his true calling. Prince’s best quality has always been his ability to blur the lines between musical genres, and this album is no exception. With equal parts rock, soul, R&B, hip hop, dance, funk, and jazz, Prince has returned, if not to the top of his game, at least to the summits that let him see how to get back there.
Prince- Sign `o’ the Times
Prince- Around the World in a Day