Monday, July 12, 2010
Few have had as prolific, as storied, and as inconsistent careers as Prince. The Artist is widely considered a genius for his classic works of pop music, but he's delved into just about everything at some point. Being intensely experimental is something that comes hand in hand with being a genius. The flip side of that, however, is that it leads to many duds that mar a career. While we can look back and say with certainty that Purple Rain and Sign o' the Times will stand up to the test of time, remaining classics over twenty years on, the fate of albums such as The Rainbow Children are less clear. Some would call these duds a late career slump, but in Prince's case it's more a lack of editing.
After the infamous name-change-to-an-unpronouncable-symbol incident and Prince's subsequent freedom from record labels, quality control went out the window. It should come as no surprise that things Prince just wasn't able to do before started appearing on record store shelves and not all those things were up to the standards of what a record label would allow him to put out. It's been a long road since then and Prince has been up and down continually. From his expansive three CD set Emancipation celebrating his hard won freedom to the horrific vault compilation Crystal Ball that screwed his fans royally to the attempt at a commercial comeback with Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic that fell flat on its face critically and commercially to his official commercial comeback Musicology.
Since Musicology, it's been mostly an up period, aside from the odd misstep of last year's LotusFlow3r/MPL_Sound/Elixer set. Priced very fairly but ruined by Prince's excess once again, it ended up being two CDs of sub-par Prince material and one of what amounts to history repeating itself, with Prince writing another album for another girl who probably shouldn't be singing. It's best if we forget Elixer like we forgot the album he wrote for Carmen Electra. Suffice it to say, the whole thing was just bad. It had hints of Prince's usual brilliance, as well as a welcome return to a more retro sound, reflecting Prince of the 1980's more and more, but the songwriting wasn't all there.
Thankfully, 20Ten, Prince's latest work, avoids the problems that album had but keeps all the good aspects. The 80's Prince vibe is still here in full force, with synths and 808's straight out of Sign o' the Times. The length is no longer a problem as it runs a comfortable forty minutes. Most of all though, 20Ten is successful because Prince is in vintage form. LotusFlow3r showed you could strap a guitar on Prince's back and it wouldn't necessarily produce great music, while MPL_Sound proved the same for those keyboards and drum machines. Prince has to be in vintage writing form to match the vintage sound for it to truly be successful. That is the winning formula for 20Ten.
It features a funky dance pop sound recalling a mix of Sign o' the Times and 1999. It breaks no new ground, but no one really wants Prince to break ground anymore. We want him to play the classics and make new songs that sound like the classics. Prince has finally produced the album we've been waiting for. He's finally throwing a bone to us long-suffering fans that still gave him a chance even through abominable jazz fusion experiments like NEWS, while pleasing all those that denied him through these years. It's the sort of Prince album that will appeal to most anyone that enjoys his music. The lyrics aren't all there, at one point Prince declaring "from the heart of Minnesota, here come the purple Yoda," though there's much less focus on his Jehovah's witness bullshit than is usual as of late. It mostly focuses on his favorite subjects: sexuality and sensuality, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
The important part is that the songs will fulfill all your funky summer jam needs. Back in the day, songs like "Let's Work," "When You Were Mine," "Play in the Sunshine," etc. would come out every summer and make everyone happy and make them dance. Those days were gone for a long time and seemingly with this album they're back again. Rejoice Prince fans, the artist is taking a backseat to the genius popmeister once again. (A-)