Album review: PRINCE – Originals

PRINCE - Originals

Warner Brothers Records [Release date 07.06.19 exclusively on Tidal, 21.06.2019 CD, vinyl, streaming]

In this multi-platform, content driven age it would be hard to imagine an artist ever producing too much material but such were his prolific studio habits, that was exactly the position Prince found himself in the 1980s.

Warner Brothers quite rightly limited Prince to an album a year and so with excess music still pouring out of him, he started farming songs out to other acts. Now the latest offering from the Prince Estate collects his original purple-ly versions of songs that came out under different artists.

Material given to Prince’s protégés, or associated artists, often reflected different sides of his personality that he was unable to showcase himself because, despite being a recognised pusher of boundaries, in the early 80s he was still pushing for mainstream acceptance as a rock God and his more esoteric indulgences didn’t fit his brand.

Take ‘Sex Shooter’ which kicks off proceedings, this dirty slice of synth pop was tailor made for Vanity 6 (later Apollonia 6), a camisole wearing trio of female sauce pots. Prince’s demo doesn’t deviate from the version that would eventually end up in the movie, Purple Rain and its lyrics like “No girls body can compete with mine”, are striking in how at ease Prince is in creating a female persona.

Also filed under this category is another Vanity 6 cut, ‘Make-Up’, in which Prince assumes the role of a woman making her-self look alluring for a rendezvous with a lover. With a monotone, spoken word vocal delivery and an electronic sound calling to mind Devo, the two minute twenty six interlude is gloriously odd and could sit by other gender fluid Prince tracks like, ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’.

Another persona, unseen by the masses but familiar to die-hards was Prince the pimp; Prince explored the nastier, funkier side of his persona through R&B band, The Time.

Sporting zoot suits and fronted by childhood friend Morris Day, The Time veered off into comedic territory Prince and The Revolution couldn’t touch. On ‘Originals’ we’re granted Prince’s guide vocals for Day on party classic, ‘Jungle Love’ and hilarious ballad, ‘Gigolos Get Lonely Too’.

Neither of these songs would go through many changes before finding their way on to The Time records. ‘Gigolos’ is particularly enjoyable and surpasses the previously released version, since Morris Day was never quite comfortable singing slower romantic numbers while Prince could coo alluringly in his sleep.

‘Manic Monday’ and ‘You’re My Love’ are slightly different prospects and represent songs that Prince sent out of his camp to independently established artists. ‘Manic Monday’, conceived for Apollonia 6 but ultimately left off their album, obviously has all the makings of a feel good pop hit even in this raw form but The Bangles would go on to add their own unique flavour to it. ‘

You’re My Love’, a breezy ditty sang in Prince’s chest voice, could slide onto one of Prince’s first two albums easily but the song eventually found its way to Kenny Rogers in 1986. This might seem an odd fit, but Rogers had already found success collaborating with Lionel Richie on ‘Lady’ and the decade found him breaking out of the country box in to pop territory, so reaching out to Prince is not so odd in context.

Far from just being curios there is some truly high end material on offer. ‘Love, Thy Will Be Done’, written for Martika, is a heavily bootlegged track amongst the Prince community but doubtless fans will be thrilled to have it in pristine quality. The spiritual and dream-like song features gorgeous stacked harmonies and sits proudly amongst other Prince Gospel standards like ‘Still Would Stand All Time’.

‘100 MPH’ was offered to fellow Minneapolis funksters, Mazarati and is a monster groove; beginning with a clattering bombastic intro, the guitar heavy track is the sort of number many performers would kill for but Prince gave it away!

Closing out matters is Prince’s most famous cast off, ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’. The first release of ‘Nothing Compares’ was as a 1985 album track for Prince protégé project, The Family – essentially Prince’s brand of pop with a jazz element thrown in and a pretty white boy fronting.

The song would have remained largely forgotten by anyone other than ardent “purple peeps” were it not for Prince’s former manager recalling it and offering it to new client Sinead O’Connor in 1990. Prince’s original version is a sincere and heartfelt torch song, with an emotive sax solo from long-time Prince collaborator, Eric Leeds.

‘Originals’ strikes a positive note for the future of Prince posthumous releases. Previous efforts have been mired in controversy about not being sourced from the original master or being of minimal interest to anyone but the hardcore but it’s hard to argue with ‘Originals’ mission statement.

Serving not only as an educational tool, highlighting Prince’s versatility, ‘Originals’ is sequenced like a genuine album and with a little imagination, the listener could almost believe this was an unheard album put together by Prince himself. ****

Review by Phillip Beamon


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