Here’s a question: did you ever think Prince would make an EDM record? Well, Prince does what he wants, so we got it anyway.
Why? Because no one will ever tell Prince what to do, even if it makes logical sense. The Purple One has been a self-motivated music master since he was 19 and everything he’s done (good and bad) has been by his own hand. This recent decade was very light on new music from Prince until last year when he released two albums of new music: a solo album (Art Official Age) and a pseudo-rock record with his all-female backing band 3RDEYEGIRL (PLECTRUMELECTRUM). Both albums showed familiar sides of Prince, with Art Official Age being the R&B/funk that made Prince a legend and PLECTRUMELECTRUM showing the secret rock and roll side Prince occasionally lets loose. All of these elements that make Prince’s musical concoctions so enjoyable is also why his latest release is all the more confusing.
HITNRUN Phase One is Prince’s 35th studio album, originally meant to be an exclusive release for Jay Z’s Tidal streaming service released September 7th, but hit CD stores and iTunes this past week. It’s an odd record to say the least, almost like a remix/outtakes record from Art Official Age. It even contains a reworked version of the Art Official Age cut “This Could Be Us,” retitled “This Could B Us” because Prince is no stranger to cool spelling. It also features “Fallinlove2nite,” which was originally released as a single with Zooey Deschanel singing background vocals (it was played at the end of Prince’s guest-starring episode of Deschanel’s New Girl show). On this record, “Fallinlove2nite” is all Prince, which actually subtracts the charm of it a bit. “This Could B Us” is just a remix of the Art Official Age cut with a bit more guitar and electronics on it.
The rest of the album is Prince taking a surprise detour in some slightly-aggressive EDM. “Shut This Down” has a thumping beat and slapping bass line, almost as pounding as Prince’s yelling, Pro Tool-assisted vocals. The same goes for “Ain’t About 2 Stop,” with a Middle Eastern tinge to the beat as he continues coming on to women with freaky nonsense (“If your life is the B-side/My dream is the A/I got a rockstar salad crusher can-o-trick-away”). That line and the song may have worked if he was crooning, but he’s too aggressive and in-your-face for it to be enjoyable (and Rita Ora singing backup doesn’t help either). “X’s Face” has a cool beat, but it’s more of Prince spouting nonsense (he ends with telling his girl to “take that banana”) and it all goes nowhere. “Mr. Nelson” features more snippets from Art Official Age while Prince throws in some shining synths, bass drum beats and some enjoyable guitar work.
But even on a record that as a whole can be disappointing, Prince still throws listeners a bone or two. “1000 X’s & O’s” is the smoothest and best song here with a laid back R&B groove and Prince finding that vocal sweet spot that made last year’s “Breakfast Can Wait” one of the best songs Prince made in nearly 20 years. Prince also nearly tricks listeners by inserting snippets of “Let’s Go Crazy” and “1999” in the beginning of album opener “Million $ Show,” but he still manages to get the energy going on its own with Judith Hill bringing some soul to the vocals as the funky bass and smooth guitar get things going. Despite a title like “Like A Mack” being 20 years old, Prince and rapper Curly Fryz get a good groove going with chirping guitars and a solid saxophone breakdown.
HITNRUN Phase One doesn’t sound like a carefully crafted album Prince had full mastering on, but more like one of those throwaway albums he made to get out of his old Warner Bros. Records contract in the 90s. The majority of the album has songs feel incomplete or out of touch for the Purple One. Maybe he put this out to bring more attention to Tidal as it slowly slides out of public consciousness. Prince’s work ethic is still impeccable, no question, but eccentricity does not always equal excellence. Would it be a weird request to ask Prince to maybe tone it down a little?