Review l Prince - Originals
Fifteen songs in length, Originals presents a variety of Prince-penned tracks that were recorded from 1981 to 1991.
Posthumous releases are always a mixed bag. At times, they can consist of underwhelming demos, B-sides that are poorly mixed, or sloppily written, or minutely altered songs. On the flipside, they can just as well provide exciting ventures into thought-provoking takes and enamoring "what ifs". Fans and critics endure a feast of excitement before the release date and possibly affirmed hope (or cardiac affliction) afterwards. For an artist of Prince’s legacy, the expectations of reward or failure are doubled, even if it is hard to judge him after his death. Like the successful Piano and a Microphone 1983 demos album before it, Originals aims to showcase more of Prince’s never before heard artistic curiosity-albeit in a more refined and adventurous fashion. But how well does it accomplish this feat?
Fifteen songs in length, Originals presents a variety of Prince-penned tracks that were recorded from 1981 to 1991. With the exception of “Nothing Compares 2 U”, all the songs were released during that decade by musicians other than Prince, like Kenny Rogers, The Time, and Martika. As opposed to the polished but elementary Piano and a Microphone 1983, the tracks in Originals have a greater sense of completion and style. The quality of sound is crisp and a variety of genres are covered from top to bottom. Sonic-wise, one can expect the colorful and beat skipping, dance rock of the Minneapolis Sound in tracks like “Sex Shooter”, where the seamless yet tight interchange between the keyboard and synthesizer is perpetually stomping hard on the melody. Of course, there is also the whimsically sad venting of “Manic Monday” running from boredom until Sunday, and the cool and humorous “Jungle Love” showing off flirtatious chops. As with other albums, Prince’s ability to find “the beat in between the beat” and mix and match influences from Marvin Gaye to James Brown is, as Miles Davis remarks, part of what makes listening to this album enjoyable; the perpetual beat drop and conglomeration of genres makes it irresistible not to follow along with your hips. In a similar vein, there is also a sensibility and simplicity of letting out one’s own emotion in hopeless situations, like in “Noon Rendezvous” or “Nothing Compares 2 U”. Being able to switch from dance to distress has always been a strength of Prince, and it is no exception on Originals. It feels like (and should) a true Prince album, rather than a posthumous release.
Lyrically, Prince has always been a pioneer of dirty talk - though it is less frequent on this album, you still have songs where Prince sings “I'm a sex shooter, come and play with my affection”. Such lyrics allude first to orgasm (whether his or fellow band member Apollonia’s is the question) and second, to titillation with the audience or with her (see above). On the other hand, Prince was also capable of showing his more sensitive side when he truly felt. This sensitivity near the end is captured by the strongest moment of the album in “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?”. The song showcases a rare look at Prince’s songwriting before debuting, as it was originally recorded in 1976 but kept getting re-recorded during the '80s. “Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me” switches to a naive side of Prince as seen in his earlier pre-Dirty Mind years. It expresses a teenage Prince’s innocent and wishful look at love while simultaneously battling lust as expressed by the lines “Baby, I'm not ready yet, to give you any part of me, I don't want to tease you”. This swirling battle between two lovers became a more prominent topic as Prince matured and experienced it in his own life, as epitomized in other songs like “Eye Hate U” from The Gold Experience (1995) and “When Doves Cry” from Purple Rain (1984). Needless to say, Originals stays close to home lyrically - as on previous Prince releases there is an emphasis on the experiences of love, sex and dancing.
While a mostly a great album, Originals does run up against some problems with consistency and pacing once the middle section of the album starts playing. There is the questionable inclusion of “Make-Up” that sounds more like a sound experiment than an actual song. The longer length tracks start stacking up around this mid section and drag the pace down. Songs like “100 MPH”, “Holly Rock”, and “Love… Thy Will Be Done”, whilst not bad, feel out of place in the album and unfocused compared to the beginning tracks. Regarding this, one can clearly hear the inconsistency when listening to the album in order from top to bottom. When put together with the rest, the middle songs seem like filler that have some glimpses of magic, but overall lack the killer execution that the beginning tracks had; fortunately, the last few songs pick up the slack and leave a positive impression.
Prince’s Originals is a worthwhile experience that offers some brilliant tracks that would have been hits if they had been released during their original recording. The energy and conciseness throughout most of the album make it almost effortless to get into the groove. The middle section, while not bad, pales in comparison with the starting and ending parts of the album, making it slower to listen to when going from top to bottom. Nevertheless, as a whole, it remains one of the most exciting and refreshing albums released in 2019 so far.
Best Song: Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?
Worst Song: Make-Up