Thursday, April 21, 2016
And it's a masterpiece.
I don't know how many more musical deaths we're going to be confronted with this year, but this is the one that hits hardest of all. And when I finally had a chance to sit down tonight and listen to some of his music, the first song I wanted to hear was "P Control," the "Gold Experience" opener. To this day, it's one of the most outrageous songs that he's ever recorded; in comparison, Kanye West's "Golddigger" sounds like something The Archies might have recorded.
I don't want to say a lot about the song because it would be really cool if lending it a sense of mystery would lead some folks who've never heard it to seek it out, but suffice to say it's of a sexual theme (shocking, I know) and it's accompanied by a beat that even Christgau thought slammed "harder than any hip hop I've heard in years."
And that's the thing about Prince. A couple of decades after the work for which he'll be most remembered by the general public, he was still producing great music. And a lot of it - for crying out loud, "Emancipation" in the late 1990s had 36 songs on it, and there really wasn't a clinker in the entire bunch. That's sure a lot more than The Clash could say about "Sandinista," and that thing won the Pazz & Jop Critics poll, for crying out loud.
Like some of his fellow musical geniuses, Prince never felt the need to provide the public with everything that it wanted, and so there would be times when a stone-cold masterpiece ("Purple Rain") might be followed by an album that was pretty lousy ("Around the World in a Day") followed by an album of maddening inconsistency ("Parade"), capped off by another stone-cold masterpiece ("Sign O' the Times"). And his approach to social media, particularly his obsession with keeping his music off of YouTube, was hard to describe as anything other than self-defeating. And I suppose that one could argue that in his latter years, he got a little self-indulgent.
But in the end, SO WHAT? We forgive artists like Bob Dylan and Neil Young for the dozens of lousy albums that they've made in the course of their careers, and we don't seem to care that the last meaningful music the Rolling Stones made was more than 30 years ago. And hell, the only reason The Beatles never made a lousy album was that they quit while they were ahead. But trust me, it was coming.
Prince was one of the great ones. And by great ones, I mean great like The Beatles, great like Ray Charles, great like the Stones at their best, great like Michael Jackson at his best, great like Jimi Hendrix, great like Bob Dylan, great like The Clash and Bruce Springsteen. And yes, great like Elvis. Really, really great. It doesn't matter whether there was work left in him that could match the best of his work that came before. The point is, there was more Prince music to be heard, and it would have been worth the effort to seek it out and listen.