VARIOUS ARTISTS (Compiled by DAVID TOOP) – Ocean of Sound (1996)

ASSIGNED BY THE HOST: Great Compilation Albums
Review by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez

Something sounds while you walk by. It will keep sounding even when you are not there, and your mind will have been attracted to something else.

Or maybe not. Maybe your mind is still remembering and playing with what you heard earlier.

In the classical music paradigm, a musical piece was something that developed in time. It went to places. It changed, evolved, and in the apex of the symphonic language’s growth in the 19th century, even direct repetition was frowned upon, because it made no sense to embark on a journey to get back where one started. It was an object, and a narrative, the soundtrack of an era where progress was king and the end of knowledge was theorized to be near.

David Toop’s book “Ocean of Sound”, for which this compilation servers as a soundtrack of sorts, deals with the opposite of that. The lazy description would be that it deals with ambient music and similar, but actually it talks about a kind of music that transcends genres; a music that seems to be in a sort of stasis. And so we find here ambient, yes, but also classical music, jazz (free and fusion), musique concrète,treated field recordings (many by Toop himself), rock, electronica… and well known names such as Les Baxter, Holger Czukay, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis (both at their most electric), My Bloody Valentine, Harold Budd, John Cage, and of course Brian Eno.

The best thing about this compilation is the sequencing. Every track flows seamlessly into the next (so much that in some cases an element that wasn’t there before, such as a vocal, prompted me to see that, yes, it was another track, and on a more attentive listening it was apparent that actually the entire instrumentation was different yet I had not noticed). As minimalist music gives way to recordings of chimes, as boat horns and wildlife get juxtaposed with experimental jazz, we understand how time works here. We are not witnessing a journey. We are taking a walk. Our surroundings change – but not with any sense of inevitability. The music is not the same as a minute ago, but in the same way that it changed like this, it could have changed any other way, and yet there’s not a lack of cohesion.

A good summation could be the Ornette Coleman track included. It’s not directed anywhere per se. But even if we could say it’s directionless, it’s not aimless. It’s beautiful music that simply “is”. But if you are preparing yourself to be awash in a sea of rhythmic fluidity and aural massage, the tracklist is subversive since the start, as the album begins with King Tubby’s dub reggae – by no means a kind of music lacking in pulse – and settles for a while in a groove provided by Herbie Hancock first and Aphex Twin later before moving to stiller places just when you thought you were in the coolest club ever. Notice however how the stasis Toop mentioned is still there – all three songs sound like they are moving but in reality they are not actually going anywhere.

The inclusion of Debussy’s “Prélude a l’après-midi d’un faune” is a given since Toop sees him as the genesis of 20th century music, and it’s interesting that in the company of the other tracks, this composition, which at its time was revolutionary in that it seemed to paint a still picture – none of the “telling a story” pretensions of Lisztian tone poems – sounds like having a lot of movement in comparison. It works a bit less with the included Velvet Underground song, which I think has too much of a traditional dynamic to fit. In that regard I think the My Bloody Valentine selection works much better. It’s also curious to hear the well-known “Fire” theme from the Beach Boys’ “Smile” here – actually in its Smiley Smile “Fall Breaks and Back to Winter” guise, no doubt because it was the only official version of it at the time of the compilation – and noticing how well it works.

By now I think it’s clear that I like the album. That I recommend the album. Maybe you did not make an impression from my words. It’s all right – just go listen to it if you can. After all, to paraphrase Brian Eno’s manifesto, much of this music can be as ignorable as it is interesting. As background noise I far prefer it to TV. But do listen.

Summing up will make me sound like I was getting somewhere, which defeats the entire philosophy of the sonic ocean.

So I just keep on walking.

THE WAILIN’ JENNYS – Bright Morning Stars (2011)

Review by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Album assigned by: Graham Warnken

I was going to start this review by pointing out how the fact that the name of the group was a convoluted pun on Waylon Jennings was probably the most interesting thing there was to say about them! Truth is I originally found Bright Morning Stars to be massively soporific, to the extent that I had to force myself to listen to it all the way through. And it’s no understatement to say that I really struggled to summon up any kind of enthusiasm for it. But before I continue on my way to the eventual denouement of this little tale, let me give you at least a smidgen of background on the band itself. 

The Wailin’ Jennys are a female vocal harmony trio in the country-folk-roots mould. They hail from Canada — the band was formed in Winnipeg on the Eastern edge of the wide Canadian Prairies — and the record, Bright Morning Stars, their fourth album, was first released in 2011. My first few listens I’ll admit to having them down as the kind of placid, overly sincere music that you might associate with say a feminist knitting circle, or a tiresome but particularly self-satisfied coffee shop. It’s not that I have any kind of problem with country music or folksy americana (set aside for the moment the fact that it’s Canadians that made this) in general: no, not at all. Indeed a lot of my favourite music would easily fit that description, or at least fall within the overall sphere of influence of those genres. It’s just, well, I couldn’t escape the whiff of cliche emanating from the album, and I found it to be an awfully dreary and generic affair at first — but let me emphasise that ‘at first’ here. 

But even more than that, I was put off by the fact that the whole album seemed stuck in a sort of low energy trap, which isn’t much help when you consider that — and realise I am in no way proud of this — my main mode of listening to music nowadays is over headphones at work. And, well, I have enough problems concentrating on anything for more than a few minutes during working hours anyway, so the additional torpor induced by Bright Morning Stars made it a challenge to get through, especially on balmy afternoons with the sunlight streaming in through the blinds. I was after something much more ‘stimulating’ and so felt slightly resentful that I had to listen to the record and at least try and be half-way fair to it for the review.

Like I said this was originally gonna be a dismissive review, but at certain point my subconscious intervened and took a firm stand on behalf of these three mellifluous if lethargic folk maidens. It happened one morning, round about dawn, that I was in that strange and vulnerable hypnopompic state of mind between sleep and wakefulness, when I heard, or more accurately was haunted by the sensation of, a serene chorus of female voices, siren voices, singing a song that was so comfortingly familiar it was as if I’d known it for years. Except I hadn’t known it for years, I’d known it for about a week or so; waking up with the residue of those blissful voices still ringing in my mind, it took me a minute or so before I realised where it was I’d heard that song before — at which point I was fairly taken aback. I mean I certainly hadn’t expected to be won over so quickly, and my mind become suddenly so attuned to a record that just the day before I’d struggled to listen to all the way through. Where I had previously perceived an insubstantiality to Bright Morning Stars, an insipidity that seemed reflective of mediocrity and a lack of imagination, I now found myself listening to music that was weightless — yes — but that also sounded graceful and inspired: the melodies were not lukewarm and aimless, as I had first taken them to be, instead, transformed by time and the deeper workings of the brain, I appreciated and was able to applaud their delicacy and refinement. 
Folk music is at its best when it sounds timeless — especially, that is, when the songs themselves are new; that’s the craft. Each record, each performance, is supposed to fit seamlessly into the tradition, so as to ensure that there aren’t any jolts of the sort that used to occur every so often in rock and pop. Indeed once upon a time rock music and popular music used to thrive off of breaks in continuity, these challenges to the old order, only to emerge energised and newly relevant to yet another generation of young people. And so it would seem that the strength of folk music lies in precisely the type of continuity that rock and pop music once used to spurn; it’s not that folk music doesn’t progress at all, but that it’s always at a far more stalely pace. Pondering over these thoughts I asked myself if that which I had initially identified as the Jennies’ genericity — and that I took such an immediate reaction against — might not in the end actually be a point of strength. What matters in the end, at least as far as the genre is concerned, is the deeper resonance of the music, and on that score the Jennies are startlingly successful; they’re a revelation. The tl:dr, then, is that the Wailin’ Jennies are responsible for some very fine music here (in all senses of the word fine): music that manages to seep down into your subconscious and make itself absolutely at home there, without your really realising it and, maybe without you really wanting it — after all what if you don’t like knitting circles and self satisfied autumnal coffee shops — and isn’t there something a bit sinister and even a bit frightening about that? (8/10)

CHRIS CUTLER & FRED FRITH – 2 Gentlemen in Verona (2000)

Review by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

Cutler & Frith are a pair of avant-garde rock musicians and multi-instrumentalists, who gathered in the city of Verona to do some live improvisations. This album was a result of that concert, and was then named after one of the lesser-known Shakespeare plays. The track listing pays further homage to that play, as all tracks are titled “Act X, Scene Y” and have subtitles that reference characters and actions as well. Having never seen the play, I cannot say how tight those references are, though.

The “acts” by themselves don’t seem particularly consistent. Act 1 is composed of three “scenes” featuring the duo on the instruments that made them notable, drums for Chris and guitar for Fred. It was a good session of noise-making, overall. The first two scenes in Act 2 feature non-verbal vocals, screeching guitars and a tighter percussion, for a very dark and intense effect. The act mellows out and turns electronic on the third “scene”, unfortunately, and while it later gains on intensity and features some cool guitar wailing, it never follows up on the earlier vibes. I guess that is the flaw of improv music in general, while they touch many good ideas, they don’t carry them till the end.

Acts 3 and 4 are very similar to each other, with the jazziest percussion. Given that they consist of a single track each, they really should have been a single act. Act 5 starts as a sort of sound collage, but then turns into a military march. The encore is bluesy, and perhaps the best thing here after the early Act 2. Frith is a good guitarist, but he plays very little guitar in this album. The main “attraction”, to me, was Cutler’s beats, great throughout the record, and notable particularly as the saving point in the weaker tracks.

Listening to this live, watching the two gents perform all that crazy stuff, would be a great experience. Listening to this in my house hampers the immersion, and I can’t really enjoy this more than an interesting oddity.

THE STOOGES – Metallic K.O. (1976)

Review by: Charly Saenz

First thing I love about this album: it was recorded by a fan friend with an open reel machine: Cool. 

Want more? It began its story as a bootleg, in 1976, an important year as Punk scene was just getting stronger. And yes, many listeners will find Punk colors here, but beyond the attitude (and the “explicit” lyrics), what I find here is pure rock and roll.

I hear Jerry Lee Lewis, I hear the Doors (I would almost expect an “I’ve got my mojo risin'” on “Head On”), lots of raw rawk, no prisoners taken.

“Gimme Danger” is the kind of song you buy an album for. Its mid tempo is hot, it’s menacing, as Iggy, like a tired but anxious monster sings “There’s nothing in my dreams/Just some ugly memories”.. 

The thing is, obviously the Stooges had some massive fun onstage, and they didn’t give a damn for anything except to play and play. Harder, dirtier. That’s the spirit (“There’s not enough chaos in music”, said Jim M.), that’s what you do when you’re into this rock and roll business; you have fun, you have your say, and eventually they’ll come to you, the fans, the believers. Even if it takes years to find out you ever existed.. 

And that’s how you get stuff like “Rich Bitch”, a song that is almost built brick by brick.. Live. Because it wouldn’t work, the guys just kept missing the beat; but you have Iggy and he’ll make it work, right? Incredibly long, but who cares? This is a serious bootleg, that’s all. 

And there at the very end you get the “Louie Louie” we can only expect from Iggy and his partners. Three minutes of pure blood and sparks, a repetitive guitar, a somehow misplaced piano playing to fill in holes.. Not a plan here, indeed. We’re going nowhere, we’re just rocking. Gimme more. 

Nah, that’s more than enough. Probably the only live albums that should exist are bootlegs, after all. And seven songs long, and let’s go home.

Play it loud, baby.

DENIM – Back in Denim (1992)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

I am not familiar with Felt or any of Lawrence’s other work, and had not heard this one before. I have to admit right away that this album did not work for me. The album, released in the early 90’s deliberately harkens back to late 70’s new wave, and the vocals quite obviously imitate Lou Reed’s early work (think “I Feel Free”). The result is harmless enough. There is nothing that grates me. As far as poppy guitar driven new wave style music goes, it has decent hooks. The main problem with it for me is that the singer honestly gets on my nerves. The word “pastiche” comes to mind. This, to me anyway, seems like a fabricated attempt to recreate a sound from an earlier era, but lacking in the energy and creativity of the original. The lyrics certainly have their humorous moments, but the snarkiness and irony seems forced and wears a bit thin after a while.  
So, in summary my opinion of this album is lukewarm. Not bad, but not something I will go back to.

BOREDOMS – Pop Tatari (1992)

Review by: Dominic Linde
Album assigned by: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Pop Tatari starts off with a track called “Noise Ramones”, which sounds nothing like the Ramones. The thing with Boredoms is comparisons don’t work with them. They don’t sound like anybody. However, like the Ramones in 1976, Boredoms is a revolution. Only they have been for decades, and nobody seems to have noticed.

Trying to make sense of this album is a fruitless endeavor, as it jumps from bouts of noise to explosions of sound to bursts of audio. Yelping gives way to extremely distorted guitars which are proceeded by multi-layered percussion. Boredoms has a penchant for the arbitrary, and listening to this album brings to mind experimental excursions such as Faust’s The Faust Tapes and Frank Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy. Compositions are fragmented (and are likely not usually compositions but more probably jams) and stop abruptly. New ideas seemingly come from nowhere. Once you start to figure out a fragment, another interrupts your thoughts.

Boredoms have more structured albums (Super AE being an exceptional example) and those with a more flowing emotion/ambience, but this album has the element of surprise. It’s fun because you never know what the next sound to emit from your speakers will be, and it’s exciting both because it touches places all over the musical spectrum and because it’s mixed in a raw and powerful way. Boredoms always sound like a collective letting loose emotionally and physically, and Pop Tatari is no exception. It’s about as wild as they get, and it’s enthralling.

Top 6 Jukebox: PRINCE

By Fahad Khan, Dinar Khayrutdinov and Roland Bruynesteyn

Fahad Khan

One of the hardest things to writing about Prince’s music is in knowing just where to start, after all, the fecundity of the man’s creative faculties can very often leave you at a loss: I can’t tell you how hard it’s been to try and describe his music, and the effect that it’s had on me, in the space of just a few paragraphs here. The purple one’s talents, extravagant as they were, tended to manifest themselves as a super-abundance, not only in terms of the prolific nature of his output — and in later years, or so it’s claimed, he suffered from an inability to edit himself, his compulsion to producing music far overtaking his judgement and paralysing his sense of quality control — but also in terms of the multiplicity and diversity of the sources of his inspiration, all of which he managed to yoke together to make a seamless whole. You see, the man had a fantastic disregard for the whole plethora of conventions and (binary) norms that had grown up around popular music in the post war era — with the boundaries between different genres like soul, funk, rock, jazz, and the blues, with what is white music and what is black music, essentially — but not just: he also was more than happy to play around with racial and sexual preconceptions and fixed notions as well (which open mindedness around sex he was later to repudiate almost totally after becoming a Jehovah’s Witness). Those types of rules and conventions were all well and fine, insofar as they enabled lesser mortals to orient themselves this hostile, essentially alien existence of ours, but for Prince they just got in the way of his muse. 

At the end of the day, Prince’s genius — what it was that lifted his status as a musician a rank above that of the merely outrageously talented — lay in his ability to make it all look so ridiculously easy, that musical high-wire act of his, like complete child’s play in fact. The fact is that regardless of just how far Prince may have pushing the envelope from a musicological point of view, he was still composing pop music: and pop music which the wider public consumed rapturously in its millions. That singular and prodigious gift of his would lead him on to release a series of dazzling pop masterpieces that not only allowed him to dominate the mainstream musical scene of the 80s — and in this his only real peers back then were Madonna and Michael Jackson, neither of whom had anything even distantly approaching Prince’s musical chops — but he also made drooling fanboys out of serious music critics and pop culture intellectuals too and won him the acclaim of chin stroking musos everywhere.   

Listening to some of Prince’s best stuff now, you want to ask yourself why it still sounds so vital and urgent, why it is that more than 30 years on it still sounds so fucking futuristic? Prince may have prematurely ended his earthly (purple) reign but the freshness and vibrancy of his music is undimmed and testament to the vigor and intensity of his talent.
Starfish and Coffee
Prince’s genius at its most effortless. ‘Starfish and Coffee’ is brittle and shiny and achingly soulful all at the same time: a joyous ode to non-conformity, eccentricity,  and the spiritual necessity of embracing otherness, it represents just one of the numerous career highlights that Prince’s legendary double album, ‘Sign O’ the Times’, has to offer — standing for the moment in his career where his manic prolificacy managed to temporally attain a state of complete and perfect equilibrium with his extraordinary pop nous. The brief trrrrrrrrrrrrrrilling of the alarm clock immediately sets the scene and you’re back in the schoolyard, ready to go off and pull some wee girl’s hair. Prince, sincere and wide eyed, is completely at his ease in this adolescent milieu. The vulnerability in his voice, the delicacy and the tenderness of sentiment, are accentuated by the repetition of the bluesy piano figure and the whooshing backward-drums, the backward rush of nostalgia.

Let’s Go Crazy
The opening song to what everyone says is Prince’s greatest album — and for once everyone is completely right — Purple Rain’s mushrooming reputation allowed it very quickly to outgrow its original, slightly utilitarian, status as the soundtrack to a fairly dull and unremarkable film. ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, an electrified fusion of gospel, rock, blues and soul, serves as the perfect entrée to this revolutionary suite of songs dedicated to the redemptive power of sex and sex and rock and roll (yeah you read the right, the drink and the drugs, it seems, were completely out of the picture). Make no mistake Let’s Go Crazy is a call to arms: it’s all about sensuality and the libido as a means to personal and social liberation, or at least that was the thinking way back then. That kind of utopianism never lasts long anyway, but the music and the art endures. Really I could have picked almost any song from the album as one of my six, since Purple Rain has a pretty much peerless selection (Take Me With You, Darling Nikki, When Doves Cry). In the end though, Let’s Go Crazy wins just because, being the first song on the first Prince album I ever bought, it was the beginning to my appreciation of the great man. 

Kiss manages to be simultaneously the cutting edge of funk, the cutting edge of soul, and the cutting edge of rock — not bad for what is, in the end, really ‘just’ a pop song. Kiss’s jagged, juddering Princely minimalism sounds like a reinvigoration, or better still a purification, pop music pared down to its most ritualistic — that little judder you hear repeated throughout the song is the shudder of orgasm. Sparse in its instrumentation but utterly impeccable in its elegance and urbanity. Because it’s one thing the irresistible momentum and poise of the rhythm, but Kiss also gives you Prince’s voice at its most delicate and seductive, that quiet serenade, scarcely more powerful than a breath and delivered with an remarkable degree of intimacy.  

Alphabet Street
A perfect example of Prince’s all out fearlessness (not to speak of all out freshness) when it came to putting his songs together. The rhythm is breathtaking in its audacity, and the guitar line, especially, is off the scale: play this song a few times on a loop a few times just to get the full how in the fuck did he think of that effect. And best of all, as the engorged, horny pony squeal that kicks off the song testifies, it’s remarkably perverted too, even for Prince — in the most wholesomely hedonistic sense of the word of course. I mean, come on, how often do you see such flamboyance and charisma wedded to such jaw dropping musical virtuosity? The occasions are few and far between, although Hendrix comes most readily to mind. If the true genius of pop is to teach you to never ever settle for the mediocre, the commonplace, then Alphabet Street is shockingly, disarmingly effective.

Raspberry Beret
An all conquering, stomping, candy pop juggernaut of a song. Raspberry Beret wins you over right from the very first pulse beat of the intro, and from then it doesn’t take long for the song to finally explode into full iridescent life, transitioning into the aural equivalent of a peacock’s train. Although it’s driven on by the urgency of lust and an all-embracing hunger for sensory pleasure, Raspberry Beret’s core is a bittersweet one: pangs of tenderness and nostalgia and perhaps also that thing called regret, an acknowledgement that the hunt after novelty comes at the expense of having to always start over again.

Diamonds and Pearls
I went for one of Prince’s dreamiest, most gorgeous ballads as my final choice. To hear people talk sometimes you’d think that Prince was some kind of debauched idiot savant completely out of touch with everyday reality: that he was only capable of dealing in the most far out and deviant feelings and emotions. And it’s true that he did sing about those quite often, but he sung about normal stuff too, even if it was often in the most special way. In Diamonds and Pearls he takes on the role of indigent lover, unable to offer his beloved anything beyond the purity of his devotion and his promises for the future; strange that one of his most magical, sumptuous songs came with such an ostensibly humble message.

Dinar Khayrutdinov

Prince is quite possibly one of the most underrated artists in pop music. A great songwriter, an amazing multi-instrumentalist musician, an unbelievably productive entertainer, a fantastic singer and a godlike guitar player. He is often compared to Michael Jackson and I do see some grounds for that; however, a much better comparison would be David Bowie or Jimi Hendrix. Though he made unquestionably mainstream music, Prince rarely followed trends, instead preferring to set them for other artists to follow. His absolutely unique music blended R’n’B, funk, synth-pop, soul, rock and blues in a way nobody had ever tried to blend these genres before. Not to mention that he was so musically talented that he would often record albums ALL BY HIMSELF, by literally playing every fucking instrument available. Frankly, Prince is just so HUGE that for a long time I did not know how to approach this review at all, let alone single out six (only six!) songs out of his enormous catalogue (which I haven’t even yet heard in its entirety).

But anyway, here is my humble take on Prince’s career (mostly the 80s part of it) in the form of my top 6 Prince songs. Mind you, I had to limit myself to not more than one song per album, otherwise I would have never been able to do this. And I also allowed myself to cheat just very slightly and in each case name several other tracks I like from the albums I mention. I can’t resist it, sorry, I just love the man’s music so much.

6. Dance On (Lovesexy, 1988)
This song amazes me just for the sheer amount of things going on in it – all the insanely weird sounds, changes of melody, complex drumming and production gimmicks that make your head twirl when you listen to this. It is sort of industrial rock meets dance pop, if you can actually imagine such a thing. The evil menacing synth riff suddenly turns into shiny poppy chorus, then back to menacing grinding, then turns into a whirlwind of sounds. It’s absolutely crazy but it somehow works for me. Other highlights of the album: “Eye No”, “Alphabet St.”, “Glam Slam”.

5. Slow Love (Sign o’ the Times, 1987)
This great soul ballad is my pick from Sign o’ the Times – the most epic of Prince’s releases. It’s rather conventional but it’s absolutely inspired and has tons of feeling. Love the vocals, love the jazzy horn section and the beautiful atmosphere. ‘Nuff said. Other highlights of the album: “Sign o’ the Times”, “Starfish and Coffee”, “Strange Relationship”, “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”, “The Cross”, “Adore”.

4. Do It All Night (Dirty Mind, 1980)
Prince’s third album is arguably his first truly great one and very possibly his most groundbreaking album, because it was here that he introduced that classic ‘Minneapolis sound’ – Prince’s own brand of synth-heavy pop-funk with the amazing use of bass and occasional Satriani-like guitar soloing. This song is one of the best examples of this style, with an infectious synth riff that you won’t be able to get out of your head soon, a cool bass-driven rhythm, some soulful singing and of course Prince’s gloriously lewd lyrics. Other highlights of the album: “Dirty Mind”, “When You Were Mine”, “Uptown”.

3. Little Red Corvette (1999, 1982)
Pop, soul and funk are great, sure, but personally I am a rock guy. Did Prince have rock songs as well? Sure, and what rock songs! This amazing track from Prince’s first double album, 1999, is one of his (not so numerous) straightforward rock songs but GOD DOES IT DELIVER. The atmosphere, the imagery, the fantastic guitar tone, the wonderful double-entendre filled lyrics – and we have us an all-time classic. Not to mention that the guitar solo here is to die for – that part of it that starts at 1:55 is among my all-time favorite moments in the entire rock history. This is no joke. Amazing song, full of unmatched passion and pure sexual energy. Other highlights of the album: “1999”, “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”, “Lady Cab Driver”.

2. I Wanna Be Your Lover (Prince, 1979)
An early hit, but what a great one. This one is at the same time a heavenly pop song and a heavenly funk track (if you listen to the album version). It begins with some amazing synth/guitar interplay (again, good luck getting this hook out of your head) and exactly halfway through turns into a killer funk jam! Groovy as hell, the musicianship is a real highlight here. Play this song at a party and you get six minutes of fantastic dance music. Other highlights of the album: “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”, “Sexy Dancer”, “Bambi”.

1. Purple Rain (Purple Rain, 1984)
Whoa, the big one. Seriously – how could ANYTHING BUT this song take the No 1 spot? It might not be the most quintessential Prince song music-wise (cause it’s not funky), but it is an anthem to everything Prince stood for – sexual freedom, music, beauty and courage of being different. ‘Gorgeous’, ‘epic’, ‘majestic’, ‘transcendental’ are the words that don’t even begin to describe this song but that’s the closest I can come up with to what I feel when I hear it. It closes Prince’s greatest album on a triumphantly satisfying note. This is his “A Day in the Life”, his “Bohemian Rhapsody”, his “Stairway to Heaven”. His “Purple Rain”. Other highlights of the album: EVERYTHING on it, literally. “Purple Rain” is a perfect record if there ever was one.

Roland Bruynesteyn

Prince is to disco and funk what Steely Dan is to somewhat jazzy pop music:
  • intricate rhythm charts
  • somewhat sleezy lyrics
  • technical virtuosity by (all) musicians
  • revered by colleagues
  • writing, arranging, performing and production all done by the artist: independently pursuing his vision
  • a level of sophistication that makes for repeated listening, even if the actual melody seems perceptively simple on first hearing.
On top of that he’s an outstanding guitar player and he’s very productive. Whatever he sometimes lacks in quality control, he more than makes up for with the amount of good ideas and his sheer output of good dance pop that more or less defines the genre for the last thirty years.

Disco and funk is not my preferred genre, and one thing I don’t like about his music is his signature synthetic hand clap (to my ears even more annoying than the typical Phil Collins drum break in most of his hits from the 80’s and 90’s). Still, when he’s good, he’s very good. Parliament/Funkadelic mixed with Jimi Hendrix is one way of putting it, and it has been put like this often…. Although he peaked in the 80’s, most of his later work is interesting, if you allow for his chosen genre.

Temptation (Around the World in a Day, 1985)
Prince does blues! The handclaps and his singing may make you recognize it as a Prince song, but otherwise this is totally unlike him. Paradoxically, this goes for many of his album tracks, that often differ greatly from the hit singles. Ruining his vocal chords, driving bass, soaring guitar (and sax).

Sometimes it Snows in April (Parade, 1986)
You have to have a ballad in your list of great Prince songs, and it might as well be this one. Nice melody, great use of acoustic guitar and piano (always better in ballads I think) and stunning vocal delivery. It’s simple, comforting and sad in a not too depressing way. Try to listen to this somewhere, or rather buy the album. If you buy the cheap 5cd set (Original Album Series) you only need Sign o’ the times, and possibly Musicology as a later work.

I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man (Sign o’ the Times, 1987)
How could one not include a song from Sign o’ the Times, his early career high, and probably his White album in terms of variety in song writing. This song just sounds so happy and energetic, white at the same time somewhat sad, considering the theme. The song more or less condenses all the lyrics of all his songs in the whole of his career, set to a great tune and with great guitar work. After grudgingly admiring his singles off Purple rain, and much preferring him over Michael Jackson in the 80’s, this was the song that more or less made me a fan, or at least someone who followed his career. The album version has a long outro that shows his production skills and his guitar work.
Strollin’ > Willing and Able (Diamonds and Pearls, 1991)
These two songs again show his great command of different musical styles and his great arranging and production skills. Strolling is a romantic jazzy number, complete with walking bass, Fender Rhodes, subtle electric guitar and jazz drumming, sung with a falsetto voice. Willing and able is partly exuberant gospel (mainly because of the great backing vocals) and partly a typical Police song, as redone by Prince.

A Million Days (Musicology, 2004)
This song has somehow always seemed to me to be a better version of Nothing Compares to U. The song sounds completely different, with less synthesizers, more guitar, heavier (it’s hardly a ballad), but there you go. And whenever you think it moves into Bruce Springsteen territory (and Bruce could do justice to it if he covered it), Prince has some weird production tricks up his sleeve, elevating the song above your ‘ordinary’ rock song.