Prince has made a career of confusing audiences for more than 30 years. Now, a year after his successful twin-album comeback, with Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum, he is at it again.
In September, Prince released a new album, HITnRUN Phase One, a further collaboration with twentysomething producer and songwriter Joshua Welton, who had worked on Art Official Age.
HITnRUN Phase One was almost universally panned. It was a throwaway Prince record; some critics went so far as to call it the worst he’d ever made.
In retrospect, it wasn’t so bad. For starters the sexy 1000 X’S & 0’S is a West Coast G-funk groove with a sensual performance from Prince.Then there’s the Beyoncé-esque pomp of Million $ Show (featuring Judith Hill), the raspy tech-hop swagger of Shut This Down and the footwork-inspired funk of Like a Mack (featuring Curly Fryz), which were all fruity and delicious pop performances.
Still, the majority of the Purple One’s fans remained disappointed.
Then, last weekend Prince released his second album for the year. Titled HITnRUN Phase Two, it looked as though it was conceived as a companion piece to the September album. On Jay-Z’s Tidal music retailer, where both albums were released, HITnRUN Phase Two’s 12 songs are given track numbers 12 to 23.
But the two albums do not feel or sound like companions.
HITnRUN Phase One was centered on Welton’s production aesthetic, but Phase Two harks back to a jazz-inflected, horn-heavy funk sound that many fans will associate with Prince albums of the 1990s, particularly 1992’s Love Symbol Album, 1994’s Come and 1998’s New Power Soul.
Once again Prince has sidestepped the critics and confused his fans. But they won’t be left reeling for long. HITnRUN Phase Two is a far superior album to its predecessor, and its golden funk is a reminder of why we love Prince so much, and why we can never write him off.
The uplifting protest song Baltimore, first released in May this year, starts things off, followed by Prince doing his best late-period Bob Dylan impersonation on Rock n Roll Love Affair from 2012.
Other previously released singles include the jumped-up funk of Xtraloveable (2011) and the guitar romp Screwdriver (2013).
But the more recent recordings included on Phase Two, such as the slow-groove love song that is Revelation and the gorgeous summer jam that is Look at Me, Look at U fit snugly between these singles and songs pulled from the vault.
Once again, with HITnRUN Phase Two Prince has curated a fascinating collection of songs that give us another peek behind his magic purple curtain.