Sunday, 18 July 2010

Man In The Mirror

Album Review: PRINCE – “20Ten”
NPG Records
Released: 10th July 2010


In the run-up to the Daily Mirror's recent 20Ten giveaway, the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly known as Prince (now just Prince) - once a pioneer for internet-only music downloads via his now defunct NPG Music Group - came out with the (slightly hyperbolic) claim that “the internet is dead.” Soulless, perhaps. But dead?! Sorry to contradict you, Mr Nelson, but I think the stats speak for themselves (not that I’ve done the research – I’m here for the choons, not the chores); there’s clearly life in the world wide interweb yet. Some may say it’s still in its infancy, but I digress...

Is it just a case of sour (purple) grapes for an '80s giant no longer at the top of his game, sales-wise? Would Prince feel any differently if he had granted iTunes the use of his considerable canon of classics and reaped the financial reward? Has the independent icon and rival-of-conventional-record-companies become excessively paranoid about the misuse of his image and circulation of his works? Or is exclusive newspaper distribution of audio material really the revolutionary future of a dying industry?

Whatever the answer, I don’t think any consumer can complain when they can purchase 10 tracks and 47minutes of brand new ear candy with the day’s headlines (and a free TV guide!!) for less than the price of a single iTunes download. With a week of free promotion (interviews, competitions, hype, et al) and his new album landing in 2.5million UK homes, you can certainly see the business sense behind Prince’s innovative move. After all, it worked wonders for him in 2007 when Planet Earth was given away with the Mail on Sunday prior to his 21 Nights in London concert series.

But the question remains: is 20Ten actually any good? Does it stand up to Prince's impressive - and extensive - back catalogue, or has the Purple One struck coal when mining for gold, second time around…?

“20Ten” Track-by-Track Review:

1. COMPASSION (3:57)
A bright, toe-tapping album opener and my personal favourite; “Compassion” is fun, catchy and happy pop, and would have made a perfect single, had this record required such promotion. If you can resist clapping along at the closing breakdown you’re a greater man than I.

Another funky number this, although track 2 has a much darker tone than its predecessor. “Beginning Endlessly” sounds like it would fit well on 2006's 3121; maybe it was penned back then? It’s less gleeful than “Compassion”, but still enjoyable snyth-pop, particularly when Prince and his rhythm guitar go improv crazy two-thirds of the way through.

As the song title suggests, track 3 is a total change of speed and mood, but no less delightful. “Future Soul Song” is a soothing and soulful (duh!) ballad with a serene and mystical quality enhanced by some beautifully lush backing vocals. In a word: Elegant.

A squirm-inducing rap (sample lyrics: “I’m just a gracious host / everybody under me make a toast”) is saved by some funky-ass rhythm guitar work in this mischievous ode to inseparable lovers which really comes alive towards the end. Any chance of a rap-free radio edit, P?

5. ACT OF GOD (3:14)
A rousing and funk-tastic cut packed with political topicality (bankers, tax fraud, imprisonment) and a killer riff. Pity it never really ends, though, instead segueing into the following track waaaaaay before it feels ready to. “Call it what you want it’s just an Act of God”

6. LAVAUX (3:04)
Another firm favourite of mine, “Lavaux” (it’s a region of Switzerland, globetrotters) begins like a punchy homage to “1999” and continues with one foot firmly in the '80s. This retro treat would get me on the dance floor in a heartbeat.

7. WALK IN SAND (3:30)
The sentiment is nice – if somewhat clichéd – alas, that is pretty much all I can say about “Walk in Sand”. A nice, comfortable, but ultimately forgettable three minutes of background music for 'adult time'. And no, I’m not just bitter ‘cos I’m single… *chokes back tears and resentment*

A sweet but sickly slow jam which is further hindered by following on from another sweet but sickly slow jam. “Sea of Everything” reminds me somewhat of Planet Earth’s “Future Baby Mama”; neither song has ever really grabbed me (dare I say they’re kinda… boring) and I find myself reaching for the skip button.

Well, this is just excruciating: A definite low point in this collection. A juvenile party puff-piece with vainglorious sentiment and a horrendously cheesy post-production effect on Prince’s vocals. “Whoop-de-whoop”

77. LAYDOWN (3:07)
That’s not a typo – you seriously have to fast-forward to track 77* for 20Ten’s bonus track, which sees Shelby J. joining Prince on vox. “Laydown” is stylistically disparate to the rest of the album, self-referencing a “new sound” which is more akin to the hip-hop style cluttering the charts today. That isn’t a criticism, mind, I thoroughly enjoyed the dark electro-beats fused with some funky guitar work. Plus how can I hate a song which name checks Yoda?

CR@B Verdict: A blisteringly confident start & strong middle are let down slightly by a slushy and embarrassing close. While not perfect, 20Ten is a merry, radio-friendly jamboree of Prince’s multitude of styles which will please fans & engage Daily Mirror readers looking for a slice of pop-tastic funk.

*Surely track 20 for song ten would have been a more inventive in-joke? But whatevs.

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