You thought I’d given up, didn’t you? Dear Reader, I am still here, still moving through the Land of Prince. Though I do admit that ending this Project with The Gold Experience would be satisfying; not only is it a great record, it may also be the last great record Prince made. But the point is to be complete, and that is what we shall do.1 Besides, I may just stumble across some brilliant album that I previously missed, or discover a release that sounds much better listening back now.
That is not the case, alas, with his last official album for Warner Bros. Chaos and Disorder came out in the summer of 1996, nine months after Gold, and Prince made clear in the the liner notes that this was a contractual obligation: “Originally intended for private use only, this compilation serves as the last original material recorded by [Prince Symbol] for Warner Brothers.”2 There was no tour, just a couple of live TV spots, and the Purple One did just a single press interview. It’s not like he was ready to move on—he already had moved on. The Today Show performance looks half-hearted at best, our man hidden behind dark sunglasses, the word “SLAVE” written on his face. Of course, that this was live, before nine a.m. could also be a factor; you can watch for yourself in the video clip for this entry.
Prince performed the best song from Chaos for Bryant Gumbel and crew. “Dinner With Delores” is top-shelf baroque pop, with a lovely melody and a super-tight arrangement. I love the way the short bridge moves into the breakdown at the start of the third verse, and then into a nice, not overly-flashy guitar lead (all this starts around 1:30). Lyrically, I can’t decide if rhyming “Delores” with “Brontasaurus” is a stroke of genius, more evidence of how few shits Prince was giving, or the result of someone challenging our man to work a dinosaur name into a single.
That rhyme feels tossed off, and that casual, demo-like vibe permeates much of the record. That was the most enjoyable part of listening, this time out; Prince said that he was inspired by the first Van Halen record, which he’d heard was recorded in a week. “That’s what we were going for,” he said in that one interview he granted. “Spontaneity, seeing how fast and hard we could thrash it out.”3 The casual vibe also means that a lot of the songs meander, as if arrangements were being made up quickly and never tweaked. It’s sort of fun to hear our man sound like he’s fronting a bar band, in “I Like It There,” but it also sounds like a tired bar band. “Right the Wrong” keeps sounding like the band wants it to end, but no one can ever figure out how to do it. I found a few reviews that like the album more than I do, and more than one cited “I Rock, Therefore I Am” as evidence in their argument.4 While it sounds like it was fun to record, it’s not worth six minutes of your time. It’s always nice to listen to Rosie Gaines sing, but the raps don’t work at all, and the song never evolves before the title that Prince must have thought it was clever—or at least clever enough for a contractual obligation.
The albums ends with “Had U,” his last song on his last album for Warner Bros. thus serving as a direct reference to “For You,” the first track on his first album for Warner Bros. It’s a mere 1:26 long, a weary sounding Prince and his guitar, ending with the words “Fuck U/Had U.” And with that our hero escapes his corporate prison.
But where will he go, now that his contract is finished and his career is in his own hands? The world did not have long to wait to find out: four months after this casual, scattershot record, perhaps the worst album in his career to this point, Prince will release a 36-song magnum opus. Might take me a minute or two to listen to that one.
1 Though the discography does get a bit wonky and hard-to-follow from this point, and I may skip some that true completists may feel should be included. Such complaints can be answered, of course, but writing their own blog.
3 At least it’s a pretty fun interview: https://sites.google.com/site/prninterviews/home/los-angeles-times-14-july-1996
4 Albumism, for example, tries to mount a strong defense: https://albumism.com/features/tribute-celebrating-25-years-of-prince-chaos-and-disorder