1993 was the first year without a new Prince album since his debut dropped in 1978, though there was a 3 CD Greatest Hits collection that I purchased for the unreleased songs.1 Prince was increasingly unhappy with his label, Warner Bros.; since he generated enough material for three or four albums a year, he didn’t know why they wouldn’t agree to release three or four albums a year. To hurry up and get out of his contract, he put together together two new records, combining old and new music: one to be released as “Prince,” the other to be released with his new symbol as name.2
Come was the first of these releases. It’s filled with more misses than hits, as you might expect from something Prince labelled a “Contractual Obligation,” but what surprised me when I listened again recently was the consistent vibe of the thing. Even when the songs aren’t so great, or aren’t even very good, Come sounds like an intentionally constructed album, filled with leisurely, slinky, midtempo grooves. All the songs have one word titles, most of them are about (surprise!) sex, and it all feels built for the dance floor, be it a public or private dance.
And a handful of the songs are good-to-great. The title track that opens the record is eleven minutes long, and I’m gonna argue our man gets away with this indulgence: the groove is mellow and laid-back without dragging, everything pushed forward by some nice horn work and an addictive bass line. Going down the rabbit hole of 1994 Prince I found the drummer from NPG (Michael Bland, who I have gushed about before) discussing an earlier version of this song, worked on some Christmas Prince was “bored.” I dig that peppier version, too—especially its bass line. It’s your video clip of the week, found below!3
The second song, “Space,” builds on that vibe successfully, with a wonderful Michael Bland groove, some catchy synth licks, and a smooth vocal line delivering some admittedly silly lyrics: “If you and I were just ten feet closer/Then I’d make you understand/That everything I wanna do to your body, baby/I would do to your hand.” Two songs and fifteen minutes in I thought that perhaps the whole album would be stronger than I remember.
Alas, there are a series of misses after that strong start. The frenetic drive “Loose!” does not fit in with the rest of the album, and Prince’s shouted-melody lines sound like placeholders he forgot to replace. “Papa” is a depressing story of an abusive father who takes his own life, with an ill-fitting coda that talks about always finding rainbows at the end of the rain. The music of “Race” works a little better, but while the lyrics may be well-intended, it’s also one of his topical songs that comes off sounding so forced it does not call for repeated listens.4
There are two more songs here I’d put on a mixtape, though. “Dark” is one I had forgotten about, and I was surprised at how good it is—a six minute, full-band number with a wide range of dynamics, classic stabbing horns, and lots of wonderful Prince vocal tricks. Even better is “Letitgo.” It’s the last song he recorded for the record, and by far the best.5 It slips and slides and slithers for five minutes at a lovely 87 bpm, most lines sung by two or three Princes, all over another bowel-burrowing bass line and more Staxian horns. And I dare you not to smack those double hits in the pre-chorus: Until now all I wanted to do is/ Do do do what I do, and/Bang bang bang on the drummer/And love so-and-so.”6
It’s a great song that holds up well, almost thirty years later, evidence that even when Prince is throwing together a “Contractual Obligation” he can add, at the last minute, a song that would be a stone-cold classic in an artist with a smaller amount of great material. An even better sign of Purple Life: the same day delivered Come, the “Prince” record, he also delivered another album of new material, to be released with his new, unprounceable name. And if my memory is to be trusted, that record is pretty close to great.
1 And man, there is some great stuff on there. I’d heard some of them before—B-sides to singles I’d purchased just for the B-sides, like “17 Days” and “Erotic City.” I need to stop and include for “Pope,” a song I still play a lot. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDyjYi4phoU
3 It’s a decent article, and includes a snippet of a classically frustrating “interview” with the man himself: https://sites.google.com/site/prninterviews/home/guitar-world-november-1994
4 For a more enthusiastic view of some of those songs: https://albumism.com/features/prince-come-turns-25-anniversary-retrospective
5 This seemingly tossed-off record went through many iterations: http://www.princevault.com/index.php?title=Album:_Come
6 Go right to 1:00, if you’re impatient and curious.