We’ll be skipping a few releases again, as our man chaotically works his way into the 2000s. Prince released five albums in 2002 and 2003—three of them are some variation of the One Nite Alone title, and then two are instrumental—and all five were at first just available through the fan club. If you’re feeling especially completist, One Nite Alone…Live! proves again that even when the studio work was inconsistent, bordering on indifferent, Prince could still lead a great band through some great performances.1 The next two studio releases we need to look come in 2004 and 2006, and are often looked at as possible signs of another “Prince Comeback.”
Musicology may now be most remembered for the tour associated with the album. This is probably fair, too; savvy businessman Prince announced the tour would features hits, and he started the tour two weeks after he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The tour made gobs of money, and the album officially went double platinum.2 I’m sorry to say that the album itself has more forgettable songs than memorable, but the good news is that even the bad songs are, well, songs. The entire thing can be listened to from start to finish without anyone being hurt or too bored, and that is indeed a kind of progress.
This is the first new Prince record I’d purchased in a while, and the opening track had me feeling optimistic. It’s still the best song on the album, opening with a wonderful Prince “Oooooh” before it slides into a skittering funk groove that serves as homage to the music Prince grew up with, as well as an urging that the importance of those eras not be forgotten.3 It was strong enough to work well, musically and philosophically, to serve as opening song on the tour. And man, watching this clip makes me feel how how much miss his presence on our planet:
Not much on the rest of the album rises above “Workmanlike,” though that was still reason for Prince fans to be excited in 2004. “Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance” is a decent example of the Purple One in his midtempo funk mode, with those upbeat guitar strums, the whole thing propelled by a little guitar melody that burrows nicely into the brain. “Call My Name” is a fine entry in “Let’s Have Sex” Prince, even if it won’t push “Do Me, Baby” off anyone’s mixtape, and “Cinnamon Girl” is almost good enough to be a deep cut off Sign O’ The Times, with a catchy chorus, efficient guitar lead, and moody outro. The party tracks are once again the weakest, but luckily there aren’t too many of them.
Two years later 3121 was another one-off with a major label. It didn’t go double platinum, but it did go gold, and most importantly, is a much better record-easily the best record since Emancipation, and his most focused release since The Gold Experience, ten years earlier The title track kicks things off again, and “3121” is a bit of surprise—swampy and funky, with an incessant kick drum and processed vocals. It’s one of the more unusual opening tracks in his discography, and I still dig it (though I confess this one of those Your Mileage May Vary situations). The next track, “Lolita,” is much more classic Prince, with snare on the upbeat, layers of catchy synthy, and lyrics about a hot young thing tempting our narrator. This time, though, our narrator resists: “Lolita, you’re sweeter, but you’ll never make a cheater out of me.”
The rest of the album is similar in structure to Musicology, with servings of Slow Jam Prince (“Satisfied”), Guitar Hero Prince (“Fury”), and even Pop Prince (“Love”). I’m not sure how many new classics appear in those categories, but the difference this time is that most of the songs are at least good. And, most surprisingly, the album ends with a song that belongs most in the Party Prince category, and this it’s almost great.4 Maybe because Prince is not just desperately urging everyone to party, but urging, at a less frenetic pace, that we all “Get On The Boat.” The groove bobs and swings, a great horn arrangement, and even a bridge. It’s a giddy end to a solid album, and would seem to indicate that the man was ready to perhaps enter a new Purple Golden Age.
Then he gave his next record away with a newspaper in England—go figure. Let’s not worry about that yet; let’s just get on the damn party boat.5
Then he gave his next record away with a newspaper in England—go figure.
1 Highlights include a couple of my favorite Sign O’ The Times tracks, “Strange Relationship” and “Starfish & Coffee,” and a thirteen minute, saturated-in-religion, version of my favorite Lovesexy track, “Anna Stesia.”
2 Nice overview here: https://goldiesparade.co.uk/prince-tours/musicology-live-2004ever-tour/
3 For those with the patience to read a more scholarly approach to the song, and the album, I suggest: http://www.echo.ucla.edu/review-prince-musicology/
4 Albumism again has a nice overview: https://albumism.com/features/prince-3121-turns-15-anniversary-retrospective
5 On GMA, of all things. I’d like to give a shout out to the great female drummer, but can’t find her name anywhere.