How can an artist be hailed as one of the greatest of all time, when a big chunk of his later career is dismissed or hated on by his fans? Sure, lots of young firecrackers age into old snoozes and perhaps this means they're not the greatest of all time. But the other possibility is that “fans” are the old snoozes, too detached to engage with an old artist's new tricks. Surely the man behind history's greatest Super Bowl halftime show is still writing relevant music.
Prince, for all his weirdness, still more or less sounds like Prince. This places him in Neil Young and Rolling Stones territory, rather than Madonna and Michael Jackson — he doesn't have to keep reinventing himself. Which is neat considering that Young/Stones signify old grooves, whereas Prince embraced future-funk, hip hop and synthetic devices like his helium-fueled alter ego “Camille,” and managed to age respectably without compromising himself. But that doesn't mean people didn't get bored with him. So if you're sick of Sign 'O' the Times and Purple Rain, here are five worth revisiting.
Musicology was hailed by some as a comeback and others as not enough of one. It was neither really, just a very good album that happened to signal Prince's ability to chart again. Yet for all his reliable funkiness, it's still an unusually mellow and organic record, not counting the stuttering, James Brown-indebted title single. The live band sounded great on the power ballad “A Million Days” (though he probably played all the instruments himself) and made the synthetic stuff stand out even more. Each note in the skeletal groove of “Illusion, Coma, Pimp and Circumstance” is like a pin drop.
Not usually counted as one of his best albums, Prince's Batman soundtrack was somewhat taken for granted. It was a great entry point for this writer as a kid and I remember weird jingles like “Trust” and “Lemon Crush” better than say, “Cream.” But Batman stitches together Frankenstein monsters from old hits, like “Partyman”'s fusion of “1999” and “Housequake.” “The Future” is a weirder take on “Sign 'O' the Times.” And don't let anybody tell you cheese-ass ballad “The Arms of Orion” isn't dope.
3. The Gold Experience
“Endorphinmachine,” Prince's hardest-rocking song ever, is worth the price of admission. On the now out-of-print The Gold Experience, Prince shreds his symbol-shaped guitar even on seven-minute Quiet Storm jams like “Shhh.” The oddly big sounding single “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” was a rare shlock moment on an album containing the X-rated Mother Goose rhyme “Pussy Control” and the epic “Gold”.
2. Chaos and Disorder
One of the Purple One's truly strange, worst-selling albums, this was somehow allowed to be advertised as the last box he cleared out from the Warner Bros. offices. Thus, it has a shitty rep that's not actually indicative of the music. This is Prince's most alt-rock album, with a grungy guitar tone that works surprisingly well alongside an organ, turntable scratches and circus music (!) on the title track, while “Dinner with Delores” plunders psychedelic depths that would be praised out the ass if Ariel Pink's name was on it. With screechy guitar solos every which way and the Funkadelic promise “I Rock, Therefore I Am,” Prince's attempt to align his own sound with angry times is more fascinating than dated.
Prince slipped back into the public consciousness as casually as he'd slipped out, and 2006 marked his first-ever #1 chart debut for an album. He deserved it, too. The salsa party-sounding “Get on the Boat” and industrial “Black Sweat” rank alongside “Kiss” and “Raspberry Beret” as his most pleasurable works of all-time. Yet longtime fans are still reluctant to add anything from — what, 1988 on? — to the canon because he “fell off” or whatever. Have some faith in the genius who scored a #1 hit 20 years after his breakthrough while never resorting to sappiness. The Latin-influenced 3121 is one of his tightest, most successful pop efforts. “Incense and Candles” even capitalized on Auto-Tune a whole year before T-Pain's “Buy U a Drank.”