Prince “20Ten” Review
Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: Album Reviews, Music, Twin Cities.
What followed the unexpected announcement of Prince’s new album in June was something that had to surprise even his most die-hard fans. (Then again, it is pretty much par for the course in terms of Prince’s career… the last decade even more so.) With less than a month’s notice, it was not only announced that 20Ten would be released, but that it would be released for free via some 2.5 million newspapers in the UK. While the prolific artist followed a similar promotional path for the release of Planet Earth in 2007, this move most certainly stepped things up; a decision which Prince considers logical despite many musicians opting to release “free” albums online rather than through a physical outlet. In fact, Prince took to condemning the digital publishing model, explaining to The Mirror‘s Peter Willis that “The internet’s completely over.” He continued, “I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it.”
Though not released through the exact same means, Prince nonetheless made waves last year when it was announced that he would work exclusively with the Minneapolis-based retailer Target (in the U.S., at least) in releasing his new collection of music. That collection materialized in the form of the three-pack of LotusFlow3r, MPLSound & Elixer; the last being an album by his protégée and girlfriend Bria Valente. While still bearing some fantastic songs the discs were an inconsistent affair however: though it still showcased Prince’s distinctly brilliant musicianship, LotusFlow3r lacked general cohesion, MPLSound acted as more of a party record, primarily relying on its funk, and Valente’s Elixer was, well… a fine attempt at a debut album. Despite taking a risk in choosing his own adventure with the distribution of his music, the release(s) debuted at the number two position on the Billboard 200, once again reconfirming that for all his unconventional decisions, Prince still knew what he was doing. And regardless of who is fronting the bill to press a few million copies of 20Ten and scatter them across the UK, Prince is once again making sure that his music is released and heard on his terms. When all is said and done however, the standout memory many will likely have of the release won’t relate to the out-of-the-blue announcement or it being “free,” but rather something much more important: 20Ten is a remarkable step towards recapturing both a style and energy of an artist from years-gone-by, and will no doubt be remembered as one of Prince’s finest releases from the past two decades.
The album immediately jumps off with the energetic bounce of “Compassion.” The song is carried by a tinny beat while Prince and his backup singers trade spots, all coming together with the hook, “Whatever skin you’re in, we all need to be friends, all happy again: so much better than nothing.” A distorted guitar introduces “Begging Endlessly,” the instrument briefly buzzing before giving way to an equally slick synth line. Questioning the limits of the world, Prince wades through the track while relating the depth of the universe to the extent with which love can flow. Though chiming in later with a fairly basic guitar line, the instrument ultimately does little but fill a bit of time before taking a backseat to the impassioned lyrical theme of the track. Prince’s self-described favorite song on the album—”Future Soul Song”—continues by gently slowing down the pace of things.
Lifting the tempo back up, “Sticky Like Glue” interjects an upbeat pace, eventually coming to a head as Prince trumps the understated funk by flat-out-rapping. In his brief suggestive roll-out he concludes by referring to himself as a “gracious host,” and in case you were wondering, that’s about as subtle as Prince gets on the record. “Act of God” continues the upbeat rhythm that was revived with “Sticky Like Glue.” While refraining from becoming preachy, the song does relate to a number of comments Prince made to Willis about the direction of the world during their interview. Explaining the decision to name the album as he did, Prince explained, “I just think it’s a year that really matters. I think the world’s tilting on its axis, it’s fraught with misinformation. George Orwell’s vision of the future is definitely here with us. These are very trying times.” “Act of God” follows this idea as it examines the world’s financial and political turmoil as well as the crumbling level of personal freedoms in our culture, all of which Prince also scrutinizes for the transparency within the justification given by those in charge. For as explicit as Prince tends to be with his views on life, the song comes off as more of a question of what’s going on here than a statement of condemnation. “Lavaux” begins with a slapping-base and synth line as Prince opens up, “Take me to the vineyards of Lavaux.” Expanding on the Switzerland-based region before transporting to Portugal, he continues by explaining how he would go anywhere to follow the path which is right for him.
“Walk In Sand” continues by once again slowing things down. If only as a reminder of how remarkably broad the appeal of his vocal sensuality is, Prince seems to effortlessly reveal the song’s lyrics, simply crooning, “Nothing’s better than to walk in sand, hand in hand with you.” Both the romantic theme and pace of the song casually bleed into the following track, “Sea Everything.” The bouncy “Everybody Loves Me” jumps in after, awkwardly shifting the pace of the album as the simple vocals repeatedly exclaim, “Tonight I love everybody, everybody loves me.” The song shifts between a variety of phases, touching on both ’80s synth and classic saloon-sounding piano along the way while adding some of the most primitive lyrics on 20Ten, “There ain’t nothin’ to it, but to do it.” “Laydown,” the album’s “bonus track,” is such an outlier for good reason; that reason, however, isn’t because it’s not up to snuff with the rest of 20Ten. The dense song is grittier than anything else on the record and offers more swagger than Prince previously exhibited throughout the album’s other songs. “You need to lay it down and let me show you how we do this thing up in funky town/From the heart of Minnesota here comes the purple Yoda guaranteed to bring the dirty new sound.” 20Ten comes to an end as a fuzzy guitar glows while the infectious echo of “You need to lay it down” floats along in the background.
Many purists and longtime fans would likely argue that, musically, Prince never truly stopped being the person that he has long-since become known and loved for. That said, as a character, the enigmatic musician has continually focused on the evolution of his sound and style; something which has often manifested itself in inconsistency. While this has taken different forms over the past decade—hell, the past three decades—with 20Ten the shift just happens to return the musician to a sound which parallels some of his finest work. Be it Musicology, 3121, Planet Earth, or either of last year’s albums, the legend of Prince’s music from yesteryear has continually remained at the heart of any discussion surrounding whatever he has recorded in recent memory. With 20Ten however, Prince has given friends, fans and critics alike a reason to not only celebrate his music once again, but also a reason to stop arguing about if and when he’d return to prominence. With 20Ten, Prince is definitely back.
[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]