Three years after the death of Prince, Troy Carter and team continue to mine through his legendary vault of unreleased material, now transferred to a secure facility in Los Angeles in lieu of the sub-standard, damp conditions of its original location at Prince’s studio-cum-home, Paisley Park.
The first release to emerge was a hauntingly intimate tape recording of a piano rehearsal, Piano & A Microphone 1983. It was a fitting homage to such an important and influential artist, the tragic irony of its title reflecting the name of Prince’s last tour before his death, and granting much more public access to some legitimately beautiful never-before-heard Prince (if you don’t count the bootlegs). Yours truly considers it an extremely erudite first choice. Can we say the same for Originals?
Comprising fifteen tracks, Originals is a collection of other artists’ songs that much of the public may not be aware were originally written by Prince (you get the title now?). Whilst this is a factually true statement, it neglects to admit that, beyond Prince fans, not that many people know who Sheila E, The Family, Mazarati, etc. were – because they weren’t just other artists; they were Prince protégés, and they weren’t particularly famous (if one is honest).
The exceptions are of course the two instantly recognisable track names adorning the back of the LP, Manic Monday and Nothing Compares 2 U, made famous by The Bangles and Sinéad O’Connor, respectively. Whilst I cannot say I particularly care for the song, it is a pleasure to hear Prince’s original vocals on Manic Monday and feels like one is hearing the song as truly intended, rather than a one-hit wonder. Nothing Compares 2 U, on the other hand, is sufficiently different from O’Connor’s version to merit multiple listens – although the track itself was already made available a while back as the first ‘single’ release from the Vault, so there’s nothing truly new here.
There are other stand-out tracks. Jungle Love, originally released by The Time (Prince’s fictional nemeses in the Purple Rain movie), is a great choice. In and of itself, The Time track is a delicious slice of ‘80s Minneapolis Funk, but hearing Prince’s vocals on the track edges out Morris Day with more assertive confidence, playfulness and sex appeal. 100 MPH, released by Mazarati, has long been a personal favourite due to that irresistibly funky beat and bass line combo, rendering it a must-listen. Had 100 MPH been a Prince single, it would doubtless have been a chart-topper, although the version released on this LP is inexplicably edited and shortened. An alternative bootleg version circulating is a more stripped-down affair that sounds tighter and funkier, which I’d argue was the version to release. Decisions like this mar the record as a whole.
Originals is most definitely a release for the fans rather than the general public. Whilst the enduring memory of Prince has increased his appeal recently, beyond additional tracks Sex Shooter (Apollonia 6’s major single rendered in classic Prince falsetto), Holly Rock (Sheila E, but more playful by Prince), The Glamourous Life (Sheila E’s big single bests Prince’s version in production), and Noon Rendezvous (Sheila E, again), this collection of tracks feels haphazard and, at times, lacklustre.
Prince’s work with other artists went deeper and some of this could have been included. Releasing Love Song, his duet with Madonna, would surely have overshadowed the latter’s new LP, Madame X, in popular impact, for example. Of course, rights issues, bla bla bla probably prevented this.
For the super-fan, every track on this record is a treat, but to the casual-but-curious listener, this record is difficult to justify purchasing. Fortunately, we have streaming in 2019, but Troy Carter and The Prince Estate could score far easier, mass appeal wins. Here’s to hoping the next release is The Black Album remastered on vinyl, what exists of 1982’s concert-film The Second Coming, or – even easier – Roadhouse Garden.