3121: the essence of Prince in the XXI century

After the official information regarding the causes of Prince death, released just some hours ago, I thought it is time to celebrate his life and his music. So let me remember fond memories of the Spring in 2006:

10 years ago I was a happy camper in a legendary forum for Prince fans, Housequake.com. I remember the excitation surrounding the release of the new album Prince was going to release in 2006, entitled 3121. In that occasion, all the expectations were fulfilled (at least for me), and after spending a few days listening attentively to 3121, I wrote a review.

This week I managed to listen to 3121, for the first time in full after the sad events of April 21st. And I was blown away, just like on first listen. Furthermore, with the perspective of these 10 years, I think this is the best album released by Prince in the XXI century.

This is the review I wrote in Housequake.com, in March 2006 (please take into account it was written before knowing the full credits of the album):

The latin vibe

As far as I recall, this is a completely new side in Prince music styles, and as usual, he demonstrated he can manage it pretty nicely. Perhaps to boldly show this new influence in his music, he chose Te amo corazón as the first single of the new album, released several months in advance, in the company of a classy video. I remember being rather scared when I first knew he was singing the chorus in Spanish, only to end very pleased when I heard the actual song.
But Te amo corazón in only the most obvious example of latin vibe in 3121. The other one, and an amazing achievement in my opinion, is the second part of The dance: the piano in it is stunning, to the point that I very much doubt it’s being played by Prince*; and this does not mean that I consider Prince a bad piano player (the opposite is true, actually); I mean that it is played in such an authentic, soulful manner that you can hardly imagine this was done by Prince, given he’s got no latin background. We’ll have to wait for the credits to check this out, although his trip to Panama and some of the players at Te amo corazón strongly suggest it could be done by some other latin musician.

Close encounters with mojo in the third phase throughout the album

I have seen no Prince as inspired as the one writing this record in ages. He seems to enjoy playing and singing all the songs, and there are a few stunning examples showing the muses were next to him while writing most of the material in this album. In other words: he was truly inspired while carrying this album out.
And regardless of the amazingly diverse production skills he used throughout the different songs, they prove, for the most part, to be very brilliantly written. Just have a listen to the minimalistic yet amazing funk of Black sweat to the fullsome production (using Rolling Stone words) of Te amo corazón, or to the amazing transformation of The dance, from the previously bland song to the album version, which is beautifully recorded, mixed and produced to the very minor details. This one is, to me, one of the most brilliant slow grower songs he has ever done.
This is a level of writting accomplishment he didn’t get since the very middle of the battle with Warner Brothers, that led to such a jewels as The Gold Experience, or Emancipation. And to end with what I consider probably as the two major examples of Prince returning to his very top form concerning music writing: Love, which is a fucking amazing single and an absolutely enjoyable song for even the more hardcore funkateers around.
And 3121, a song that can perfectly be compared to previous gems as Crystal Ball, to name the paramount example of experimental Prince.
This is not a masterpiece as Purple Rain or Sign O the Times, but in my humble opinion, it is not that far away from them.

A lesson in perfect production with as many different flavours as required by each song

You won’t hear anybody say this album is just the same song repeated to death, since the diversity in it is very large, both in music composition, and in style and complexity of their production: There are from raw guitars (Fury, although I prefer the even more raw and loud from the Saturday Night Live version) to computer-manipulated voices (Incense and candles, 3121), from minimalistic yet extremely catching keyboard hooks (Black sweat, Love) to very complex synthesizers patterns (The dance), from purely acoustic pop wonders (Te amo corazón) to almost fully electronic-generated songs (Black sweat), from good old dirty experimental Prince (3121) to quintessential oldschool funk (Satisfied, Get on the boat).
In short: you have it all, “School is back in session”. Prince in full form, shamelessly demonstrating to the musicians around he can do pretty much everything he likes to with a song.
I’m not a musician, but if I was, I think I would put every of my instruments in their box and emigrate to the North Pole in order to do meditation, after listening to this album.

Back to collaborations with other singers and musicians

We will have to wait for the credits in order to get accurate information on this, but if you hear the full album in a row, it’s fairly obvious that many musicians have worked in it. Of course there are single Prince songs in it (Black sweat or Love being the prime example), but in many others (Te amo corazón, Get on the boat, etc), you can feel the heat of several guys playing around. If you add to this the very nice vocals from Tamar in a couple of songs (which are mainly exposed in Beautiful, loved and blessed, where she is doing a soulful interpretation of this very good song), it seems this time he was not doing the classic solo Prince record. I don’t know about the others, but I think this is a good feature for any Prince album: the quality input from other musicians.

Some of the best Prince vocal performances in many years

From a purely technical standpoint, the very first good raps from Prince in his story are in this album (Incense and candles), but there are other stunning performances as well: the filigree at the higher notes in Black sweat or Satisfied, the intendedly cool, laid down voice in Fury… too many to mention all of them.
But if you consider the quality of the interpretation itself, we are again at some of his higher points ever: you will easly turn into tears when listening to the endind part of The Dance, where the Passion in his singing invades everything around. Te amo corazón is similarly remarkable, Prince singing in such a soulful manner that it’s difficult to believe that this song was not addressed to a real woman he was in love with.

  • Several years after writing this review, Renato Neto confirmed that the piano in The Dance was played by Prince.