I discovered Prince’s music very late, in 2009. The same week Michael Jackson passed away. I was at a party with my older brother’s friends, and they were replaying the classic debate : which one is the best between Michael and Prince? Back then, I wasn’t very open minded and yet pretty confident with my taste, hence, my 2 cents were — as a huge MJ follower — no matter how good that Prince guy is, he’s not ‘Billie Jean’, he’s not the Dangerous Tour. And that was an opinion I was holding even if my knowledge of Prince’s career was… the 2 songs everybody knows, ‘Kiss’, and ‘Purple Rain’. And the reaction of one of the guys I was having this conversation with — a die-hard Prince fan — was a straight look into my eyes, a face full of discouragement and right when I thought he was going to pull the arguments trigger… He just moved to another topic. Just like if my opinion was so irrelevant that I wasn’t even worth an attempt to explain! To me, that was a strong statement, and it started to make me think that maybe I was missing something about this Prince guy, and if his fans were not even feeling the need to defend him because it was so obvious that he was the best, then I’d better start paying attention and check him out.
I started looking online, and I ended up finding a poor quality video of ‘1999’ and of ‘Raspberry Beret’, and they were convincing enough snippets to motivate me to listen to more. Next day, I went to a record store and bought three Prince albums, ‘1999’, ‘Purple Rain’ & ‘Around The World In One Day’, all three released in the 80s, his peak era. I was working about an hour and half away from where I lived back then, so I had full time to play the records in loop on my train ride to work. This is when I started to discover and understand Prince’s music, and to fall in passion for it, just like many kids of the late 70s, the 80s or the 90s.
Yet, I was in 2009, I wanted to enjoy the fact that Prince was still alive and continuingly releasing new records. Prince released 39 albums — 10 of them between 2006 and 2016, the last ten years of his career.
Ever since Prince passed away, there’s been a lot of talking about the famous Vault. Prince was constantly recording music, and there’s a enormous amount of unreleased tracks he’s been keeping for himself. Now that he’s gone, there’s no doubt that the vault will be open and the secret tracks will go public, but before everything goes out, I wanted to take a chance to highlight Prince’s last ten years of creation. Because most of Prince lovers heard the popular albums, but sales-wise and popularity-wise, much less people cared about his latest work. These records have been very overlooked — but how can you blame the public when Prince has been very prolific and hard to follow! To me, if you take a closer look to what he’s been achieving the past 10 years, you can definitely find a lot of amazing Prince songs not that many people have been paying attention to. Here’s my take on the 15 best Prince songs of his latest 10 years of career: what I call the wide-open vault.
One of the many things distinguishing Prince from any other artist, was that not only he wasn’t afraid to experiment with fashion or music, he was also not scared of trying new ways to distribute his music. In 2010, the album ‘20ten’ was exclusively released as a free CD add-on to European newspapers, such as France’s Courrier International, the UK’s Daily Mirror or the German edition of Rolling Stone. The album wasn’t available as a digital download or in retail stores. This album featured one of my favorite Prince songs of all time, the sweet funk ‘Sticky Like Glue’, and also the classic Prince-type love ballads ‘Future Soul Song’, ‘Walk In Sand’ and ‘Sea of Everything’.
There’s a funky Prince, and also a very Rock’n’Roll Prince. Three years before ‘20ten’, Prince released his album ‘Planet Earth’ in 2007 with an arrangement with the British newspaper the Mail on Sunday. A few months after his Superbowl performance, he released the first single of this album, the very stunning Lenny Kravitz-ish ‘Guitar’, where he tells everybody about who he’s been in love with all this time. In 2014 Prince joined the band 3rdeyegirl consisting of the drummer Hannah Welton, guitar-player Donna Grantis, and bass-player Ida Kristine Nielsen. They released together the rock album ‘PLECTRUMELECTRUM’.
‘Like books and black lives, albums still matter’. — Prince
Prince has never been afraid to go out of the box and try new things. Everybody loved when Prince was playing and experimenting with synthesizers on ‘Dirty Mind’, with drum machines and rythmic patterns on ‘Something In The Water Does Not Compute’… So it is no surprise that Prince tried autotune, even if the response was definitely not as unanimous. It was in 2006, around the time T-Pain was starting to make this tool relevant. He uses it on this song ‘Incense and Candles’, of his record ‘3121’ — his latest album to reach number one on the Billboard in America, featuring many R&B jams where you can definitely tell how he influenced the music of the Neptunes and Pharrell Williams.
In 2014 and 2015, Prince released his 37th and 38th albums, ‘Art Official Age’ and ‘Hit and Run phase 1’. While the first is surprisingly fresh and modern, and shows a dreamy and yet sexy Prince, the other one is hands down Prince’s worst album ever. The production, handled by Joshua Walton, takes Prince to new directions : poorly executed electronic music, cheap EDM, and lazy R&B. I always thought it was great that an artist like Prince was keeping an ear on the music of his time — he’s been working with Janelle Monàe, praising Kendrick Lamar and covering Rihanna songs on stage — and yet I’m glad this ‘Hit and Run’ had a part 2 for Prince to end his career on a positive note. That being said, I love the song ‘Hardrocklover’, an incredible interpretation where it feels like Prince channels his inner Lil Wayne (think ‘Drop the World’!).
Prince will be remembered for how he was a live machine. Everybody likes to be amazed by how he was playing 27 instruments… Yet I think the best instrument he mastered is the 28th : the people. This energy, this music, and this connection with the people, is what will remain as a strong part of the man’s legacy. May Prince’s music live within us for ever — and that’s a mighty long time.