Turn on the radio and…
Turn on the radio and you’re bound to hear some artist — be it an R’B, pop or rock one — that Prince has somehow influenced. Just listen to the Andre 3000 half of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (The Love Below) and you’ll find Prince written all over it.
But nothing compares to the original, and he’s back to his old form with Musicology. And listening to his latest offering is like meeting up with an old friend, one that’s been away for far too long.
After unleashing classic after classic on an unready public — a feat that landed him in this year’s induction class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — Prince turned into the Symbol, or the Artist. With that change came some admirable efforts and notorious failures — Emancipation is chief among them, thanks to its hefty length. But with all the name changes and epic-length albums, what made Prince, well, Prince was lacking. And his last two albums didn’t make up any ground. The Rainbow Children and N.E.W.S. are interesting directions, but they’re not the Prince of Purple Rain and 1999.
Then Musicology comes along.
An album that takes the best of Prince’s classic period and mixes it up with more funk and groove than you can shake your booty at, Musicology brings Prince back to where he belongs — pop prominence.
The first single and title track is a groovy number that incorporates as much James Brown as it does Prince. It’s a song that could easily have been found on his latter day, pre-Symbol albums. Similarly, “Life ‘O’ the Party” and “If Eye Was the Man in UR Life” are throwbacks that are destined to be hits of the highest, classic Prince order. But that’s not to say they’re the only two songs with potential. Every track on the album could become a classic.
Mixed into the album are songs that are slower but never lacking in funk. “Call My Name,” “On the Couch” and “Dear Mr. Man” are slower jams that incorporate Prince’s knack for creating sexy smooth grooves and his experience creating purely instrumental songs on his later albums, like N.E.W.S.
And that’s what’s most impressive about Musicology — Prince is able recreate himself as the artist behind Controversy and Sign ‘O’ the Times while showing how he continues to grow as a musician and defy the conventions of what it means to be a “pop artist.”
Prince’s reappearance on MTV is a testament to just how important he still is and how hungry the music world is for something of substance. At his concert at Mellon Arena this past Wednesday, Prince at one point said, “This is real music by real musicians.” And that’s not some empty concert talk. Musicology is packed with amazing instrumentation and musicianship, to say nothing of Prince’s lyrics.
Prince has always been an artist — and it’s not uncalled for to say that, despite returning back to Prince, he is still the Artist — in a business filled with people who scream and talk fast over samples from thirty-year-old songs.
The only knock against Musicology is that after listening to it, you’ll realize what you’ve been missing in the absence of Prince and it will make listening to the radio a very difficult task. There isn’t one bad track on the record, and it’s one that you can pop into the CD player and listen to on non-stop repeat without it ever getting old.
Pop music has been a barren wasteland for a long time. And after Prince exiled himself from that world, it only got worse. But with Musicology, it becomes clearer than ever that he’s a lush oasis in that pop wasteland. It’s been a tough few years without Prince, but now it’s time to thank the music gods that he has returned. In the song “A Million Days,” Prince sings, “Only been gone an hour/But it seems like a million days.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.