Release Date: Sep 7, 2015
Record label: N/A
There was something undeniably thrilling about the ‘guerilla gigs’ that Prince played in London and Manchester early last year. The prospect of spending three hours in the same small room as one of our modern bona-fide geniuses was too much for a lot of people to resist, and queues stretched around the proverbial block. The excitement came from the legend of Prince and his legacy of course, rather than the excellence of any recent material.
Prince never lost it. The 1990s and 2000s are littered with albums that were dismissed as the work of a once-great, now-irrelevant artist, but which are packed with overlooked gems. Nevertheless it’s true that His Royal Badness has only recently regained his foothold in the mainstream, cannily exploiting retromania in order to slip albums like last year’s excellent ‘Art Official Age’ into the upper reaches of the charts – note how ‘HITNRUN Phase One’ kicks off with a collage of intros from ‘For You’, ‘1999’ and ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ before hitting listeners with the new shit.
HITNRUN Phase One is Prince’s third album in under a year, following in the trail of last September’s ART OFFICIAL AGE and the hard rock 3rdEyeGirl collaboration PLECTRUMELECTRUM. That marks a milestone that few musicians (much less ones over the age of 50 with millions of dollars to their name) ever achieve. Then again, Prince has always strayed from convention, and the mania of his music, however intricate, has always suggested the now 57-year-old could pump out an album at any point.
The cartoon album art of Prince's HITnRUN: Phase One echoes the cover portrait on its 2014 predecessor Art Official Age, a deliberate move suggesting this 2015 set is either a cousin or perhaps a reboot, questions the EDM revision of "This Could Be Us" (here titled "This Could B Us") doesn't put to bed. Prince consciously reconnected with his '80s work on Art Official Age, a nice wink for his return to Warner Bros. , but HITnRUN covers similar territory in an edgy, impatient fashion, suggesting he wasn't thrilled by the 21st century indifference greeting both it and its companion, PlectrumElectrum, recorded with his power trio 3rdEyeGirl.
Prince's new album opens with allusions to "1999" and "Let's Go Crazy." But it's less a re-creation of those Eighties classics than an attempt by the more restless-minded Prince of today to reimagine the funky precision and effortless mastery of his glory days in new ways. It might be the most collaborative album he's ever made, with a bevy of guest musicians and vocalists — most prominently co-writer/co-producer Joshua Welton and, on one song, the backing band 3rdeyegirl, who worked with Prince on 2014's willfully eclectic Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum. Hit N Run (which is being released exclusively through Jay Z's streaming service, Tidal) is similarly hit-or-miss.
Trailed in some quarters as “Prince’s hen party album”, HitNRun initially struggles to live up to that promise. The tempting morsel of Let’s Go Crazy, which precedes clunky opener Million $ Show, adds insult to the injury of a largely mediocre first six tracks. Just as the jury threaten to return an “off with his head” verdict on producer Joshua Welton, Prince redeems himself with three absolute belters – the deliciously gritty X’s Face; an authentically slinky update of Imagination-influenced fan fave 1000 X’s & O’s; and the instant classic June: “Pasta simmers on the stove in June – makes no sense yet, but it will soon”.
Prince parties like it's 1999 on his latest album. Nearly everything about "HITNRUN Phase One" evokes earlier parts of The Purple One's career — or vintage moments in music itself. That's ironic since the album's delivery system couldn't be more up-to-date. Starting Monday, it became available exclusively via Jay Z's $9.99 per month Tidal streaming service.
Prince's hype-man instincts defy categorization every bit as much as his vocal and instrumental talents beggar description. Though he's fallen off since the 1980s—who, in his shoes, wouldn't?—it's this artist's strange and frequent urge to over-promise that helps keep everyone harping on Sign 'O' the Times as his apogee. Yet here we are again. An album title like HITNRUN Phase One promises a fair amount, not least the possibility of a concept worth serializing.
There are few artists that can create as much excitement with a new release as Prince. After all, the mercurial genius has been churning out classic albums for over 35 years now. Although his masterpieces of the ‘80s will always be considered his artistic peak, Prince has been on a rather torrid streak over the last 15 years. Several of his more recent albums—particularly 3121 (2006), Lotusflow3r (2009), and last year’s Art Official Age—have been important and quality additions to his peerless discography.
In 2010, Prince said “the Internet’s completely over” as a method for distributing his music. He has changed his mind. At the start of Monday, he released his new album, “HitNRun Phase One,” as an exclusive on the paid streaming service Tidal. Like “Art Official Age,” released last September, “HitNRun” is a full-scale collaboration with Joshua A.
Beirut usually do okay for themselves when they expound on well-established modes of musical communication. Perhaps then the jig is finally up on No No No, their fourth album in nine years. Ostensibly their pop record, this brisk, 29-minute album album runs out of ideas in the first ten. Play it and forget it.
In reference to Prince’s new HITNRUN Phase One, co-producer and engineer Joshua Welton told Entertainment Weekly: “I know [Prince] has different types of fan bases and this is kind of for the [hardcore] Purple Collective, the ones who say ‘I don’t care what he puts out! I love Prince. ’” The implication is that in order to be a hardcore Prince fan, one must forego discernment and simply applaud everything Prince does. But as Prince understands better than most, neither person in the artist/fan relationship has to kowtow to the other’s expectations in order to prove gratitude.