Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tell them you're going 2 the crystal ball...

I love when I get really obsessively into a particular artist where I listen to nothing but that artist for days on end. It makes me feel justified in having a large CD collection. Even if I haven't listened to an REM album in a couple years, when their new one (rumored to be a return to form) comes out, I'll be glad I have their full catalogue to immerse myself in.

Anyway, right now I'm into Prince. Specifically late early period Prince. Or maybe early middle period Prince. Basically, Sign 'O' the Times, which was his first album after the Revolution broke up, but before he formed the New Power Generation and became kind of not as good.

Sign is awesome. Double albums tend to be the critical favorite (London Calling, Exile on Main St., etc), I guess just because on some level the more of that artist, the better (though for some, a triple album like Sandinista! probably goes too far). But I tend to love double albums because, like Texplush, who mentioned this in some top ten rundown in a past year, I love albums that jump all over all styles. That's why I love The White Album so much; it was almost a catalogue of all the musical styles the Beatles had worked with-- and then some!

So too with Sign 'O' the Times. It's got everything that made Prince great-- hard, spare funk workouts, falsetto-laden ballads, shiny dance-pop, crazy guitar solos and lots of gender bending lyrics. Several of the songs actually feature him using an androgynous pitch-shifted higher voice that he called "Camille" (as in, Camille is credited with the vocals on "If I was Your Girlfriend" and other songs). The 80's production is kind of thin and it's in need of a cremastering, but it's also kind of timeless, with some of the harder funk songs especially sounding almost like Timbaland productions with their harder beats and stabbing horn and keyboard hooks ("It," "Housequake").

The crazy thing is that the double album was actually a cut down version of a TRIPLE album (Crystal Ball-- not to be confused with multi-disc compilation of the same name). And that triple album was the combination of two previous aborted albums: one was a whole album (only a single though) of songs using the Camille voice, and the other was a double album with the Revolution made just before they broke up (Dream Factory). It was going to be the most collaborative Revolution album yet, with extensive contributions from Wendy and Lisa.

That's actually what got me in this phase-- I found links on a blog to both the Camille album and the Dream Factory album and they're both awesome. Dream Factory is all over the place, both in sound and style, but there are some really great tracks on it. Camille is in some ways even better, just because it's such a tight, focused album. The song are all that James Brown-style funk with great horn lines, as in "Housequake."

It's crazy what a creatively fertile period that was for him.

If you like Prince-- or rather, if you like music-- you should definitely check them both out:


Dream Factory:


Via Chicago said...

Now this is one awesome post. I love me some Prince, and yet I've never heard of these albums. I'm listening to Dream Factory right now (and downloading Camille) and it's pretty amazing. Many thanks for sending these out. I'll have to digest and post more thoughts later.

As for Sign, I really love it, though I think Purple Rain is a superior album overall, maybe because to me Sign does get a bit too sprawling at times, and also doesn't have anything that rivals the big songs on Purple Rain. Still, it's a really great album.

Given Prince's overall career trajectory I'd call Sign the very end of his early period - that being the period where he consistently was awesome. Middle period probably starts with the formation of the New Power Generation (not sure how to classify the Batman soundtrack) and goes through Emancipation - when he still was usually good, but never great. Late period I'd call his countless weird internet releases, instrumental albums, etc that have been coming out since Emancipation. Which all kind of stink.

Eric said...

Yeah-- I wasn't sure if early period were his weird one-man albums, middle period was the peak era with the Revolution and then arguably everything since then (more or less since the nineties) could be late period.
Confession: I actually don't know any post-Sign stuff beyond the usual hits. I keep meaning to pick up the Love Symbol album or Diamonds and Pearls one of these days (and Emancipation can usually be found for as little as a couple dollars for the three CD set) but I just hadn't felt the need to dive in just yet. I think that's about to change though. Any suggestions on first purchase?

Also, what I like most about these outtake albums is that since he declined in artistic quality right after this time, it's great that there is such a wealth of stuff made when he was still awesome that I hadn't heard. It's like it would be if it turned out that when Brian Wilson made Pet Sounds he recorded tons of B-Sides and unreleased songs in the same style, instead of just Hang on to Your Ego, which is really just I Know There's an Answer with different lyrics.

Via Chicago said...

You defintely could argue that everything from the "Artist" time period forward is late period. It's all such a notable step down from his prime that I wouldn't take huge offense. But there defintely is some better stuff in the early portions of that downward slide.

Really there are 3 albums of any note that I'd suggest from after Sign: Diamonds & Pearls, the Symbol album, and The Gold Experience. Actually, there's also the Batman soundtrack, which I actually think gets a bum rap because Batdance is so cheesy, but actually has some pretty decent stuff on there.

But of those other 3, Gold Experience is actually my favorite, as it has some mighty fine songs, including Endorphinmachine and Gold (which is basically the same song as Purple Rain, but that's OK with me). But for some unknown reason that album is out of print and so hard to come by. It's good, but not worth an extensive hunt to track down. From the other 2, Symbol is probably a more solid overall album, but D&P has both Cream and Gett Off, which are better then anything from Symbol (Sexy MF and 7 are the two well known songs there). So yeah, I always see both the Symbol one and D&P in used record bins for like $4, and if you're interested in exploring, those are both good places to start. Just avoid Chaos & Disorder. That stinks.