BY TOM MOON
Hmm...let's see. Tombstone on the cover proclaiming 1993 as the year of Prince's death. A dramatic recollection from an abused child, complete with a scarifying warning: "Don't abuse children, or else they'll turn out like me." Vague talk about change, cosmic and otherwise. Could this be the major career announcement that has been pending since Prince, with a wave of his press agent's wand, became ?
Not so fast. Turns out that not much has changed except the name. The former Prince is still playing Artist Knows Best: When Warner Bros. shut down Paisley Park Records and cautioned him about flooding the market, what did this royal pain do? He set up another label, arranged independent distribution for his overflow goods and promptly scored a told-you-so hit with the puzzlingly Princelike "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World." Then he announced that he would fulfill his contract with Warner Bros. by issuing material from the countless reels of studio tape he made as Prince. Come, whose songs carry a 1994 publishing registration, is the first such archive collection. Naturally this "old" material is not to be confused with the music and worldview of the new, unpronounceable .
Whatever you do, appreciate these moves as part of what has become the most spectacular slow-motion career derailment in the history of popular music. Ordinary artists just make duds; this guy specializes in public-relations catastrophes that confuse his loyal following and erode his stature as the major genre-busting innovator of the last decade. Ordinary artists tear up albums and start again; he's tearing up his entire identity and starting again.
So far, however, this grand makeover-in-progress feels like another layer of pancake plastered onto the face of a tired actor. may not be Prince anymore, but he still has the same toolbox. There's nothing on the uneven Come or the 1-800 New Funk compilation, which was written and produced entirely by , that will change anybody's impression of this artist. He's still horny. Still adventurous. He can't escape his sonic signatures, which derive not only from his Jekyll-and-Hyde voice and its gymnastic falsetto but also from his rhythmic exactitude, ability to imply different harmonies and rare gift for insinuating melody. Nobody builds a vamp the way he does. No other guitar crackles with that dry, tart tang.
In the past, as he balanced these elements with the agility of a master orchestrator, Prince never left his imagination behind. He recognized that the interpretation had to sell the goods: He could give the raunchiest idea a sense of righteous grandeur and make a high-minded spiritual quest sound like an illicit affair. Not this time. Come features the most blatant soft-porn pillow talk Prince has ever released. At one point the lazy pulse of the title track becomes a forum for Prince to discourse on his (surprisingly ordinary) oral-sex techniques, and the closing "Orgasm" comes off as a you-are-there live remote recording of a sexual encounter.
Following a pattern established albums ago, Prince all but abandons the convoluted spiritual concerns he voiced on "7" and other tracks from the album (1992). He's back to earth -- talking Slylike and direct about "Race," moaning about being done wrong in the taut gospel ballad "Dark," returning to the relatively innocent seduction strategies of "Soft and Wet" on the blazing, funky chant "Pheromone."
But that stuff always was easy for Prince. Indeed, portions of Come, including "Space" and "Loose!," exhibit so little creativity, you wonder whether they were born during studio catnaps. Ever since "Alphabet St.," his challenge has been to broaden the music and allow it to address real issues, to move away from the cartoon image that dogged him after Purple Rain and Under the Cherry Moon. It's possible to interpret the gospel-tinged "The Sacrifice of Victor," from the album, as part of that campaign -- an account of Prince's childhood that was, for an artist who is obsessively secretive, a major step.
With the graphically violent "Papa," which chronicles the disciplining of a 4-year-old, Prince elaborates on the hints in "Victor" that he has been abused. "Papa" probably won't make the box set, but its coda is a fiery eruption worthy of the subject matter, and its candor is clear evidence that Prince wishes to be less restrained.
The same sort of forthright introspection marks the sauntering strut "Letitgo," which many will read as an apologia for the excesses of the Prince era. In a regretful tone, it offers a past-tense acknowledgment that Prince, that notorious workaholic, wasn't always the most pleasant creature. An indictment of his self-absorption, the song suggests that whatever comes next will represent a change in attitude: "Lover here, lover there/Who cried, who cared/Foolish pride/Never was a good seat at any of this man's shows/Until now, all I wanted 2 do was/Do do do what I do.... But now I've got 2 let it go."
That admonishment, Come documents Prince at a surprisingly mediocre point -- still able to pop out thumping, genuinely new grooves but unwilling to leave them alone, cluttering them with banal lyrics and overwritten horn parts and missing wildly with indulgent experiments like "Solo," one adventure in reverb best left in the vault.
So it's tempting to look to the compilation 1-800 New Funk as the true start of the era. If "Letitgo" serves as a preview of the attitude change that accompanies the name change, then this collection might be its first reel. It's odd that he would choose a compilation: Back when he was Prince, one of the thorns in his side was the inability to use his own success to generate interest in other artists. Paisley Park Records -- despite the presence of Mavis Staples and George Clinton -- never really established anybody. Yet the Purple One is still a magnet for talent, and this collection shows off his skills as a writer and as a producer even when the artists turn out to be wretched -- does it really come as a surprise that kinetic singer Mayte, of the New Power Generation, isn't mush of a singer? Prince-philes will already be aware of the Clinton ("Hollywood") and Staples ("You Will Be Moved") tracks, which appear on their most recent albums. There's a rousing performance by the Steeles ("Color"), the return of the instrumental funk terrorists Madhouse ("17") and "Love Sign," a duet between and Nona Gaye that is appropriately twitchy. The biggest surprise comes from Minneapolis native Margie Cox, whose "Standing at the Altar" is a buoyant single that finds paying affectionate homage to the Motown hit machine.
Still, no big meaning on this set. Maybe it's a mistake to expect such things from an artist whose focus is drifting from his art and who is increasingly settling on semantic games about what he should be called. Maybe someone who has contributed so much, whose ideas have broadened the very canvas on which everyone else works, deserves to trash everything while waiting for the next inspiration to arrive. That doesn't mean we have to suffer patiently beside him.
ROLLING STONE, SEPTEMBER 8TH, 1994
The Summer of 69
Two women I know have wildly opposing views on Prince. One confesses that she and her friends regularly fantasize about him, on the grounds that 'No sexual request you made would shock him - he'd do anything'. The other just squeals 'Urrrgh, but he licks things!'.
They'll both feel thoroughly vindicated by 'Come'. Well, what do you think it's about? What do you think songs like 'Pheromone', 'Letitgo' and 'Orgasm' might be groping towards? This is, by some kilometres, the dirtiest record Prince has ever made. (And yes, I'm quite aware that it has formidable competition.) It's a cunni lingual concept album.
It's said that innuendo and suggestion are far more erotic than the plainly explicit, but for once I'm not sure. The title (and opening) track is nine minutes of stuff like this: 'Don't be surprised if I make you my daily meal/Put my tongue in the crease baby, I go round when I go down/Can I suck you baby? Can I f** you baby?/It's no wonder there's a puddle there, you've been holding it in for so long ...'
But never mind, he thoughtfully adds, "You can always change your underwear'. (for Prince, sex is all about unselfishly servicing his woman, 'doing my duty'). It fades out with prolonged, squelchy-squelchy, tongue-seeking-clitoris noises.
Let's just say that any 'Radio Edit' would, for decency's sake, be a 30-second instrumental . This, the last recording under the name Prince - on the sleeve, he stands outside some cemetery gates bearing the legend 'Prince 1958-1993'- is apparently his parting gift to Warners (he's contracted for another five, but they'll probably come from the archives). An album containing no feasible singles. Touché.
There's an orthodox, received opinion that Prince hasn't recorded anything worth pressing Play for since 'Sign O' The Times'. Lazy, lazy zebrashit. If 'Alphabet St', 'Anna Stesia', 'Thieves in the Temple', 'Gett Off', 'Cream', 'Sexy MF', 'Peach' and , yes, 'The Most Beautiful Girl in The World' (which I've finally recognized as a marble-sculpted work of genius) didn't tickle your zones one way or another, your loins are barren, your soul is a desert, and you ain't got the rhythm, white boy.
Like every album he's made - yes, even the 'classics' - it's precisely 75 per cent divine. You know what this stuff sounds like. Lubricated shag-soul, as uncomfortably intimate as hearing someone f**ing in the room next door, a futuristic version of Marvin Gaye's 'Lets'get it on'.
The moist, soixante-neuflovejuice flow is disrupted four times: first by 'Loose!' which is, amazingly, a cardiac-attack blitzkrieg of 1991-style Joey Beltram stormtrooper rave, Prince's presence reduced to a maniacal scream, 'OneTwoThreeFour!!!'. 'Solo', an undulating cirrus cloud of Welsh harp, supports the rumour that Prince is obsessed with the Cocteau Twins, but I'm afraid my infantile mind suffers involuntary flashbacks to the music on 'Play School' when the camera went through the arched window.
Then his social conscience rears its intermittently embarrassing head. 'Race' is a facile 'Ebony And Ivory' like plea for unity with lyrics even Credit To The Nation might flinch from : 'Cut me, cut you, both the blood is read...get it?'.'Papa' is a graphic account of child abuse, in the manner of Suzanne Vega's 'Luka' . Why do people do this? Like The Smiths' 'Meat Is Murder', assuming you wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments, there's no pleasure in listening. It's like watching footage of laboratory experiments for perverted humanitarian kicks. Certainly, not the sort of thing you'd want to hear in the middle of a good licking.
Speaking of which, we already guessed that Prince is, beyond all doubt, the sort of guy who's tape record himself having sex. But even I never dreamed he'd put it on CD. 'Come' ends, logically enough, with 'Orgasm': a 'duet' with a partner credited as 'She Knows' consisting of 99 seconds of ecstatic, multiple-climactic female gasps and cries. It sure sounds real to me.
Prince: he licks things. Cool.
-- Simon Price
Review by David Browne
Okay, let's get this straight. The Artist Formerly Known As Prince will continue to release albums, some of them featuring early, unreleased material, under his former name on his old label, Warner Bros., while will unleash his latest creations on his own NPG Records. Under normal circumstances, music is left in the can for good reason. But then, isn't exactly average, and neither, thankfully, is Come (Warner Bros.), the latest album attributed to, simply, Prince.
For one thing, Come (which announces "Prince 1958-1993" on its cover) is a light, frothy throwaway, and it's about time. Comprised of undated recordings (probably earlier this year) with a pared-down version of the New Power Generation, it sets aside confusing album concepts and instead re-creates the relaxed, moony-voiced musical pillow talk of his Dirty Mind era. But Come isn't about nostalgia; "Loose!" is a sure-handed shot at techno, and the title song, the album's centerpiece, finds him merrily scatting and vamping ("you can always change your underwear") over a comforter-soft horn arrangement that proves how skilled he's become at intricate arrangements. Prince, or whomever, eventually weirds out as always, from a stark parental-abuse narrative, "Papa," to an exceedingly florid ballad cowritten with Broadway composer David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly). But its first half shows no one, er, does it better. also makes a few cameos as arranger and writer on 1-800-New Funk (NPG/ Bellmark), a compilation of artists formerly known as Paisley Park contractees before that label collapsed last fall. The album amounts to unintentional evidence of why the company failed. Except for vets like Mavis Staples, none of the new blood, including his latest protegee, Mayte, distinguish themselves; they could just as well be secretaries and bodyguards at his compound. Knowing what we do about , they may just be. Come: B+ 1-800-New Funk: C+
Tuesday, August 16, 1994
SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE
By Jim Walsh, Pop Music Critic
In predictably cryptic fashion, the artwork on Prince's new album, "Come," features a funeral motif, complete with the deceased's time on earth: "1958-1993." Obviously, this tombstone-worthy testimonial refers to Prince's metamorphosis into . But for the critically embattled genius, "Come" is more of a rebirth than death.
Throughout his career, Prince has been cast as a musical prodigy, love nymph, quasi-religious icon and out-of-touch space cadet - and has made some truly terrible records. But while the damage to his public image may have led many to write him off as old news, "Come" is a breakthrough. It reveals a guise of the guy that has been all but forgotten: human being.
On "Letitgo," the album's first single, Prince sings low, easy and autobiographically: "All my life I've kept my feelings deep inside/I never was a person to let somebody know/A lover here, a lover there, who cried, who cares, foolish pride/Until now all I wanted to do was do what I do and bang-bang-bang on the drummer/Better off dead if I couldn't be alone/Now I gotta let it go and let my feelings show/I'm ready for the real/Gimme something I can feel."
This reawakening has manifest itself in much of [symbol]'s most recent material, most notably his last two singles. "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" bent over backward to damage-control Prince's history of treating women as sex toys/goddesses, while "Love Sign," his duet with Nona Gaye, is a sweet funk-pop jam about kids and guns that asks: "If you only had one year left to live, what good is the time you spend if you got no love to give?/Let's all get up off the front and find a cause to back/Then we can teach the babies repercussions of the act."
Which is to speculate that, at 36, Prince's paternal instincts and larger sense of responsibility are kicking in like never before (recent live shows have included a cover of Sly Stone's "Babies Makin' Babies"). While his 1987 album "Sign o' the Times" traversed similar political terrain, "Come" is a more personally political work, the centerpiece of which is the remarkable "Papa," a smoldering blues-framed number about child abuse.
(In his 1992 composition "The Sacrifice of Victor," Prince frankly writes about his childhood. Epileptic until the age of 7, he says he acquired a somewhat fatalistic world view. Even more candidly than on "Papa," he relays a hard-won tale of abuse: "Mama held up her baby for protection/From a man with a strap in his hand/I remember what I want/Ask the victor 'bout pain and rejection/You think he don't when he do understand.")
But "Papa" isn't a cry for sympathy; it's catharsis. "There's always a rainbow at the end of every rain," he concludes, and, like anyone else approaching middle age, suggests that he's starting to look back while pushing forward. Fiercefully. Now more than ever before, Prince seems committed to making meaningful work. Most importantly, it's got a nice beat, and you can dance to it.
The bigot-bashing "Race" is a tightly delivered dance blowout that never slips into touchy-feely rhetoric, and the wildly romantic ballad "Dark" is a playful paean to the joys of lovemaking. Then there's the exquisite string-swaddled "Solo," co-written by "M. Butterfly" composer David Henry Hwang, which confronts the singer's fear of self-imposed solitary confinement.
"I'm so tired of being alone." Al Green said that, but on much of "Come," Prince implies it over and over again, as if he genuinely wants to connect - with you, me, himself, his band, the world at large. And while he has historically crusaded for utopian community ("Uptown," "1999," "Days of Wild") and collaboration ("Graffiti Bridge," "Paisley Park," "2 Nigs United 4 West Compton"), they have more often than not been sprinkled with Ozlike fairy dust.
Therein, as is always the case with Prince, lies the paradox. The promotional copy for "Come" reads: "This is the dawning of a new spiritual revolution." Well, call me a New Power Generation heretic, but no, it's not. This is the release of an excellent new album, period. And as admirable as his aspirations for higher faith may be - aspirations that most artists never even acknowledge or attempt to convey - Prince is not a god or a prophet, nor do we really need him as the epicenter of a new spiritual movement.
But we do need him as a songwriter. And as a songwriter, he's at his best when he thinks small, not big; when he talks to the listener, not preaches to the converted. Which is why the moments that resonate deepest off "Come" are the ones that feel as if you're listening to an old friend exposing something of himself, risking something real.
Musically, "Come" is yet another of Prince's delicious blendings of the past four decades of American black pop music. On the streets of New York, there is reportedly a Stevie Wonder renaissance under way; leave it to Prince to tap into that energy and pepper "Come" with more than a few Wonder-ful melodies. What's more, not only has Prince been hanging out with Marvin Gaye's daughter, but obviously with the late, great trouble man's back catalog: The horny 12-minute title track/aural aphrodisiac is a natural heir to "Let's Get It On," "You Sure Love to Ball" and "I Want You."
Which brings us to the sex thing. People who hate Prince hate Prince because he loves sex. Prince glorifies it out there in the open, onstage, on record. He opens "Come" by saying, "If you're 18 and over, c'mere. I got something for your mind." In other words: "Free your libido, and your mind will follow. Some heavy stuff's coming, but first let's have some fun."
It's a hard-to-resist invitation. Because dead or alive, Prince - and "Come," his most powerful record in years - provides pleasure and warmth in a cold, cold world. Wait a sec. Did I say Prince? Scratch that. And forget all those other ones - Symbolina, TAFKAP, Victor; I think I just figured out what to call the guy.
His name is Lazarus. And he is funky.
COME: 1958-1993 -- Prince (Warner Bros.): "This is the Dawning of a New Spiritual Revolution" reads the legend on the back of Prince's new album. Problem is, "Come" marks the first time we've heard the often-visionary Prince treading musical water. The word is that for his Warner Bros. albums, Prince will be Prince -- not the multisexual hieroglyphic he's using for a name these days. "Come" and future Prince albums are purported to be vault-cleaning exercises, though some of the tunes here are new. And all of them traverse familiar James Brown-George Clinton musical terrain -- the spare, taught rhythms, funky bass lines, jazzy horn charts and the occasional rock guitar power chords. Lyrically his dirty mind runneth over, which should be no surprise considering song titles such as "Come," "Loose" and the "spoken" performance "Orgasm." It has some tuneful moments and a couple of hot grooves, but "Come" is largely a toss-off that doesn't merit the excitement usually accorded Prince albums.
-- GARY GRAFF
Another album from Prince? Yes indeed -- a mysterious rush-release for what was apparently the last thing he recorded before he became Squiggle. The music, made with a quartet (stripped down from the New Power Generation) plus a horn section, bears this out, being fairly close kin to the style of Sexy MF. But why the delay? Mystique aside, one very good reason might be to avoid the risk of having your latest album ridiculed.
True, Prince is no stranger to the raising of eyebrows. But this is different -- this is Prince's sex album. Now in matters of the erotic, it's a universal truth that the veiled is much more enticing than the explicit. Prince evidently feels honour bound to prove the opposite. So, using the sound of waves breaking and a girl saying come as a linking motif, Prince promises to make her do just that. The result? Half a good album, half toe-curlingly embarrassing.
The lengthy opening title track sets the tone: some nice easy funk and jazzy brass, an imaginative and genuinely seductive hook line in If you had a chance to see the future, would you try? Left at that, it would be perfectly fine. But Prince tries to talk of puddles, doing it on a chair and adds some painfully cringe-inducing attempts at oral sex sounds. As if already aware that this is not enough, he tries to blend sex with love -- to do to her mind what he does to her body -- and goes on to more mildly risque stuff-the f-word (ooh!) and voyeurism among other things.
None of this is even remotely sexy but suddenly, in the middle of it all, comes a run of more tenuously related tracks which are actually pretty good. There's the harder, up-tempo excitement of Loose, the bumping equality rap of Race, the '60s Southern R&B-style lament of Dark and the poppy, bouncy funk of Let It Go. This segment also includes the album's one genuinely shocking track -- Papa, a psychologically fraught tale of child abuse and suicide, set to a slow, spartan mood with thunderstorm effects.
Then, alas, it's back to the explicit stuff and the unlistenably awful closer Orgasm, a monumental error of judgement in which Prince makes schoolboys' diving airplane noises with his guitar and his companion fakes a climax while Prince whispers helpful things like keep going and you're nearly there (as if she needed telling). The last words are I love you. Come? The only thing that Orgasm arouses are incredulity and a sincere wish that somebody had stopped him from making a fool of yourself....
Prince really should have remembered why big suits were invented in the first place and why they'll always be more exciting than tight trousers. Meanwhile, from the safety of two years down the line, Come comes on like a historical curiosity that's far more erratic than erotic.
Friday, August 19, 1994
PRINCE CLASHES WITH SYMBOL
by Chuck Arnold, Daily News Staff Writer
He came and he conquered.
Now, on the macabre cover of the new album by the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, you'll find the tombstone dates for Pre-Symbol Prince (1958-1993).
Well, don't give away all your purple to Goodwill just yet, because Prince lives!
On "Come" (Warner Bros., * * * 1/2), which is the last studio album he recorded as Prince (although tons more tunes remain locked in vaults), he takes U back 2 a time when his music and his nomenclature were much simpler. Unlike his last studio effort, 1992's Symbol Album, there's little progressive (for Prince) about the new record. But it's refreshing and oh-so-relieving to hear him just funk for the funk of it.
"Come's" frivolous but focused party vibe recalls Prince's early-'80s standards "Controversy" and "1999," and, to a lesser extent, 1988's unreleased "The Black Album." It also marks a return to his more bare-bones pre-New Power Generation days, although NPG members do play here. This back-to-basics approach results in some of his best dance music in years.
The album's tone is set by its title track, an epic (11-plus minutes) sleaze groove on the order of "Erotic City" and "D.M.S.R." (off "1999"). It's irresistibly decadent, with a jazzy horn arrangement and bass line providing the perfect musical bed for Prince's explicit pillow talk.
While the topic remains the same, the tempo picks up with the steady- thrusting hard funk of "Pheromone." "Loose!" is even more pounding, with bursts of industrial and techno making it quite the rave.
No Prince party would be complete without a slow jam, and "Come" has one of his finest ever in "Dark." This gorgeous, gospel-inflected ballad shows, once again, just how underrated he is as a vocalist, as his peerless falsetto is in top form.
The single "Letitgo" brings the beat back toward the end, but not so much so that you lose its reflective lyric about being true to oneself. Prince has apparently changed his name so he can be free as an artist, and in the process he will be going up against his former self. He wants to record new music under his new name for his new label (NPG/Bellmark, which released the hit single "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World"), while his old label (Warner Bros.) issues old but previously unreleased music from the vaults under his old name.
Judging from "1-800-New-Funk" (NPG/Bellmark, * * ), Prince has won Round 1 against Symbol Man. This lackluster collection of songs - half of which were written by the Artist Formerly Known as Prince - includes such Prince- affiliated performers as George Clinton, Mavis Staples and the New Power Generation. Symbol Man himself duets with Nona Gaye on the anti-violence message song "Love Sign," one of the album's two highlights (the other being Gaye's solo "A Woman's Gotta Have It").
Suffice it to say, let's hope this is not a sign of the times to come.
THE MIAMI HERALD
Wednesday, August 17, 1994
WHEN PRINCE IS GOOD, HE'S VERY, VERY GOOD
BY LEONARD PITTS JR.
* Prince, Come, Warner Brothers.
OK, pay attention, 'cause this gets tricky. About two years back, Prince announced that he was "retiring" from active recording. He had, he said, left his longtime label, Warner Bros. Records, with some 500 songs from which to cull albums in perpetuity.
The "retirement," of course, proved short-lived. Adopting a new persona and an unpronounceable name, Prince went to tiny Bellmark Records and scored in a major way with the The Most Beautiful Girl, one of his biggest hits in years. Warner, meantime, was left sitting on those masters.
But shed no tears for the poor little multinational. Come, the first album under this strange deal, is startlingly good in spots.
Of course, other spots have more filler than cheap dog food. Like the nondescript single Letitgo. Like the derivative club jams, Loose and Pheromone, which have nothing to say and attempt to cover their emptiness with an onslaught of in-your- face beats. Or, like Orgasm -- which is essentially composed of distorted guitars crashing like prehistoric beasties, and the ocean rushing to the shore as a woman moans and whimpers her way to the top of Mt. Climax. Or is that Mt. Cliche? The gimmick was old 20 years ago.
But when Come is on, Come is outstanding. Among the highlights: Papa, a tart tale of child abuse; Race, an anti- hatred polemic, and Solo, wherein Prince employs a floating, ethereal falsetto and little else to take us on a guided tour of the sewers of the soul. The best thing about Come, though, is its title track -- a baldly libidinous come-on, scalding in its bare-knuckles sexuality. Even by the standards of the man who gave us Head and Gett Off, Come is a lusty boot-knocker of a rocker punctuated with James Brown horn riffs and jazzy brass excursions.
Given the lightning pace with which musical fads and fancies come and go, one wonders how long Warner will be able to remain competitive while compiling albums from the same aging group of songs. But right now, the company's sitting pretty, no matter what Prince is calling himself this week.
Come and get it.