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Hitnrun Phase Two
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3 stars
HitnRun Phase Two

Slinky sex grooves, plus a tribute to Freddie Gray: Prince is back in top form

Prince put out two back-to-basics LPs in 2014, but ultimately he was outdone by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk,” which rode his classic Minneapolis sound all the way to Number One. Late in 2015, he came back with another one-two punch – the second half of which is a well-timed reminder that nobody knows how to funk you up better. HitnRun Phase One seemed to focus on where Prince wanted to go – EDM-inflected bangers, poppy dance cuts – but Phase Two, with its brassy, buoyant arrangements and cheeky lyrics, embodies the artist in his natural state as a soul-funk master.

Kory Grow


Prince: HITnRUN Phase 2

By Holly Gleason | December 18, 2015

From the opening notes of Prince’s HITnRun Phase 2, it seems like a return to the days of the Purple One’s midcareer classics like “Cream,” “Most Beautiful Girl in the World” and even “Kiss.” “Baltimore” feels good—churning, sleek, a bouncing to a rubbery beat—and that vibe permeates his latest collaboration with the New Power Generation.

But even through the positive musical vibes, HnR2 shows Prince sowing seeds of social commentary. He sings in “Baltimore,” “Does anybody hear us pray for Michael Brown or Freddie Gray / Peace is more than the absence of war… We’re gonna see another bloody day / We’re tired of crying, and people dying / Let’s take all the guns away.” Like Stevie Wonder and Sly Stone, hard truths are best served in a way they’re actually heard.

The serious elements don’t overtake HnR2, though. It’s not steeped in decrying social injustice. Instead, the album is a call to the kind of funk that closes over your head like too much champagne. Undulating, fizzy, and almost light-headed, this is music to induce a euphoria that lifts skirts and spirits.

Songs like “Stare” hilariously harvest Prince’s past. It tumbles with horns, invoking references to “Sexy Dancer,” “KISS,” and more specifically, “playing onstage in our underwear.” Prince also returns to topics more carnal. If more romantic than raw, in a world of cheap and sleazy hook-ups, he reminds people putting a genuine connection into the collision adds satisfaction.

In fact, throughout the entirety of HnR2, Prince is seemingly on the prowl, seeking extended coital bliss. It shows in the cheerfully boho tale of “Rock & Roll Love Affair,” the tumbling bass note of “Black Muse” descending into Wurlitzer waves and horn curls, and the piano, chimes and finger pops of the slow jamming “Groovy Potential.” The propulsive “Screwdriver,” equal parts garage rock and lean funk, surges and sweeps the listener into its clutches. The hyper-tempo and the buzzy guitar turn circles, as Prince rushes through verses to get to the exhorting “I’m your driver, you’re my screw” chorus—a tumult of want, build, and release.

While the pace of “Screwdriver” is not so easily maintainable for Prince (an icon of a certain age), that flex adds ballast to even the slighter moments. “Xtralovable” sounds like his impression of Tom Jones fronting Earth Wind & Fire and the pleasant enough. Closer “Big City” offers a metaphor for his paramour’s ability to make everywhere the big city ultimately falls short.

Maybe that’s the point on HnR2: Sometimes what feels good plays to the place between the ears, but doesn’t require stopping the moment to parse the songs. Sometimes it’s as simple as drop the needle and surrender to wherever the music takes you.


Prince: HitnRun Phase Two review – patchy but improved follow-up

3 stars (out of 5)

Michael Cragg | Sun 10 Jan 2016 03.00 EST

Each new Prince album – this is his 39th and second of 2015 (it was released just before Christmas ) – offers up hope of a return to form hinted at by his incendiary live shows. While patchy, the good news is that Phase Two is much better than its predecessor, offering up some classic Prince moments including political opener Baltimore, the horn-led workout Groovy Potential and the fantastic, sexually charged Xtraloveable. It’s telling, however, that the latter was originally demoed in 1982, while other songs here have already appeared in various forms. Unfortunately, some of the newer material – the embarrassing Stare, an aimless Big City – often feel like jam sessions looking for focus.


Prince – ‘HITnRUN Phase Two’
The Purple One's second album of the year is loved-up,
socially conscious and always entertaining

4 stars (out of 5)

By Matthew Horton | 16th December 2015

At 57, Prince is bulldozing towards his dotage, firing out whole albums in the time it takes Frank Ocean to approve a magazine cover. This is his fourth since last September’s ‘Plectrumelectrum’. He’s in a (naturally) purple patch, in the prolific sense, and there have been hints he’s shaken his creative malaise, with September’s ‘HITnRUN Phase One’ reconnecting him with the funkiest (and occasionally crunkiest) essentials, if not always his superior sense of melody.

‘Phase Two’ is a different proposition. Pulled together over four years (and, in 1980s disco-jazz cast-off ‘Xtraloveable’, drawing on older material from the Paisley Park vaults), it reunites Prince with backing band The New Power Generation and his craftsman’s way with a song. It’s much warmer than ‘Phase One’, thanks to analogue recording equipment and Minneapolis brass crew Hornheads, as well as a desire to get romantic and not just plain dirty.

Dirty’s always good, of course, although he could do with stronger lines than “It’s all I can do not to feel myself when I look at you” on the otherwise classy jazz-funk of ‘Look At Me, Look At U’. He gets lovey-dovey on accordion-tinged bluesy ballad ‘When She Comes’, which could fit into the second half of 1987’s ‘Sign ‘O’ The Times’. Echoing that album’s title track, he re-engages with his social conscience on the affecting call-to-drop-arms of ‘Baltimore’, which mourns Freddie Gray who died in police custody in April after being arrested for possession of what was thought to be a switchblade.

Obviously, Prince has done better and he knows it – there’s a cheeky sample from you-know-what just after he asks “Can I get a kiss?’ on the well-oiled funk of ‘Stare’; ‘RocknRoll Love Affair”s horns ape the synth riff from ‘Take Me With U’ – but not in living memory. ‘Groovy Potential’ has a shimmering Stylistics lushness about it and feels like his purest pop song since 1995’s ‘The Most Beautiful Girl In The World’. Even finer is the epic ‘Black Muse’, shifting from joyous Sly & The Family Stone funk to Jackson 5 sunshine soul over seven giddy minutes. Where all this fits in the mesh of the Prince pantheon is anyone’s guess, but it’s in the good part, and after nearly 40 albums that’s an achievement.



4.7 (out of 10)

by David Drake | JANUARY 8 2016

As a thought experiment, it's fun to imagine how classic Prince records might sound to fresh ears, to guess how "Kiss" and "I Would Die 4 U" and "1999" might be received by someone raised in the Spotify era. He's a notoriously streaming-unfriendly artist, after all, and even as his reputation looms larger than ever, his art has become more difficult to obtain. What would someone vaguely familiar with the legend but completely new to the music discover? Well, a millions things obviously—a particular melodic sensibility, the urge to continually reinvent, the indelible stories, his undeniable chops, a restless creativity. But in concrete terms, Prince's best work took new, unfamiliar paths to familiar feelings. Established song forms rebuilt the "wrong" way, Prince's discography has a stiff, funky, uncanny-valley relationship with the pop that came before.

And this is why HITNRUN Phase Two is an underwhelming entry in the artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince's canon. Relative to the idiosycratic and all-over-the place first iteration of the HITNRUN series, Phase Two is an organic-textured, polished, and predictable release. From beginning to end, Prince seems more interested in establishing his proficiency with pop forms, demonstrating his facility with the materials to craft, as it were, a sturdy wooden table. Rather than an artist's interpretation, we get a craftman's tracing.

This is in part due to the absence of Joshua Welton, formerly of forgotten R&B group Fatty Koo. Welton co-produced the bulk of the first HITNRUN album, accenting it with EDM flourishes in a way that felt mildly adventurous. Without them, the record feels bland. But ultimately it's a lack of ideas that sinks this record, a point which hits home every time these songs overtly or subliminally recall one song or another in pop music history. Whether the references are knowing (a nod to Prince's own "Kiss" partway through dancefloor record "Stare") or simply dial up favorites from R&B's celestial jukebox (the extended highlight "Groovy Potential" surely recalls Oliver Cheatham's "Get Down Saturday Night"), the songs rarely cohere into unique shapes. Or when they do, there's something quaint and mediated about the whole ordeal: the swaggering protagonists of "Stare," ("Now we got the sound that's popping in the street") may have the "party going ham" but the strutting feels calculated and theatrical.

We also get the waltz of "When She Comes," like an action-figure version of Otis Redding's "I've Got Dreams to Remember," or the ludicrous chorus of garage-rock vehicle "Screwdriver," which was first premiered in 2013 and could have been written for the Hives. Lyrics tend to be forgettably symbolic; "I'm in the big city when I'm in your arms." I mean, sure? This is perhaps most jarring on topical opener "Baltimore," which not only strikes a bum note tonally—the reassuriningly jaunty vibe is miles away from "Alright"—but just seems lazy: "We're tired of crying, and people dying/ Let's take all the guns away." OK, so no one needs Prince to offer policy positions, but in contrast with even the hippy idealism of his incredible '90s anti-gun anthem "Love Sign," "Baltimore" suggests complete creative fatigue.

The redeeming moments are ones which make some unpredictable moves—any shocks are welcome on a record as polite and poised as this. Near the end comes "Revelation," a spare version of an Isley Brothers-style ballad which holds attention by withholding. Prince's vocal performance has a touching grace, but what makes the song work is its subversive refusal to entirely exist: it feels like a shadow. But perhaps the album's true star is "Xtraloveable," a silly record with an amusing chorus conceit: "Whenever you need someone to take a shower with, call me up, please." It strikes a rare relatable-goofy balance, and like 2014's "Breakfast Can Wait" or 2015's "1000 X's and O's," this gives the record some weight and substance. It's a bit odd to imagine that shower sex is the most exciting part of Prince's day—after all, he's still a superstar living in a $10 million Paisley Park estate—but no reason not to take what you can get.


The New Power Generation help the
prolific Purple One get back on track.



Anyone hoping that Prince’s classic- tunes-stuffed Hit And Run tour of 2014 might remind him of the days when he exercised quality control and didn’t just splurge out iffy album after iffy album were likely to have been massively deflated by what came next - more iffy albums.

But for the over-saturated and aching mind of anyone still keeping up with Prince’s output, the arrival of HITnRUN Phase Two is something of a reward. It may be his fourth record in 15 months, and some of its tracks may have already been available as singles or promos since 2012, but it’s easily the best addition to his patchy latter-day catalogue. After the ropey house and crunk dabblings of Phase One, it reunites him with The New Power Generation and a band sound that consciously recalls the highs of his heyday. RocknRoll Love Affair references the synth hook of 1999 and strummy police brutality protest/call- for-peace opener Baltimore bears an echo of Take Me With U. Sometimes Prince makes the look over his shoulder even more direct, as when in Stare he playfully harks back to his bikini brief-wearing days with the line, **We used to go onstage in our underwear” and drops into the wristy guitar riff of Kiss.

But it’s perhaps no surprise when the quality dips. Xtraloveable is a reworking of a song written for his all-girl protege trio Vanity 6, scrapped in 1982, which remains a pedestrian perv-funker. Single-entendre rocker Screwdriver is just rotten, but followed two tracks later by the gorgeously wistful ballad Revelation. And so, yet again. Prince remains an artist in sore need of an outside editor. Still, if your attention span as a Prince fan has been sorely tested, HITnRUN Phase Two is a good point to reconnect with him. ★★★