The Vault... Old Friends 4 Sale
Or how about some previously unreleased portraits of The Artist as
a young man that his former label have cobbled together to cash in on a dwindling
hardcore rump of completist fans? Recorded between 1985-'94 this motley collection
beggars a very uncomfortable question: "Grandpa, did you really think
this bloke was a genius?"
You'd be hard-pressed to name any great Prince songs of the 1990s;
hell, you'd actually be hard-pressed to remember the tune five minutes after
you'd heard it. After fighting his psychological war against the mighty corporate
pig giant, The Artist seems content to churn out some of the most
perplexingly awful sub-Parliament rubber-thumb-bass funk that is unworthy
of the godlike genius who thrilled the baggy pants off a generation with
the epic genre-bending of '1999', 'Dirty Mind', 'When Doves
Cry' and 'Kiss'.
There are flashes of that brilliance here. 'She Spoke 2 Me' (which
actually cropped up on the soundtrack for Spike Lee's Girl 6)
is one of those lubricated jazzy soul ballads that slinks in and out of Combustible
Edison loungecore territory while '5 Women' is a torch song that
reeks of unhealthy obsession and painful sex.
There are a couple of standard Prince fillers, like the taut sub-Sly & The
Family Stone stomper 'Sarah' and the agreeable though unmemorable 'It's
About That Walk', complete with horrible '80s brass sound that is already
picking up some kitsch appeal.
But apart from that, the cupboard is bare. Prince material that is
mediocre: the perfect revenge of the Warner Brothers' plantation owners
on their erstwhile slave.
WALL OF SOUND
The Vault...Old Friends 4 Sale
Label: Warner Bros.
Genre: Rock, Pop
File Under: Whose vault is this, anyway?
Not everything he does is touched by genius.
While it's true that Prince has without question made some of the most inspired
and exhilarating music of the past two decades, he's also made plenty that's
simply average. And either by virtue of the enigmatic and relentlessly prolific
Artist himself (those three and four CD sets of new and archival material
are beginning to wear on the patience and the pocketbook) or at the behest
of his former record label, Warner Bros. (whose insistence on Prince's satisfying
all his contractual obligations has brought us the set in question), we're
destined to sift through piles and piles of the stuff in search of a diamond
here, a few pearls there.
The Vault's chintzy packaging is the first tip-off this is little
more than a quick cash grab. The minimal liner notes peg the material in
the set as being recorded between 1985 and 1994, commenting that it was "originally
intended 4 private use only."
Better it had stayed that way. Clocking in at less than 40 minutes, The
Vault contains a mishmash of styles -- jazz, blues, rock, and pop,
which prove that, yes, Prince can pretty much do whatever he pleases stylistically.
But the tunes are hardly his best of the period and would have each been
only minor tracks on any of his albums had they seen the light of day before
Dyed in the wool Symbolmaniacs have probably heard this material already
on the numerous Prince bootlegs that are available (the Purple One's Paisley
Park Studios are notoriously leaky), while the rest of us are left to shake
our heads in disgust as the little guy's legacy gets watered down even further.
-- Daniel Durchholz
The Vault ... Old Friends 4 Sale
While "legends" like Stevie Wonder or Bob Dylan or James Brown have
had clearly defined periods where they were great and clearly defined periods
where they sucked, Prince has always mixed garbage with greatness. Certainly,
between the release of 1999 and Lovesexy it was more hit than
miss; conversely, the period post-Lovesexy has been the era of generally
bad albums highlighted by occasional great songs. However for years, fans have
been telling non-fans that decidedly unappealing albums like Graffiti Bridge and Diamonds & Pearls only
told part of the story because the "really good" songs were still
locked away. Finally, last year, Prince opened the doors to his legendary "vault" of
unreleased music with the triple disc Crystal Ball. But marred by an
absurdly high price tag, the scattershot collection of remixes and subpar outtakes
mixed with a small sampling of truly wonderful music was ultimately disappointing.
And the general consensus was that Warner Bros. was the problem. After all,
the big evil record company had made poor Prince a slave and surely held all
the best music to release at their whim.
Well, supposedly, The Vault is all they've got. And if this is all
they've got, Prince really is a big jerk for foisting Crystal Ball on
his fans, since between the two sets, exactly none of his best outtakes
are represented. However, though Old Friends 4 Sale doesn't contain
his best outtakes, it does -- like Crystal Ball -- contain some very
good ones. The title track was originally recorded in 1985 for inclusion
in Under the Cherry Moon, but was re-recorded in 1991 and given to
Joe Cocker. While the original version was a creepily personal tale of betrayal,
this later version assumes poetic distance and (thanks to sweeping strings
and bombastic production) winds up sounding rather ordinary. Nonetheless,
it's still a beautiful and touching song. Also recorded for Joe Cocker (what's
up with that?) was "5 Women," a bluesy, piano-based number that
is probably the best breakup song ever written. Accented here by beefy organ
and a sulky horn lines, it's truly affecting.
Also represented are some of the songs Prince wrote for the ill-fated James
L. Brooks musical I'll Do Anything. Although the musical numbers were
removed from the movie, it was probably due less to the quality of the music
("The Rest of My Life" and "My Little Pill" are quirky,
cinematic ditties, sure, but "There Is Lonely" is a crushingly
great ballad) than the suspension of disbelief that would have been required
to watch Nick Nolte sing them. "She Spoke 2 Me" was featured in
truncated form in Spike Lee's Girl 6; this version is about three
minutes longer. Among the other songs, recorded for various other reasons,
the highlights are the warmly groovy "When the Lights Go Down," "It's
About that Walk," a giddily loose paean to the female posterior, and
the luscious ballad "Extraordinary," which features tempo changes
and harmonies that only Prince could get away with. And, though 10
songs is a painfully slight representation of the breadth and quality of
Prince's unreleased work, The Vault nonetheless is an intriguing album,
since, at the very least, it's starting to give some indication of what the
man has always been capable of.
The Guardian (London)
What became of the talent
formerly known as Prince?
Lost in music
The Vault. . . Old Friends 4 Sale
Remember when a Prince album was still an event? You'll have to cast your
mind back a few years, to a time before he started changing his name and
becoming preoccupied with the corporate machinations of the record industry
than with making music. The material gathered on The Vault is at least
partially from the Marvellous Midget's heyday, since it begins at the start
of 1985 (after Purple Rain) and runs through to the dodgier dateline
of mid-1995, when Prince had turned into a funny symbol and was releasing
the Beautiful Experience EP. But dates notwithstanding, the 10 tracks
here present a different side of Prince from the one he chose to expose to
public view. The album was, apparently, 'originally intended for private
use only' and often the mood is more like the atmosphere of one of his celebrated
post-concert jam sessions than of whatever image-makeover he happened to
be promoting at the time. Here, Prince avoids the frequently distressing
forays into hip-hop and rap which disfig ured many of his later discs, opting
instead to stick to the musical roots you sense he always felt happier with
soul, funk, R&B and some brief flirtations with modern jazz, notably
in the intricate extended guitar soloing of She Spoke 2 Me. The music
was recorded in studios as far-flung as Paris, Tokyo and Los Angeles, with
Prince leading a shifting cast of musicians rather than a fixed band, though
familiar names like Sheila E and Levi Seacer crop up. The recording quality
is strikingly clean and resonant, leaving bags of space for a barrage of
superior contributions on almost any instrument that can be blown, plucked
or thwacked. When The Lights Go Down is a slinky, languid exercise
in small-hours funk, coloured with splashes of cocktail-jazz piano, tablas
and slithery guitar. In Old Friends For Sale, Prince drags a coarse
rasp from his voice to fit the luxurious bluesiness of the Gil Evansesque
orchestral arrangement. He's back in bluesland on 5 Women, featuring
some stinging guitar which might have been nicked from B B King's The
Thrill Is Gone. Prince sounds delighted to be singing about his favourite
subject: sex, and loads of it. He has another stab at it in Sarah,
a whippy slice of funkiness dripping with rampant libido, and the closest
thing to vintage prime-time Prince on offer. These are terrific performances
of several powerful tracks, but collectively The Vault sounds like
a bunch of oddments. Mostly, it's a reminder of a huge talent which mysteriously
-- Adam Sweeting
LOS ANGELES TIMES
By NATALIE NICHOLS
Prince, "The Vault . . . Old Friends 4 Sale,"
The message in the title is clear enough for this collection of 10 previously
unreleased tracks, recorded between 1985 and 1994 when the Artist was still
just Prince, and made available now to fulfill part of an agreement ending
the singular pop craftsman's long, and ultimately strained, relationship
with Warner Bros. Records.
Not unexpectedly, the album offers no heart-stoppers -- no "When Doves
Cry" or "Kiss" or "Diamonds and Pearls." But these
casual, sometimes glib castoffs include a soulful ballad, some lighthearted
funk-pop and a couple of playfully lascivious numbers that mostly remind
us of how formidable a creative force Prince was at the height of his powers.
Never very satisfying, "The Vault" hovers between intriguing and
disappointing. Complete with lavish horn arrangements and filigreed strings,
such bluesy numbers as "There Is Lonely" and the Al Green-esque "5
Women" are crafted with a big-band sensibility. The mournful title track
even recalls the old-time sophistication of a bluesy Frank Sinatra or Billie
Holiday jazz crooner, with wiggier lyrics.
Yet the percussive funk of "The Rest of My Life" is so fluffy
it practically floats away, and the dark, brief, spoken-word bit "My
Little Pill," while odd in a pixie-dusted, Brian Wilson way, hardly
qualifies as a song at all.
September 10, 1999
PRINCE / THE VAULT...OLD FRIENDS 4 SALE (Warner Bros.) This left-over compilation
of outakes from Prince's years with WARNER BROS.sounds more committed than
a lot of his indie releases of recent vintage. Using members of the swinging
bands that backed him on DIAMONDS & PEARLS and , Prince teases
out leisurely, unforced grooves that shimmer with horny horns, cascading
keyboard waterfalls, and on-the-one grit. It's a welcome stopgap for long-suffering