Prince — 20Ten (2010)

All right, if nobody else is going to go there, I will. The wave that Prince was ripping since 2004’s comeback album Musicology finally broke—but what a ride! With a renewed love of the funk, and his guitar, the purple one seemed hungry for relevance once again after foundering at the close of the millennium.

2006’s 2131 featured a classic single, Black Sweat, along with the title track that made fans actually want to dance once again! Lest you forget that the man is nuttier than a sack full of squirrels, he gave away 2007’s Planet Earth with the UK Sunday papers. ’Erm … Prince, I get that you still can’t stand the record business, who can, but how about a little Stateside love? Still, it was good to hear Wendy & Lisa back for a cameo.

Later that year, Prince spent 21 nights at London’s O2 arena tearing the place apart, judging from the bootlegs I’ve heard. 2008’s Indigo Nights, a live album of after hours indigO2 club jams from that tour was packaged for minimum penetration—stuck as it was in a Princely narcissistic coffee table book. (Watch for these on the remainder tables at your local Borders and snag one).

OK, his marketing is a little hit and miss, but at least he’s firing on all cylinders musically. 2009 brought the double shot (triple shot if you count the Bria Valente record that nobody listened to) of LotusFlow3r and MPLSound, packaged together and only available at Target. This was long before the Tom Emmer Controversy. Prince, did Target know you used to wear women’s clothes? Just asking.

Which brings us to 20Ten, chronologically, as well as by appellation. Things start well enough with the Linn drums and 1999-era keys that kick off Compassion. The lyrics are positive without being preachy, and what the hell, I’m no nihilist. The same goes for Beginning Endlessly, as a child of the ’80s, I have soft spot for those synth patches. His purpleness is getting a little metaphysical here, but he’s in good voice. Did he just ask to explore her anatomy? That has to be a good sign, right?

The heat turns way down with the slow jam Future Soul Song. Prince sings this one straight; it’s interesting to hear him croon in the lower register. I get a Stylistics/Philly vibe from this … until about halfway through, then … uh oh. Prince’s faith has underscored his art ever since his conversion to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2001. To interrupt the flow to complain about “dogmatic persecution?” I don’t want to hear it.

The angular, but oddly sedate, Sticky Like Glue has a catchy hook, and I can imagine Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki rocking this song. In fact, maybe I’d rather be listening to Milk Man. Time was, you got sticky from listen to a Prince album, all right, and it wasn’t from glue.

Lavaux, brings us back to Prince the sensualist. With a subtext of escape, Prince name-checks the Swiss mountains and vineyards of Lavaux, as well as the streets of Portugal. All great places, I’m sure, but who besides Prince can afford to run off to Europe to avoid “another kind of slavery?” Musically, however, this is right in the pocket.

After a couple more unremarkable slow jams, we get to Everybody Loves Me, the nadir of the man’s output over the past decade. Lyrically and musically it sounds like something written for an appearance on Sesame Street. I can’t get the image of Muppets singing along with this inane chorus. Fuck me, Elmo.

Prince pulls 20Ten out of its nosedive with the “hidden track,” Laydown, which has him getting his freak on rocking a Missy Elliot melody. I almost expected to hear him exclaim “gimme some new shit!” By now you’ve heard the “Purple Yoda” reference, and sure, that’s cute, but the revelation here is the funk. There’s bass on this track that proves that having Larry Graham hanging out at Paisley Park wasn’t lost on Prince.

20Ten, like Planet Earth, was again inexplicably released by gluing the damn thing to newspapers in the UK. I don’t get it. As of this review, there are no plans to even put out this record in the States, or in the world at large for that matter. What’s up Prince? Maybe we’ll get a different version without that fucking Muppet song. Who knows?


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