Tuesday, April 26th, 2016

Carrie Underwood – Church Bells

Maybe next time he’ll think before heThere won’t BE a next time…


[Video][Website]
[5.62]

Alfred Soto: Essaying an adult “Before He Cheats” sounded fetching until, imitating Pat Benatar, she tries to outsing the boring solo despite her voice reflecting a digitized reality she has sought for a couple years.
[4]

Lauren Gilbert: OK, Carrie Underwood’s team, it’s time we talk about singles. This is a perfectly competent “Goodbye Earl”-eqsue country song, but “pretty girl marries abusive rich guy” isn’t exactly new territory, nor is “red state focus on church-going may conceal hypocrisy, news at 11.” While none of the singles off Storyteller have been bad, neither have they been particularly memorable. This is particularly frustrating because Storyteller is one of Underwood’s better offerings; there are great singles to be had (the foot-stomping goodness of “Choctaw County Affair,” the swelling vocals of “Mexico”).  “Church Bells,” on the other hand, is OK, but not great.
[4]

Anthony Easton: The picking and the slams indicate that this would be a southern melodrama, something like “Fancy.” That it is about class and class transgression deepens that complication. That the song is about church bells (and the notion that the church refuses to protect her but protects her rich husband), but the song does not actually feature any church bells themselves reflects that the protective spell of the small town does not extend to Daisy. Extra points for the chaotic guitar shreds. It’s not as good as “Independence Day” or “The Thunder Rolls,” though. 
[7]

Crystal Leww: There are a lot of things I find barf-worthy about the Chris Stapleton Saves Country Music narrative, but chief among them is the suggestion that country artists ever stopped telling compelling, real, interesting stories. “Church Bells” is a beautiful narrative about how a woman took a domestic violence situation into her own hands and it is brutal and specific and gorgeous. Carrie Underwood yet proves why she is the best, most versatile star of the genre.
[8]

Mark Sinker: Sudden urgent need to list and explore all the many many things an old-school guitar solo has been unleashed to stand in for: church bells here, of course, as celebration and as torment and as terrible warning. Not that I’ve remotely been paying attention in the right places to draw up such a list. Don’t @ me.
[7]

Josh Love: The fact it’s called “Church Bells” and the narrative pauses post-battery to show us the victimized wife praying in the back pew, listening to the bells and the choir with the reassurance “It’s gonna be alright” made me think for a moment this song was going to be about a woman relying on the hereafter to rectify earthly transgressions, which would’ve been somewhere between deeply uncomfortable and downright irresponsible but at least unexpected. Instead the abuser immediately gets his rightful sip of poisoned whiskey and bing-bang-boom everything’s tied up with a tight little bow. Too bad it’s a tale “Goodbye Earl” told 15 times better 15 years ago.
[3]

Cassy Gress: The harmony in thirds that goes through virtually the whole song is fiery, and instrumentation aside, this reminds me a lot of another song we covered recently that I really liked. I’m not sold on that 2/4 bar that separates the verses from the pre-chorus, though, and the pre-chorus itself sounds too much like the verses to act as much of a intro to anything. Third-person revenge songs seem like they should be sung in hushed, menacing ways, as a warning to any other would-be abusers or abusees out there — like well-worn ghost stories, or even maybe a carnival barker trying to spook the patrons buying tickets for the haunted house. This isn’t much different from “Before He Cheats” though.
[5]

Brad Shoup: It’s not a surprise that the bells ring for different reasons at different points in the song. But what’s remarkable is the shared tone they strike: when the drummer hit the crash, the track casts its gaze upward. There’s this awesome, nearly overwhelming sense of possibility that’s the same whether Underwood’s character is tying the knot or tying up loose ends.
[7]

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Maxwell – Lake By the Ocean

Sure, you can leave your sweater on the whole time, no worries.


[Video][Website]
[7.00]

Katherine St Asaph: I want to think what prompted Maxwell’s return to music was hearing DUNCE out somewhere and thinking “are you actually shitting me?”
[7]

Josh Love: D’Angelo stole all of Maxwell’s resurrected neo-soul genius shine and now 2009’s BLACKsummers’night has been shunted off to the side for the ignominy of not winning P&J. With a seven-year hiatus following his previous eight-year sabbatical, Mr. Rivera may not ever be as compelling a comeback figure as the Black Messiah, but “Lake by the Ocean” makes another strong case for good things coming to those who wait, particularly in the way Maxwell’s feathery vocals contrast with the sturdy melody. I can think of little higher praise to bestow upon a mere mortal this week than to say that this song would’ve been possibly a solid B in Prince’s catalogue.
[8]

Alfred Soto: As effortless as a slow tongued smooch with a beloved, the piano and drum groove makes a hash out of “comeback” blather. I mean, who cares about “evolution” when Maxwell keeps refining his steez? The title alone is a killer.
[9]

Maxwell Cavaseno: My old nemesis and his trash falsetto high-notes has returned, and there can be only one… but in the meantime, I’m just reviewing his single. I don’t quite understand the stutters in the drum programming for the chorus; maybe he thinks they’re clever and experimental, a funny little blemish in the blandness of his production here. Didn’t this guy used to have Stuart Matthewman for records? Now he’s got… what exactly is this? The Muzak Militia? This isn’t even babymaker music, its infantile, regressive, and puts you off to bed to never wake up.
[1]

Edward Okulicz: The WAY Maxwell STRESSES certain WORDS in this CHORUS makes him sound more desperate than anything, like someone’s going to choke on something by the end of the story. It shoots for effortless smooth and cool, but that either happens or it doesn’t. Still, there’s enough slick signifiers in here that some sexy time at a LAKE by the OH-cean does sound like a nice prospect. This was a [6] until I dimmed the lights a little and pretended I was taking myself out on a dirty weekend.
[7]

Brad Shoup: My wife just texted me that she was done with work, and I thought I texted back “still blurbing” but I actually texted “still blurring” so she texted “like Robin Thicke” and I think I get Maxwell now.
[7]

Thomas Inskeep: When it comes to smooth R&B, no one a) does it as well, and/or b) makes it look as effortless as Maxwell. The man oozes romance, not just in his lyrics, but in his singing (especially his singing), arrangements, musical accompaniments. Maxwell’s records sound like what most people would likely like to hear from their lovers: the tone and tenor of romance, of devotion, of sweet love. “Lake by the Ocean” is perfect dreamy amor.
[10]

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Twenty88 ft. K-Ci & JoJo & Detail – 2 Minute Warning

How about we forget this and go listen to some Twenty 4 Seven instead?


[Video][Website]
[3.14]

Jonathan Bogart: Times like this I think the uptight Victorian culture that maintained a strict, outraged silence about all things sexual had a point.
[1]

Katherine St Asaph: “Micromanage it” is possibly the least sexy metaphor for sex I’ve heard in some time, and that’s in a track that also employs GMOs, yet another “friend zone/end zone” rhyme, and a title that begs a joke so obvious it’s hardly worth making.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Detail is a really good producer guys! Jhené Aiko is still just really middling as a singer and her half-baked songwriting is perfectly protected by limiting her to a constant state of being featured on her own project, as alarming as that concept sounds. Big Sean remains the most generic personality in the world and is an uninteresting rapper no matter how needly his double-time works. Meanwhile, K-Ci & JoJo are distorted and tucked away in a deep dark pocket of the beat, and that’s fine because I can hear the ominous dread of JoJo taking vocal solos, which like many a crime still occurs in shadowy parts of the world.
[2]

Alfred Soto: What a relief that her genitals are clean — the better for him to “push” it in. K-Ci and Jhené Aiko are eyewitnesses to this shit. Not a good idea for a four-minute plod to give itself this title either.
[2]

Edward Okulicz: A 2 minute wearning delivered what seems like 200 times, everything about this is pure drudgery. Another song whose rhymes appear to have been written by pubescent boys masquerading as adults, eliciting groans at an astonishing rate. As for the score, the song was asking for it.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: Neither Jhené Aiko nor Big Sean have ever sounded this sexy: credit Detail’s work behind the boards and the genuine chemistry between Aiko and Sean (doing some of his best work), which makes Twenty88 really click. Calling in K-Ci & JoJo to sing the chorus never hurts, either. 
[8]

Brad Shoup: I mean, you know y’all did a good job, sexually, when the sheets are clean. And that’s just one rake that Sean steps on in tripletime. I’m a little dismayed that Sean and Aiko have peeled the Hailey brothers away so close to the release of the Jodeci record; a little more dismayed that she joins them on the chorus to create a muddy vocal soup. Absolutely nothing coheres.
[4]

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Miles Davis, Robert Glasper & Bilal – Ghetto Walkin’

Smooth.. tasteful… stale… kind of pleasing…


[Video][Website]
[5.88]

Alfred Soto: Bilal sings and means well. The track is pretty. Everybody means well on this…well, is it homage or exploitation? I can’t keep that repulsive new Miles biopic out of my mind.
[4]

Mark Sinker: Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead I like because (for all its manifest faults as a film) it comes at the music crabwise: Davis’s own tangle of poses and stances and angers and niggly mindfucks are not aesthete-fluffed towards mere pseudo-swoons of timeless bland beauty, but somehow dug out through the composer-trumpeter’s own difficult, verbalised versions of them. Now an actor/film-maker at least knows there are things they can do that Davis maybe couldn’t — and I have to wonder if it isn’t a lot harder for a fellow musician to pull this off. A little too much practical reverent awe gets in the way, especially if, like Glasper, you were only three years old when Miles’s 80s comeback happened. This triangulates Teo Macero’s’s pioneering 60s tape-looping with its distant 90s cousins acid jazz and trip-hop, and Bilal hangs a mist of 70s soul ghosts in the air over them — which distils the gentle prettiness that was of course always there — but the hornman’s relentless testiness is dissolved into a vague haze of poetry and uplift.
[6]

Jonathan Bogart: Pretty and righteous in equal measure, but when you put Miles Davis’ name on a track, I don’t think I’m too far out of my lane to expect some goddamn horn, instead of chopped-up Chick Corea and Joe Chambers.
[6]

Josh Love: I’m trying not to hold it against this cut that Glasper could’ve picked about ten million wilder or more distinctive Miles moments to build a song upon (the fact that the Erykah Badu and KING features were sourced from Davis’ dank fusion-funk era has me giddy with anticipation). In fact, “Ghetto Walkin'” wears its subtlety well, and the cool instrumentation undergirds Bilal’s alternatingly haunting and impassioned meditations on racial inequality. Still haven’t figured out that Good Will Hunting reference though.
[7]

Brad Shoup: When I think about Miles and samples I remember that the first album of his I bought was Doo-Bop and then I black out. It sounds like Glasper augmented the riff’s electric piano, but Bilal is the focus here. He’s so quiet: not diminished, but reserved. In the second verse he’s paying explicit homage to Curtis Mayfield in the way he points his phrasing skyward. This is not ghoulish in the least, and though there’s almost no trumpet, Davis is present in the arrangement.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Personally I feel like the recent biopic about Miles Davis that Don Cheadle has produced is an insult to the man’s memory. Drug addiction as a defining characteristic is embedded, leaving it to fall to those many cliches, and the concept of a white journalist lending a helping hand is the kind of thing that would have Davis’ hoarse voice hiss ‘motherfucker‘ were he still with us. But he’s dead now, and no amount of rigor mortis allows for those who have left us to hold onto their identities, and that’s the tragedy of that film and its accompanying soundtrack single. This tribute by Robert Glasper and Bilal is fine; Bilal was always the greatest vocalist of the neo-soul movement and Glasper is serviceable in doing a little loop and effects. But his appearance at the song in original form feels like cheap totemism. The same way that we have single art that reflects earnest Basquiat emulation or Bilal drops “100 Miles & Runnin'” as a casual phrase. The collage tapestry of historical figures is little different than X Ambassador’s “Renegades” and has always been the gigantic Achilles heel of neo-soul’s historicism. Yes, these icons you’re grab-bagging from had a stature and rebellious figure, but they chose to stand as a wild break in what’s come before them. Such a dull, studious, play it safe sentiment is the very thing that would make someone like a Davis’ lip curl. But you can’t turn away the monuments to your memory when you’re already in the dirt.
[5]

Leonel Manzanares: Vinyl hiss and smokey beats is a setting i’m usually on board with, but i expected way more from a Miles-sampling tune. Here it feels a bit stale, despite the crisp bassline and the layered voices. It sounds pretty, but it does little justice to that colossal original
[5]

Thomas Inskeep: Robert Glasper, one of the most talented minds in jazz today, takes source material from Miles Davis, adds his own thing to it, and then smartly lets Bilal get all mid-’70s-freaky-soul on top. The past informs the future.
[7]

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Prince (June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016)


Even if we ended the year today, called off the parade of ceaseless bad news, 2016 will be remembered as the year we lost two of music’s greatest iconoclasts. If David Bowie represented showmanship bringing indelible life to a modest instrument, Prince represented near-boundless technical virtuosity — throwing himself since childhood into studying music, playing to excellence everything on his debut albums, completely obliterating a stage full of canon-rockers at his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, and surrounding himself until the end with an astonishing amount of musical talent, often women: Sheila E, Wendy & Lisa, Vanity and Apollonia, Jill Jones, the musicians of 3RDEYEGIRL. (Prince’s relationship to women, like that of most men, was complicated and sometimes spotty, but one could never, ever, ever accuse him of treating musical talent in women with anything less than total respect and constant amplification.)

Prince towered over the world — and towered so far above conventional views of sex and gender, or the industry’s racial boundaries of music and music videos during the ’80s, that they crumbled in his shadow. Yet unlike so many musicians who treat their hometowns as childhood detritus, Prince was so firmly grounded in his Minneapolis hometown that one of his last recorded acts was promoting the local record store where he still bought CDs. His music sprawled unabashedly and lasciviously across genres and sounds, including a couple he invented himself. He took on the record industry and won, as much as anyone can win; he ended his life with ownership of his master recordings and complete control over his legacy, from the particulars of his narrative to the outlets of his music distribution. (Which allowed, in Prince’s case, the relieving kibosh of all the “tribute”-minded piracy and vampiric YouTube embed-locusts that descend upon the death of most musicians.)

During the ’90s it was a joke, but now it’s undeniable truth: Prince was, in every sense of the word, an artist. Here is some of his art.

Rebecca Gowns on “I Wanna Be Your Lover”

He did it all himself. Before The Revolution, back when he was picking up club gigs and selling songs to other artists, he did it all himself. Here’s a guy who worked obsessively on writing and learning instruments ever since he was a kid. When you take this kid’s raw talent and ear for a catchy hook and combine it with that hunger to create music, a throwaway song (!) written in the aftermath of a disappointing debut album becomes a #1 hit. It’s that hunger that worms its way into the song, that ache to perform, to be seen and heard on his own terms. (100% his own terms: Prince handled every single track, every instrument, every aspect of production himself on his first and second albums. Even when he worked with other collaborators after this, there was no doubt that he personally oversaw every aspect until it reached his standards of perfection.) “I Wanna Be Your Lover” is an electrifying single, a perfect disco-pop tune, glistening with Jackson 5/Michael Jackson pep and saturated with sex. Everything sounds pitched up, from the treble in the guitar and synths to Prince’s falsetto squeals, which underscores the mood of lust beyond mere bodily need. The innuendos get me every time. Prince is direct when he’s coy (“I wanna be the only one who makes you come…running”), and demanding when he’s direct (“I wanna turn you on, turn you out, all night long, make you shout!”) When Prince says “I don’t wanna pressure you,” there’s no doubt that he’s already close to you and laying it on thick. Incredibly, his aggression comes across as playful — as it always did, over the course of 40 years. Thank God he seduced us for as long as he did.

Patrick St. Michel on “Uptown” 

It’s hard imagining Prince as anything but completely confident. He looked cool as hell perched on that motorcycle on the Purple Rain cover, at least to the elementary-school-aged me shuffling through my dad’s records, and nothing after shook me from believing he 100% believed in himself. He changed his name to a symbol, for god’s sake. You need serious belief in you to do something so guaranteed to be ridiculed.

“Uptown,” though, features a rare moment of doubt from Prince. The music, swaggering and unbending, sounds determined, out for a good time and unwavering in finding it. Then someone asks the narrator at the center of this song “are you gay?” and there is the slightest hesitation. “Kinda took me by surprise / I didn’t know what to do,” isn’t exactly a soul-searching moment of confusion — this only “kinda” throws Prince for a loop — but having some question who you are is enough to at least draw a pause. But the beauty of it all is how he pivots from being caught off guard. His comeback — “no, are you?” — is snappy albeit playground-ish, but from there “Uptown” turns into a declaration of self, of embracing one’s individuality — and then dropping it to just get caught up in the moment. Prince would go on to have far bolder and self-assured moments, but “Uptown” sticks with me by showing how graceful the genesis of confidence can be.

Jonathan Bradley on “Controversy”

“Controversy” is a hard and disciplined song: at its full length, it is seven minutes of tense and unerring funk. The groove, almost motorik in its consistency, never lets up, and nor do the questions. “I just can’t believe all the things people say,” begins Prince, and he lists these demands that he resolve his binaries: that he make legible his spirituality, his sexuality, his ethnicity. The beat, as blunt as the lyric, allows no room for deviation, and Prince is not excused: he breaks before it. And that break is the most wonderful moment of the song. Succumbing to interrogators and to rhythm, “Controversy” can’t help but sublimate upon its chorus, when the austerity evaporates into a weightless rush that doesn’t sweep away the groove but soars above it. In weakness, Prince liberates himself, not reducing his contradictions but reveling in them, transforming them into that ecstatic — in both the religious and secular senses — melodic outburst. “Some people want to die, so they can be free,” he sings, but I don’t think we are supposed to count Prince among their number. The second half of the song is more of that funk, a prayer, and then a jejune ditty about casting off strictures. “Life is just a game; we’re all just the same,” goes the hook, and it is a resolution that is serious and to be taken seriously. Prince did not have to account for himself, to respond to the tumult. He could be all of it: part of the groove and entirely unbound at the same time.

Kat Stevens on “1999”

Prince was a constant musical presence during my toddlerhood, and “1999” was my favourite (much to the relief of my sister, who didn’t have to explain the saucier stuff to a four-year-old). The best party ever — the last party ever — sees an atmosphere of frenzied anticipation in the concert stadium, welcoming Prince’s spaceship as it lands with searchlights ablaze, ready to take us up into the rapture. But only the most die-hard dancers will ascend: we must spin on the spot as those tight drums snap us into line. We’re powerless to resist, and before long the intensity is too much — a rollercoaster we can’t get off even though we’ve already thrown up twice. Oblivion awaits us all! But at four years old I knew nothing of nuclear armageddon, only of vomiting at parties (and positive integers: “But doesn’t that make twenty thousand?”). When 1999 rolled around I was nearly 18. I’d spent the years in between spinning on the spot and wondering where I’d be at the turn of the millennium. On Prince’s spaceship? Fleeing an army of sentient computers? Drinking Smirnoff Ice with my schoolfriends in Uxbridge and praying I wouldn’t get IDed? Surely it would be the Big One, the wildest party ever: Prince had told me so. In fact I ended up at the Millennium Dome with my parents, having government-approved fun while sat three rows in front of Tony Blair and the Queen. If the apocalypse was going to happen anywhere, it’d be there, right? However pissup/brewery levels of organisation meant much of the evening was spent in the freezing cold security check queue. Our patience was “rewarded” with a set from The Corrs and a 250ml bottle of corporate champagne between the three of us. Oblivion would clearly have to wait. We were kicked out at 12:20 a.m., and on the way back to the tube I received a text from my boyfriend saying that all the hedonism was indeed happening back in Uxbridge, where one of our friends had been arrested after punching a woman outside Scruffy Murphy’s. The world didn’t end, but I realised no party was ever going to live up to Prince’s.

Andy Hutchins on “Little Red Corvette”

My introductions to non-Kindermusik recorded music came in odd ways. My family didn’t own a CD player until just before the turn of the 20th century, and we had a boombox — but I didn’t have access to all the cassettes, so I would stay up at night and fall asleep to Orlando’s K92-FM, a country station saturating the airwaves with Shania Twain and Tracy Byrd. And yet I remember “Little Red Corvette” from that same time period, because my dad played it on Saturday mornings from his own even older boombox while cleaning the house.

Or, well, I remember “Liiitt-LE RED COR-VETTE! Baby, you’re much too fast!” And I remember applying it to the red Hot Wheels car that I pretended was Dale Earnhardt’s (I was a child of Central Florida in the ’90s) as I raced it around imaginary tracks on the card table in my room. As an adult, of course, I have listened to and heard “Little Red Corvette,” and I can’t hear it with the same mystified glee I did then, lacking context for both sex and Corvettes.

That’s what Prince could do, though: His dirty-ass song about hooking up, shot through with cautions of reckless hedonism that strike the part of me who is the nephew of a man lost to AIDS complications and fears of fumbled intimacy that resonate with the twentysomething who has OkCupid and Tinder in a folder labeled “Fun” on his phone? It was just a cool, fun song that I heard as a kid.

He worked on every level, and virtuosically; he could record “Corvette” and “1999” on the same day, and place the song about casual sex next to the classic of apocalyptic pop in the top two songs of an album. He could write a song that my parents very probably had intimate moments with, and write a hook so goddamn perfect that a smart li’l fourth grader never did hear that “got an ass like I never seen” part, and write the song so beautifully that the only gendered noun in the whole of the lyrics shows up right before that, and frustrate the hell out of anyone looking for a song purely about and for sex by working everything but a climax into the guitar.

Katherine St. Asaph on “When Doves Cry”

You can oversee (and conceptualize, and curate, and perform, virtuosically) a career full of music that’s orgiastically overstuffed — now there’s a Princely metaphor — but remove one bassline and everyone will say your biggest hit was “minimalist.” Reports vary as to when that bassline was removed, or whether Prince wanted one in there at all, but the consensus is that without it, “When Doves Cry” would be simply too normal. That, plus its retroactive vacuum-sealing into the Totally ’80s As Seen On TV, explains why so many people seem to want to fix it — Ginuwine by adding Totally ’90s As Done By R&B, countless whoevers by letting acoustic guitar mewl into the void, Alex Clare by whatever the crap he thinks this is. (My favorite cover is Kristy Thirsk’s, because she at least is strivingly faithful.)

“When Doves Cry” is still a Prince song, meaning there’s more in it than some people manage over entire albums. Like the beginning: a struttingly, couple-bars-from-proggy guitar solo that gives way to an oscillating sex-trill that’s human at its most swampily carnal yet something else, as if Prince was recording with an eye to the future, specifically the future audio accompaniment to one of those ubiquitous stare-GIFs. Prince keeps that register in the chorus, multitracking the guttural with lushly melodic harmonies — again, quite Prince. Or the ad-libs, yet somehow still not the full extent of glorious musical freakoutery the man could produce. Or the end, with its eight-bar panting choir and baroque keyboard run, just daring someone to try to reproduce it live. (Doctor Fink of The Revolution did, after some incredulity.) Or the concept: Prince casually conjures up a Romantic-era sex fantasia — yes, in front of the animals — then kills the buzz just when his gets killed, casting him and his would-be lover in the sort of multigenerational family melodrama many musicians wouldn’t touch, let alone pair with a come-on. Or the way all of this coheres. Posterity has spoken, and “When Doves Cry” has gone down in history as Prince at his most accessible. How improbably amazing is it that this is what it sounds like?

Rebecca Gowns on “Let’s Go Crazy”

On Thursday, I read and heard many repetitions of the beginning of this song. That fantastic, dramatic introduction: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called Life.” My favorite thing about Prince is the way he consistently blended existential anxiety with the urge to celebrate, fuck, party, dance despite it all. It’s threaded throughout so many of his songs – and he’s in rare form here, setting up the contrast between these two deeply-felt sentiments with two ridiculously opposed sections. The beginning sets us up for contemplation, somber moodiness; it’s a slow burn that ramps all the hell the way up into the go-go dance party of the whole rest of the song. It charges forward at a manic rhythm, and in the midst of the hypnotic synths and electric drums, Prince sings simply, “We’re all excited! But we don’t know why! Maybe it’s ’cause! We’re all gonna die!” As the song winds down with a guitar solo and a hell of an outro, Prince puts a cap on the whole number with a guttural shout — “take me away!!” — an exclamation of both jubilation and fear. It’s that hunger. That passion. That 100%, go-big-or-go-home urge. And I’ll always adore it.

John Seroff on “Erotic City”

Would you believe me if I told you “Erotic City” was playing when I had my first kiss? I’m not even positive I believe it; the picture is almost too perfect. Let’s pretend it’s true. We were on a school bus; she was a freshman and I was a senior. I was sixteen, an alumnus of the preteen molestation gauntlet and sufficiently terrified of my own body and everyone else’s for anything to have happened sooner. She was thirteen and somehow unscathed. All her friends had let all my friends know it was okay and here she was telling me face to face that if this was what I wanted, she wanted it too. There was always a radio in the back of the school bus (please tell me that hasn’t changed?), so it’s not inconceivable “Erotic City” could have been playing, right? Except, wait, could it have been? Why would a song dotted with “fuck”s have been on an early-90’s, drive-time radio station smack in the middle of the Bible belt?

It’s only with the benefit of hindsight and the Internet that I can definitively tell you that “Erotic City” was on the radio in those days, impossibly, nationally and, in the eyes of the FCCillegally. Not that it was available on any album to buy; Prince, in his perfect perversity, decided to exclusively staple that powerhouse to the back of his second #1 hit, “Let’s Go Crazy” back in ’84. For those of you for whom 45 spiders evoke arachnophobia and not vinyl, the obvious perhaps bears mentioning here: before iTunes, recording artists would offer what labels called “value for money,” sacrificing strange babies at the altar of opinion and sneaking the unmarketable cheek by jowl with pure product. Prince was one of the last great masters of this alchemy; his B-side game was so strong that the compilation disc of rarities on The Hits was among the greatest albums he ever made. US radio was on the cusp of being pasteurized in the cauldron of computer playlists and telecommunication monopolies; how did this oddball obscenity so far removed from its release date find regular airplay? The only answer I can imagine is the one that’s been applied to every ribald pop hit from “Louie Louie” on down: it was just too goddamn good.

So what do I remember about the moment when our lips touched, when her raspberry tongue darted into my mouth?  First that cracked, shuddery single note; a whammying midnight chime surrounded by a barely perceptible whisper of breath. Then crisp drums, shimmering keys, teasing guitar licks, guttural moans and the introduction of the simple and unceasing 1…2, 3 / 1…2, 3 / 1…2, 3 bass rhythm that drives the song to the bridge. A full minute of that machinery grinds on before Prince didactically bellows in his self-conscious “Bob George” masculine drag, “All of my purple life, I’ve been looking for a dame that would want to be my wife.” And a beat later, slightly abashed, “That was my intention, babe,” as if he knows this is a silly thing to say but what should he want instead? Now Sheila E, on her first recording and speaking the first half of a couplet as immortal as anything on any bathroom wall; “If we cannot make babies, maybe we can make some time.” It’s a definitive answer to Prince’s unspoken question, as purely gender-neutral and pleasure-positive an axiom as I’ve ever heard.

Then, if I’m to be honest, the memory stops. It’s abrupt, incomplete before the chorus, but I suppose even our most lush, most purple memories turn black and white over time. I wonder how she remembers it, if that moment is soundtracked or silent for her. Facebook tells me she’s married now with three babies. I made a different kind of time but, of course, I got older too: a business, a mortgage, back spasms that don’t seem to be going away. But once upon a time, there was a song on the radio and I kissed a girl for the first time and she was young and beautiful and I was young and beautiful and Prince, endlessly young and beautiful Prince who never met me and who never knew me but who spent more time with me than most of my family and all of my friends, died on a Wednesday in April, taking a little piece of who I am with him. Do you suppose that if I play this song, this funky bit of foreplay that I’ve sang and screamed and danced to and had my first kiss to and heard a thousand times and will hear a thousand times more, do you think that if I play it one more time that I will be able to smell her perfume from that day, that I will see her as she looked that spring, that I will feel again what it was to be sixteen and loved and with Prince on the radio and alive forever? That is my intention, babe.

Claire Biddles on “Purple Rain”

I found out that Prince had died immediately after I found out that my grandfather had died. It’s been a year of high emotions in large quantities, and a year of figuring out how to allow myself to feel what I need to feel, and do what I need to do to process those feelings.

My favourite Prince songs are pure feeling. Purple Rain is long — the album versions runs nearly nine minutes — but it can still barely contain everything it needs to express. I listen to it when I want to feel everything, when I want to feel too much, when I want to stop thinking. At these times it doesn’t matter what “Purple Rain” is about. All that matters is that Prince is giving himself the space to feel it all, so I can feel it all at the same time.

“Purple Rain” is a comforting space to be in when nothing else is comfortable — “Baby I KNOW, I KNOW, I KNOW times are changing”. When I worry that I’m wallowing, that I’m not trying hard enough to move forward, Prince is an encouraging voice. “It’s time we all reach out for something new/and that means you too” is the same as Bowie’s “you’re not alone/give me your hand” in “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” — it’s a beautiful supernatural being inviting me in, challenging me and comforting me. In that moment he’s telling me to do what I need to do to make my life mine.

Thomas Inskeep on “I Would Die 4 U”

To me, this has always been two songs. There’s the album/single version, which is a beautiful short, sharp shock, the briefest song on Purple Rain, clocking in at 2:49 (2:57 for the single), here and gone just like that. Prince gets in, says his peace, and leaves. Its opening lines, “I’m not a woman/I’m not a man/I am something that you’ll never understand” were, and remain, so open to interpretation: he could be talking about God, but he could also be talking about gender — and knowing Prince, he probably meant some version of both. And his talk about dying “4 U” is clearly a reference to the Christian belief that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world.

But that gets much more explicit in the song’s extended version, in which the lyric “I’m your messiah and you’re the reason why” becomes “He’s your messiah and you’re the reason why” (emphasis mine). That extended 12” version, which I consider essentially a different song, is a 10:15 rehearsal jam with the Revolution, recorded with Sheila E. and two members of her band, guitarist Miko Weaver and sax player Eddie M., itself edited down from a nearly 31-minute take which has never been officially released but can be found on numerous bootlegs, notably the 34-disc Work It set (which I highly recommend to fans). The 31-minute version is, frankly, almost exhausting, but the 10:15 take remains tight for its entirety. That’s largely because Prince was such a tight, whip-smart bandleader, capable of taking any musicians playing with/for him on a series of hairpin turns, never stopping moving, forever pushing forward. On the extended version, which really is a jam in the truest sense, you get lots of Sheila E. playing congas, lots of Eddie M. blowing his horn all over the proceedings, and lots of unbridled fucking joy. Additionally, Prince’s vocal is looser, improvisational; you can feel the energy, the live-in-the-studiosity, and the fact that the Revolution just knew what to do when Prince was running the show. You know how Prince says, at the end of “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” “we’ll try to imagine what silence looks like”? This is the opposite of that.

Megan Harrington on “Raspberry Beret”

Prince’s style and attitude were so singular and the expanse of his funk so broad that his cultural legacy is as a sensual deity or untouchable weirdo genius — the kind of guy who has a lit-up LOVESEXY sign in his bedroom or who can end a conversation with a single cutting glance. It’s easy to lose yourself in piles of ruffles and sequins and purple mesh buttcheek panels, but Prince was from Minneapolis and he never left. In a catalog that’s one opus after another, filled with inventive solos and indulgent fantasies, there’s also “Raspberry Beret.” Do you know where “Raspberry Beret” sounds best? The laundromat. This is a song that’s accessible to everyone, a song that sounds better surrounded by drudgery. It’s a bit of colorful escapism that defines the Midwestern Dream. A five & dime store, a boss named Mr. McGee, and a girl — not in a hat but a beret, a beret not purple but raspberry — spark a daydream about running away on a cloudy day, having great sex, and feeling so desirable that you’re a star. Prince was a star, and the rest of us close our eyes while the washing machines spin.

Ian Mathers on “Condition of the Heart”

Prince could bust out an amazing lonely-hearts jam with the best of them, but “Condition of the Heart” might be his most self-deprecating. He doesn’t refer to himself in any more grandiose terms than “a sometimes lonely musician”; one of the three women the song mentions is initially the pursuer but still “left him for a real prince in Arabia” (leading to one of the best, most gutting lines in the song: “isn’t it a shame that sometimes money buys you everything and nothing?”); like us mere mortals, here Prince is susceptible to running into someone post-heartbreak that “wear(s) the same cologne as you, and giggle(s) the same giggle that you do” (how was he to know?). Because Prince was Prince, he makes even this operatic, from the lush, you’re-soaking-in-it extended intro to his quavering, plummy vocals in the middle of the song to the way the music surges up to describe how “every single day is a yellow day” thanks to the time-stopping effects of the daisies in “your” yard.

The gorgeously crystalline cover of this song by Susanna and the Magical Orchestra isn’t superior to the original, exactly; like most great Prince covers it’s just wonderful in a different way. But it does do a wonderful job of evoking that sun-dazed suspension. It’s not that “Condition of the Heart” is great because it offered some glimpse at Prince’s hidden self — I’m pretty sure his self was beautifully and directly expressed in most if not all of the songs we’re writing about today — it’s that when I first heard “Condition of the Heart” it seemed to express my own self in a descriptive rather than aspirational way. People have written a lot about the latter quality of Prince and his music, how he made people better and want to be better, and that’s a big part of my reaction too. But the song that got stuck in my head when I heard that Prince had died wasn’t any of the ones that both made me want to be more relaxed, self-confident, comfortable with myself, etc. and that helped me to do so, but the one that spoke to the person I already was as a teen and a young adult: too romantic to really be a cynic but too discouraged not to be down, and hopefully, at the root of it all, able to articulate something striking out of it. Of course he sequenced the effervescent “Raspberry Beret” right after it on the album. Living without him, it’s driving us crazy.

Maxwell Cavaseno on “She’s Always in My Hair”

Love is the bridge of everything in Prince’s life. It’s what can easily undo the boring nerd stammer of “h-h-how can a man be possessed with faith one minute, and carnal vice the next?” that’s blistered so many an attempt to parse through his work. Because love, stupid. It’s at the source of some of his best material (subjective to his fans and admirers) and his worst (objectively “Sister,” always “Sister”). Love is the connective glue to how he can approach everything he experiences. If he isn’t showering with love, or clinging onto it, he’s mourning its outline like the scene of a crime, on stages of world power or personal intimacy. With his revolving door of loved ones within the ravenous patterns of his life, that love’s ability to stay fixed and reliable is a source of great fear and comfort.

“She’s Always In My Hair” is the song that always strikes me, because of the loneliness and the desire at its core, despite the powerful guitar impact and florid vocal styling that imply Prince’s seemingly never-ending confidence, passion and power. You touch at the hollow core, the space there and realize that the person who’s always there to comfort you and tell you how much they care will never be that permanent fixture. Nobody is built to serve to the comfort and reassurance to press someone else on, but still we turn and lean on people in hope, need and sometimes desperation. To reach out and feel the relief of someone catching you, and to know somewhere in the world someone else can give you love, be they kin or company, omnipresent forgiver or a firm hand to guide you forward. There is a boundless love that emerges when you know you can believe in someone, or that they could possibly believe in you as well. Such love remained within Prince up to the very end; and thankfully such love is still a dream worth keeping.

Brad Shoup on “A Love Bizarre”

First, the melody: the same, line after line. I don’t know if it’s refusing resolution, or whether it’s mactually a series of resolves: Sheila and Prince sing of outrageous sin like two people who know atonement. Then, the delivery: not close harmonies, just congruence. Befitting a percussionist’s project, the vocals back the rhythm section: Prince’s anchored funk basslines, Sheila E.’s flanged percussion work and snares on the 2 and 4. When the singers want to signal the chorus, they bring in Eddie M’s sax to double the topline. Then, the text: some familiar themes. His car thing resurfaces: rough sex in the limo, a body ”built for two”. The two long for “a strawberry mind,” which recalls another Prince lyric from ‘85: the Mazarati (more cars!) track “Strawberry Lover”. Every bit of it is rendered so plainly: there’s nothing to hide, and nothing to flaunt. By switching from “we” to “we all” on the chorus, they include everyone in their pleasure principle. Prince’s was the most humane freakiness: a full-color picture of freedom that could be folded away and referred to whenever needed. The single version of “A Love Bizarre” promulgates a static bliss. It’s a nursery-rhyme jam that lasts as long as you can imagine, and sounds like it began even farther back than that.

Cassy Gress on “Kiss”

The first time I ever heard “Kiss”, it was the Art of Noise/Tom Jones version, which is unfortunate because Tom Jones has an alligator-skin sleaze that Prince never had. Prince was silk and velvet. Lips and teeth and touch. Rosy pink and electric purple. In “Kiss”, his voice flutters for 99% of the song in a falsetto, but it’s not breathy or limp; rather, it’s gulpy, and intensely focused. He hiccups and squirms, and in the last chorus he shrieks out his want, until floating back down to earth for the final word. Listen to this vocal, and to the galomph of the bass and the heat of the guitars; hear how close it is. Doesn’t he sound like he’s right behind you, his lips near your ear, his body so close to touching yours that your skin tingles? If all you pay attention to is the lyrics, “Kiss” is almost banally clean; he explicitly states that he doesn’t need us to undress him, or talk dirty, or do anything at all other than be available once in a while and give him our… kiss. But doing that would deliberately ignore the fact that Prince had a #1 hit single, in 1986, that sounds exactly like sex.

Mark Sinker on “Christopher Tracy’s Parade”

A minor scene-setting fragment, of course; an oddity of sliding, grinding mineral surfaces that’s also a tumult of civic and demotic joy, as American as Charles Ives and his marching bands colliding in the town square. Perhaps not the first Prince song to come to anyone’s mind but mine — but it kicks off Parade, which closes with ‘Sometimes it Snows in April’, which title was the phrase most often tweeted into my timeline as the evening of 21 April lengthened and darkened. “If the devil comes sang Pere Ubu in another age, “we can shoot him with a gun…” Ubu’s place of  flight and safe retreat was the “empty spaces of this life”, the unpeopled places, the overlooked hours and crannies, the Modern Dance as woke fortress of off-the-grid isolation. But the devil in Parade is made to run “2 his evil car” from a packed and surgingly happy public space, by a single a chord on a piano. Although — as elsewhere with Prince — the soundtrack vastly outshines the film, that’s notionally what the semi-minimalist and Pepper-form Parade is, with Christopher Tracy the character he plays in Under the Cherry Moon, a gigolo romancing someone purely for their inheritance, except (of course) he falls in love with her.

In earlier versions, the song’s called ‘Little Wendy’s Parade’: Wendy Melvoin, maybe (she plays guitar), but Melvoin as a child if so — otherwise ‘little’ makes no sense (guess who’s the taller?) and besides, the festivities can be halted by a shower of strawberry lemonade. An unlikely compress of seemingly unlike people — child Wendy, adult Wendy, a lovelorn male escort — which combines several very Princely things. First: that his perverse grown-up sexuality always had a serenely non-grown-up core to it — Tipper Gore or no, he was entirely at home on the Muppet Show. Second: that this half-artful, half-problematic ambiguity was key to his outreach and appeal, for many (perhaps not Tipper). Third: he had a gift for sketching, often in just in a couple of songlines, characters that seem palpably real. It’s not novelistic exactly, you generally don’t learn much about them as people, but you know they matter to him. He may have loved to present as the impossible emperor of kinky ego and prowess, but so often, even in a fragment, there’s this affectionate openness towards others, lovers, band-members, dramatis personae, fans, passers-by, a friendly warmth present as much as anywhere in a song’s textures, as they scrunch and glide, and everyone shapeshifts into everyone else. A narcissist who was never a solipsist — and the narcissism played on as confidently and wittily and generously as any other of the nine million instruments he mastered.

Katherine St. Asaph on “It”

Growing up I had the keyboard used on “It” or one very much like it. I’m sure this happens all the time to Actual Musicians, but it’s a trip to hear the same percussion samples I’d peck out endlessly in the basement (that’s how it ended up in the basement) used to such hypnotic effect and high skill. “It” is straightforward even by Prince’s standards — “it” is exactly what you think it is. And though Prince’s vocal is salacious as ever, wailing and whispering like the fate of the cosmos depends on the commencing, right now, of it, he’s overshadowed — sometimes literally buried — beneath the arrangement, pure pleasure in synths that’s relaxed yet exuberant and fit to last forever.

Thomas Inskeep on “U Got the Look”

Well, when Sheena Easton says “Let’s get 2 rammin’,” what else is there to do?

Jibril Yassin on “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”

Sign o’ the Times was a record with a thirst for adventure. “I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man” reflects that, and it’s fascinating to hear Prince take on power-pop and absorb it completely. Take it in: the handclaps, the guitar leads that tear their way through Prince’s narrative, doubling his claims that being friends would be a terrible idea. “I may be qualified for an one night stand,” he sings, and it sounds like a winking admission until the second verse reveals the extent of how much hurt he saw in this person approaching him in hopes of filling the void in their life. Who else could turn a cry like “Baby! Don’t waste your time!” into something so jubilant? Or include those satisfying background vocals during that last chorus? Final addendum: that thunderous, extended guitar solo that launches into sheer abandon near the end. We’re all the better for hearing that.

Josh Love on “Adore”

Appearing at the tail end of an album full of songs and stylistic turnabouts only Prince could have wrought – throbbing funk, kiddie whimsy, apocalyptic dread, soul-plumbing relationship therapy, sacrifices both sexual and spiritual — “Adore” reminds us he’d absolutely mastered all the old ways too. A devastatingly direct avowal with sweetness, space, and stately horns sounding like they’d arrived freshly pressed from 1975, it may seem like a conceptual straitjacket but it’s one Prince still makes as purple as all his creations. For one, the song is structured weird as hell — basically it’s a chorus, a single verse, the chorus again, a bridge, and then a bunch of vamping that feels extravagant even in its edited version. The lyrics are by turns nakedly vulnerable and sincere, floridly romantic while somehow skirting corniness (“Heavenly angels crying up above / Tears of joy pouring down on us”), while still sneaking in some of Prince’s trademarked grit and side-eye (“I ain’t funkin’ just for kicks”…”You could burn up my clothes / Smash up my ride / Well maybe not the ride”). And like all of his most enduring songs, it’s chock-full of terrific little moments that never fail to make my heart race or throat catch, whether it’s the repetition of “This condition I got is crucial, crucial baby,” the inarguable pronouncement “I’m a man of exquisite taste” or the full-on falsetto honey he pours all over “You don’t know what you really do to me.”

Jer Fairall on “Electric Chair”

My personal history with Prince began with a cassette of Purple Rain that one of the athletes my Dad coached left behind in our car one day. I discovered it wedged somewhere between the front passenger’s side and the floor of the backseat, an accidentally-obscured space not dissimilar, really, to the kinds in which kids would often uncover a parent or an older sibling’s hidden stash of pornography. Tipper Gore may actually find Purple Rain pornographic, and for eight-year-old me the album contained a similarly illicit thrill. Posed upon a motorcycle and backed by a very ’80s cocaine-noir fog (and that woman in the low-cut dress perched in the doorway), Prince looked dangerous.  And, once I finally got the tape into my Walkman, he sounded weird. That Song From The Radio was there, of course, but to take the proper route to it through Side A was to wade through a murk of heavy-metal gospel, skewed pop, a trippy ballad, talking computers and whatever the hell “Darling Nikki” was. Always the kind of kid who was hitting his parents up for the explanations of things that were often over my head for good reason, I somehow knew not to ask what “masturbating” meant because Purple Rain sounded like something that I should not have even been listening to in the first place.

My Prince fandom grew from there, only ever waning in the sense that that I grew less and less interested in the prospect of a new Prince album with every ballyhooed post-millennial “comeback,” but I never stopped listening to the old stuff.  A generous back catalogue kept me occupied even as whatever he was currently up to was lost on me, peaking in the mid-’90s when popular culture, at least in high school terms, had largely moved on; when a younger friend of mine asked me a couple of years back if I was “affected by” Kurt Cobain’s 1994 death, my response was “I was into Prince.” My Mom’s continued insistence, over the years, that Prince was gay was no deterrent to my obsession, and while I never shared this opinion, his willingness to infuse his work with queerness even when he wasn’t hitting it on the nose (“Controversy,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend”) is something that, I like to believe now, may have helped ease my own coming-out process just a little bit. As someone who wasn’t around for Bowie’s best years, and who has only dipped into his catalogue sparingly over the years, I never had to feel like I was missing out: Prince was my Bowie.

If being into Prince tended to, one way or another, end up feel like a transgressive act for me, it may have been that his 1989 tie-in soundtrack for Tim Burton’s Batman was the only time it was actually appropriate for me to be Prince fan.  Tasked with turning in something solely intended as one more cross-marketing item for that year’s biggest movie, Prince delivered a strange, jerky sample-fest for radio and MTV play (“Batdance”) accompanied with an album full of songs whose relation to the Burton film ran from tangential (“Vicki Waiting”) to the non-existent.  Now regarded as something of a camp curio in his discography (Batman was actually Prince’s third soundtrack album of the decade, but perhaps the only one where Prince’s music was intended to play a subordinate role to the film), the music that Trojan Horsed its way into the home of many a pre-teen or adolescent anxious to get their hands on anything bearing a Batman logo in the summer of 1989 was no afterthought.

Most startling of all is “Electric Chair,” a collision of glam-metal guitar squalls and pulse-thumping funk that now feels, in light of the explorations of smooth R&B and the poppier end of hip-hop that Prince would begin exploring in the ’90s, part of a last hurrah to the multitude of ’80s sounds that Prince mastered during that decade.  Climaxing, in its final minute, with a vocal squeal as unearthly as those unleashed on “Darling Nikki” or “Gett Off,” “Electric Chair” was the Prince that annoyed and frightened. It is a song about sex, of course, but the eroticism here is unnerving and predatory, rather than playful and seductive.  It is also Prince at his most challengingly…pansexual?  Bisexual?  Oh, what the hell, let’s just call it queer. Start with the nominal chorus, a semi-confession of “If a man is considered guilty for what goes on in his mind / then give me the electric chair for all my future crimes”: defiant, yes, but what exactly is the source of that guilt?  Is it legal, or moral, or spiritual?  Remember that Prince’s avowed Christian faith was no barrier to his queer expression, but rather a dimension of it. Whether he was “guilty” of non-hetero sexual appetites here, or just simply unwholesomely voracious ones, guilt is, at the very least, on equal footing with pleasure here.  Then there is that opening lyric: “I saw your friend first / that’s who I danced with / all the time I was watching you.” If my own inclination is to naturally read queerness into such a line—why not just dance with the one that you have your eye on?–makes me an unreliable interpreter, consider the lack of gender pronouns throughout this song. Consider, also, that this is, finally, a lyrical plea to join Prince in committing “the crimes of passion that sets us free” and I would argue that, if it were ever possible to sum up everything that I found so powerful and wonderful and liberating about Prince, the greatest artist to have made popular music during my lifetime, in one song, here it is.

Alfred Soto on “Joy in Repetition”

A loping sinister track on Graffiti Bridge, the soundtrack album to a movie that no one rented at Blockbuster but which served as my adolescent introduction to Prince Rogers Nelson. The rush of syllables, the chinoiserie synth program, and, of course, a guitar solo as tart as aspic. “Four-letter words are seldom heard with such dignity and bite,” he talk-sings. For many years Prince could generate a frisson by harnessing one of those squalls to a spare rhythm track. And it’s taken almost as many for fans to catch up with “Joy in Repetition.”

Sabina Tang on “Joy in Repetition”

Some weeks ago I watched the entirety of Ragnar Kjartansson’s 6-hour concert film, A Lot of Sorrow, documenting that one time The National played “Sorrow” 105 times in a row at the MoMA PS1. I am not particularly a fan of The National, but I found a lot of joy in A Lot of Sorrow. There was a sense that the rhythms and rituals of the performance — the shifting foci of the band’s and the audience’s and one’s own individual energies — were independent of the performed: that at certain moments one would lose oneself in the formal embroidery of the live version, the changed tempo or flub or goof, or each backing musician in turn, or the hair of a girl in the front row. For five or ten iterations I was caught by and looked only at the Dessner twins’ lips as they barely caressed their respective microphones, and eerily, so did the cameras: as if it were my desire that controlled the editing and not the inverse.

There is not a lot of repetition to “Joy in Repetition.” Its central paradox is that it is a Borgesian distillation of the time-spaces it describes, which are threefold: the time-space of plateaued desire generated from the repetition of musical form — the funk, the vamp, the 4-minute mid-tempo rock ballad played 105 times — the time-space of sexual congress, and the time-space of love. All of which are endless when they are ongoing. But “Joy in Repetition” is itself a taut, linear narrative in which every word or guitar note falls like a drop of rain (rain, rain), with the shock of novel rightness that constitutes poetry: four letter words are seldom heard with such dignity and bite. The song’s a year long and had been playing for weeks. The trappings are noir, more or less, driving not toward plot-resolution but ecstatic fragmentation, like those films of David Lynch or the Nouvelle Vague that also borrow the form. Joy — why don’t you love me baby? Love me, love me, joy. The sudden focus of desire for the lips of the performer at the mike is synedoche for the pinnacle of the sexual act is synedoche for the love that goes on, renewing itself in time, always with the shock of novel rightness that is poetry. Holding someone is truly believing that there’s joy in repetition. That must be what it was like, to be Prince.

Edward Okulicz on “Cream”

Because I was about nine when it came out, I’d just about managed to piece together the idea that cream, an ingredient of unwholesome and unhealthy culinary desire, could be a metaphor for other kinds of luxurious excess, but that it could also be a simple euphemism for semen went right over my head. That Prince writhed with, and alongside, sexy ladies in the video didn’t help. I thought that was just what Prince did. Despite the hip-thrusting hits after each line of the verses, the vocal delivery is one of complete innocence, like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, except when the line “you got the horn, so why don’t you blow it?” is reprised in the third verse a little more racily. I’m glad I could enjoy the song in a kind of innocent way hearing it — on the radio without visual accompaniment — as being about cream and then get the sexual subtext a little later, because just in how this record sounds, there is so much to enjoy. You could easily pick out 20 individual moment of pop perfection just in the guitar work, which sounds like fingers running over flesh.

“Cream” was apparently written in front of a mirror. Placing the song into a masturbatory context makes the lyrics, which would have to try a bit harder to even be double entendres, seem especially cheeky. But rather than just winking at the idea, it comes across as an opulent (the only adjective that really does the New Power Generation era justice) tribute to it, as if Prince is having a one-night stand with his own body, relishing but ultimately discarding himself. Listening to it now I can’t quite decide if it’s funky or bluesy, so it must be both. Whatever the lyrics say, the groove of this one says “you’re sexy, so go take over the world,” and whether Prince is saying that to himself, a woman, or me, it’s an endlessly appealing sentiment.

Jonathan Bogart on “7”

The opening jolt of unaccompanied, thickly-harmonized voices cut through the static and made me sit up and stare at the radio in early 1993. I was listening in my bedroom in suburban Guatemala, drinking in the unfamiliar textures, whiplash rhythms and decadent words of secular music; after two years of sneaking a listen to the radio every now and then between tapes of the Christian music I had been raised in and still loved, I was finally starting to listen openly and without fear. And “7” electrified me. I understood a cappella music (a wave of the stuff swept the Christian market in the late ’80s), and I understood references to the Seven Deadly Sins and the Book of Revelations like they were references to members of my family. I didn’t understand skeletal funk beats, wuxia sound effects, or sitar licks, but they only added to the sense of the uncanny that Prince and the New Power Generation had built. When the playlist moved on to Whitney Houston’s cover of “I’m Every Woman” or R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon,” something specific and weird left the room.

I forgot about “7” until many years later; I grew up and became a music nerd, and the Prince I learned to adore was the most critically-acclaimed Prince, the Prince of 1980-1986, which did change the world but which also represented a monolithic cultural object, an accepted weirdness, a contained specificity. It wasn’t until the last few years, when I started going back over the stuff I first heard on the Guatemalan radio, that “7” shocked me all over again, cutting through the banality and overfamiliarity of Spotify playlists with its electric mystic dynamism. “With an intellect and a savoir faire, no one in the whole universe will ever compare” is still a lyric that thrills me, that in some indescribable sense defines me. Even if my inclination is to dismiss Prince’s Egyptological Afrofuturism of the era as New-Age nonsense, those massed harmonies are still wrapped around my soul.

Jonathan Bogart on “Nothing Compares 2 U”

There’s the Family’s original, very serviceable blue-eyed soul with stately gospel pacing and some delectable synth strings. There’s the live version that Prince would include on his best-ofs, as a duet with Rosie Gaines backed by the New Power Generation — after the song’s value had been proven. There are countless covers and versions that have been released since 1990. But there’s only one recording of the song anyone cares about, the one that so pissed Prince off that he got violent with its singer when she wouldn’t submit meekly to his attempts to control her behavior and self-presentation, the one that right now isn’t on Spotify because Prince was obsessed with control to the very end.

If Sinéad O’Connor is the only reason anyone knows “Nothing Compares 2 U,” it’s also arguable that Prince is the only reason Sinéad O’Connor is better remembered than Jane Child or Martika. “Nothing Compares 2 U” is one of the wonders of its era, a throwback R&B ballad given life by a relentless, ultramodern, even feminist reading. Her snarled modulation on “to you” (the one you’re thinking of) is never reproduced in any of the Prince-associated recordings; despite his famous sympathy with and love of representing women, he (like most men) never really understood female anger.

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy on “Sleep Around”

Emancipation is too damn long. Three discs of post-SLAVE-cheek, pre-Jehovah, name-as-glyph material with no obvious hit singles aboard, a meditation on his legacy, ageing and a then-new engagement to the dancer Mayte Garcia. To say it sprawls is an understatement; for The Artist to tell Spike Lee in a 1997 Interview feature that he “had emptied the gun with this one” is somewhere on the way to being accurate. But like any record by His Royal Badness, there are gems to be located, gems like “Sleep Around,” a steal-yo-girl blast (classic Prince bon mot: “the innuendo reads eternal”) that is buried near the end of Emancipation’s third disc. Despite not being a single, it was the song that Prince showcased on Oprah while in the midst of a promotional onslaught. Uncharacteristically lipsyncing, the house-inspired thump swallows his vocals and piano alive, leaving him to emphasise his bonafides as a dancer over his musicology. On record, that musicality is front and centre as well as his collaborative nature when he cedes the floor — and the song altogether — to the NPG Hornz section as the song keeps going… and going… and going. ‘Sleep Around’s eight minute lasting time arguably occurs because of The Artist’s desire to achieve an exact sixty minute length for all three Emancipation discs, so it is an ode to his perfectionism. Yet it’s a wonderful moment that showcases his mastery of the groove, even when incorporating ’90s club sonics. As his horn section plays on and the beat refuses to halt, Prince turns part of his album into an outlet for an extended 12” mix, turning us all into clubheads and dancefloor junkies, riding out an ecstatic club beat. There are more obvious moments showcasing his mastery, artistry and unassailable freakiness, but “Sleep Around” is wonderful for showing how even the grandest perfectionists care about turning it loose.

Jessica Doyle on “Let’s Have a Baby”

Sitting in the middle of Emancipation, “Let’s Have a Baby” is unmistakably Prince for its unabashed joy in sex—and yet unlike any of the famous hits, in that it extends the joy all the way to the shared creation of a child. This is Prince daydreaming about where he’d put the car seat without seeing even the slightest disconnect between fucking and domesticity: it’s all one, all joy. “Isn’t it a miracle that life comes from inside”: that sex could lead to this, sex enhanced by love and love enhanced by sex, and both enhanced by this force of creation, this potential… It’s tempting, now, to find this song too heartbreaking to listen to. Prince and Mayte Garcia did have a baby, who lived only briefly and was rarely spoken of publicly again until the news organizations contacted Garcia a few days ago and she said, “He’s with our son now.” But listen: the joy did exist. The joy does exist. The joy is there, in his voice, in his fingers light on the keys. He created a way to share it; and it remains.

Leonel Manzanares on “Musicology”

Before he was the shimmering rock star, the pop provocateur and the astonishing queer icon we’ve known until his last days, Prince was a little kid who dreamed about James Brown and felt inspired by him and Sly Stone. His early musical voyage was informed by his father’s experiences as a musician, but most importantly, by the golden age of funk and soul records that flooded the stores during his childhood. It was an incredible time for any music fan, but to Prince, it was school.

“Musicology” was Prince’s return to the spotlight after a seven-year run of strange, divisive albums and the still-felt consequences of his legal battles and was intended to serve two purposes. First, this is a history lesson from Prince to his listeners; a tune meticulously crafted to share the legacy of 40 years of music. The student became teacher and classs is in session. The second is not for us, but to himself; it’s his reconciliation with the music scene, with the energy of performing and what music means to people. “Musicology” is, first and foremost, a funk jam, and it has the fluidity of a good live group giving it all on stage. How he managed to sound like a tight band by playing everything himself is something we’ll never know. Maybe he is from another planet.

Brad Shoup on “3121”

No man can truly be in the wilderness who has a fan club. Those post-Warners records could be hard to acquire and harder to access: fusion slabs, cosmological concept albums, box sets of bootlegs. But they kept coming, with a horde of NPG Music Clubbers and/or Prince.org posters to catalog the wreckage. In time, Prince decided to check back in on everyone else: 2004’s Musicology had that Sony distribution and an inclination to entertain. The next record was Universal’s turn, and Prince challenged them to shoot for the moon. For his part, he was still entertaining. Now it was parties in L.A. — Carlos Boozer’s mansion, specifically. Prince renamed the place 3121, installed black carpeting and built a disco. “3121” was the leadoff single, the sound of purple gates creaking open. This was not the back-in-the-day gesture of Musicology’s title track: here, Prince’s guitar suggests chickenscratch and dogwhine, avant as tone but not as funk. Backing him is the NPG rhythm section, Michael Bland and Sonny Thompson hammering tall waves of dry air behind their employer. Everything’s on edge, but you have to trust your host. “Take your pick from the Japanese robes and sandals,” he urges, “drink champagne from a glass, with chocolate handles” — that last word arcs up, so you realize he thought of everything. They’re great details, and telling too. I remember everyone flipping when the “Breakfast Can Wait” single dropped, with its artwork of Dave Chappelle in purple drag serving pancakes. The pancakes reappeared in his guest turn on an episode New Girl, where the running gag was how great a Prince party could be. “3121” is that party in a funhouse mirror: turntable-manipulated pipsqueak vocals urge you towards enjoyment; Prince paraphrases a threat from “Hotel California” and plays a carnie gameshow theme on the keyboard. When Prince moved out of the house, he put everything back. The only way you’d know there’d ever been a party was if you’d attended.

Will Adams on “Fury”

On February 4, 2006, Prince performed on Saturday Night Live. I was 13 then, barely a teenager, someone who hadn’t grown up with Prince. I knew of him, enough to rattle off some song titles, enough to be amused by the central lyric of “1999” post-Y2K. I knew my parents were excited to see him play; to me, he seemed like the other music segments my family would see each week on the show. But the instant Prince began his first song, “Fury,” my preconceptions vanished. I sat in stunned silence for five minutes as Prince stretched the boundaries of typical SNL time constraints, vamping on the guitar as projected flames transformed the stage into a furnace, as a trio of backing singers performed intricate choreography, as the repeated lyric, “NO FURY LIKE A WOMAN SCORNED!” blasted through the television speakers. Amidst the frenzy on stage, I couldn’t keep my eyes off Prince. This was a performer who more than just captivated, but entranced via a virtuosity that could pierce right through even the canned setting of a sketch TV show.

As I grew older, more autonomous in my consumption of music, more aware of what I liked, I continued my ambivalent ignorance of Prince, but the memory of that “Fury” performance had been seared into my mind. About once a year, I tried to find the video online, and I would fail — given both Prince’s and SNL’s attitudes toward online reproductions of their work, it only makes sense that it’d be a fool’s errand. Still, I would reserve some hope that some crafty person had found a way to host the video in a dark corner of the Internet. Nothing. All I found is that other people wanted to see the “Fury” performance again too, seeing as how “prince fury snl” was (and still is) the first suggestion on Google when searching the song itself.

When I heard the news on Thursday, I searched for the link of the performance, needing to see it more than anything, despite knowing I probably wouldn’t. To my surprise, I found it, and it was just as I had remembered. The mix seemed intentionally imbalanced toward Prince: the guitar was front and center, bright and punchy, every detail and tone that he wrung from his instrument receiving equal shine. For a stage often noted for its bottled-sounding mixes, it was a brilliant choice; the guitar’s presence only added to the song’s hellfire emotion, voicing the fury with barbed sixteenths and howling slides. The finale was the most breathtaking moment, in retrospect, in a world that had just lost Prince. The song finished, and Prince spun a solo out like gold thread. He hit the tremolo pedal, and he placed his guitar on the ground, the chord sustained and shimmering into harsh distortion. He jumped on the final beat like an orchestra conductor, and he quickly left the stage. The camera lingered on the scene: the backing band frozen in silhouette, the dancers huddled together, the flame projections licking the walls, the guitar laying on the ground, still reverberating with the chord. And, for the few seconds before the crossfade to the commercial bumper, it felt as if Prince hadn’t left at all.

Anthony Easton on “What If”

Late Prince is a bit of a curiosity. He kept making music, but the work was overwhelming and also a bit erratic. There was maybe a sense that the work was more complex, abstracted, not the perfect pop song but something more nebulous. And I think for much of his fandom (maybe especially queer fandom) the intersection of his renewed relationship with Christ and how it interacted with sex was offputting — though this didn’t pay attention to how much he cribbed from gospel, and for so long.

But for all of his eccentricity, Prince knew how to play against a band, and “What If” is a brilliant example. The guitars are louder. They shred more. It is a cover, and much of the work is done by 3rdEye, especially bass work by the classically trained Ida Kristine Nielsen. (See: Prince as imperio, Prince’s relationship to women, Prince’s gospel like Magdalene, the first witness to the resurrection.)

You can’t hear “What If,” without hearing 1987’s “The Cross.” And you cannot hear “What If” without hearing the rest of Prince. Though “The Cross” is a ballad, and it is optimistic, it also functions as an apologetic for Christian faith. We keep thinking of Prince as singular, and this track’s implanting of virtuoso rock and roll into Christian witness is unlike anything that Christian rock has produced. It couldn’t be used as a praise and worship song. It is very much designed to use the power of Prince — as a musician, but also as a charismatic leader, to convince people of the truth of his faith. For someone who is known as a chameleon, or as someone who blends genders and races into a frothy sexual confection, the two things that are continually under discussed are his charismatic leadership and his profound earnestness.

 

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Round-up, 2016 week 16

Everything we covered, in score order:

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

Bonus tracks, 2016 week 16

Your weekly Jukebox writer links:

We will be paying tribute to Prince collectively, but Alfred Soto, Thomas Inskeep and Brad Shoup have each already written about him.

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

Empress Of – Woman is a Word

She’s also a powerful song.


[Video][Website]
[6.57]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Since I got introduced to the songs under the Empress Of banner last year, I’ve been taken by how impressive they are despite a ‘busy/stressful’ energy underpinning them. More and more, songs appear to play with irregular rhythms to jarr the listener, a possible effort to stand out in a world where the monotony of pulse is a growing and growing sea. There’s an extra trick though, where Lorely Rodriguez is fueled by a specific kind of unease where her seismic music can only complement the state of her world. “Woman is a Word” has a deep house swoon disrupted by a mix of Latin percussion and her siren vocals scything through. As a tune, “Woman is a Word” is lean to the point of slight, but as a sum of its parts its further examples of a particular sort of vision this will get only clearer or foggier in its focus.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: In which a woman asserts herself against the slinkiest limousine-disco this side of 2016. But too short, and something I might approve of more than like.
[6]

Cassy Gress: The son’s got a four-chord progression looped endlessly, and each verse has phrases duplicated two or three times. I can’t even hear the bass in this unless I turn up the sound way louder than I’m comfortable with, so the song ends up turning into a hazy drone. I understand what she was going for, the sort of primal love or desire that becomes a truism, but “repetitive” is a word too.
[3]

Claire Biddles: “Woman is a Word” is ethereal, a term which usually makes me roll my eyes when used to describe music by women, mainly because of its laziness — it has the same patronising tone as “earthy” or “tribal.” The term also usually signifies a certain brand of stylistic ethereality that’s hugely popular, but just isn’t my thing. Empress Of possesses the strange kind of ethereality, as opposed to the typical Florence Welch kind — she’s genuinely supernatural, not just dressed up as a mythical thing. During the song, she’s dispersed through the atmosphere, flying around you and taking every shape. “Only a woman if woman is a word.” She’s not soft or light, and her unpredictability is her weapon.
[8]

Iain Mew: Lorely Rodriguez zeroes in on the feeling of the best, angriest and most intimate moments from her album, over a pared-down backing which doesn’t express anything as openly but circles like a pressure that won’t go away. If her performance was anything less than captivating there wouldn’t be enough here. There is.
[8]

Megan Harrington: I’m used to the sort of subversive that sneaks raunch in with a pop melody or makes slithering under your skin sound sexy. Empress Of eschews the covert, stating her ideas plainly and arranging “Woman is a Word” without superfluous detail. Simply put, she won’t be confined — by ideas, by standards, by biology. 
[8]

Juana Giaimo: “Woman is a Word” is the kind of protest song that is more powerful for the music than for the words themselves. Consisting mainly of the repetitions of the same lines, it’s how she sings these lines what transmits her desperation to liberate herself from such an abstract and arbitrary mold as a word.
[7]

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

Tegan and Sara – Boyfriend

Three years later, where are we?


[Video][Website]
[7.00]

Will Adams: Heartthrob cut to the core, its synth spritz signifying a sharp turn for the duo which only served to amplify the songs’ outpourings. This doesn’t do it. Maybe it’s just a mixing problem, maybe I made the mistake of expecting the same, but “Boyfriend” lacks the brightness that their overt feels-plumbing requires. As it stands, the emotion in this, a knotted and fresh study of queer relationships, feels locked away behind a song that hits all the right marks as impressively and clinically as an Olympic gymnast.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: If Carly Rae Jepsen weren’t quite as good.
[6]

Jer Fairall: One album ago, Tegan and Sara crafted a rueful, conflicted, heartbroken kiss-off over an ebullient synth hook on “Goodbye, Goodbye.” One album ago, Tegan and Sara made what is possibly the most eloquent address that has ever been put forth by a queer artist to their queer fanbase with “I’m not their hero, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t brave / I never walked the party line, doesn’t mean that I was never afraid” on the shattering “I’m Not Your Hero.” One album ago, our own Alex Ostroff wrote of “Now I’m All Messed Up”: “The subtle queerness is perfect; this isn’t a song appealing to the universality of emotion or whatever and erasing the lives of its authors, but it also refuses to spell it out for you. “Sick and tired of wondering where / where you’re leaving your makeup” (or a casual “boy” in Frank’s “Thinkin Bout You” or any other matter-of-fact circumstantial evidence of queerness) says so much more and argues for the humanity and dignity of queer folks so much better than 100 Macklemores ever could. I don’t want well-meaning political anthems or pity; I want more people hearing engaging, intelligent, desperate, emotional, angry, frustrated, happy queer voices writing damn good pop songs.” Yes, yes, and yes! With all of that in the rearview, “Boyfriend” sounds bright, hooky, emotive and…well, kind of well-meaning and (self-) pitying. In making literal a recurrent issue in many queer relationships–namely, the emotional damage that results from a closeted partner’s hesitance to publicly acknowledge their partner’s identity–the Quin’s are unquestionably getting at something that many in their audience may want or even need to hear, but without the richness or subtlety that graced such catharses the last time out. It’s not that they have written the easiest song that they could have written as a first single from a new album cycle–such queer specificity is no way to guarantee airplay even in 2016–but that the route they’ve taken towards expresses this sentiment is the least complicated one possible. Pedantic? Maybe, but the bar that they’ve set for themselves is a high one indeed.
[6]

Anthony Easton: Perfect synth pop, and the move from indie folk darlings to dance music goddesses is a complete, though I liked it better when Rae Spoon does it. 
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: In the next few years Tegan and Sara and Carly Rae Jepsen will merge into one synth-cathartic entity, and while it won’t vanquish heartbreak, it’ll at least allow a few more moments of exuberance inside it.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Artists gravitate towards synth pop because depending on the presets the machines convey desire and loneliness: private lusts playing out in communal spaces. Last year I chastised Chvrches for recording wan simulations of what comes naturally Tegan and Sara. “I’m not your secret anymore,” they hurl at the woman who may have come clean about her same sex taste. When the synths lock into the percussion I’m reminded me of how easy this sounds, how precise the execution.
[7]

Claire Biddles: Sure, the words in this make me wince with their familiarity, but the wordless hesitation in the middle of the line, “and trust me like a… like a very best friend” is one of the most heart-wrenching and specifically relatable admissions of defeat I’ve ever heard in pop.
[8]

Juana Giaimo: “Boyfriend” could only be by Tegan and Sara: a band that for years wrote songs in second person in order to avoid pronouns; a band that hid behind indie rock; a band that built a fanbase that genuily trust them and support them. If in Heartthrob they were trying to explore a new territory — and a new crowd — in “Boyfriend” they are now fully confident to dig deeper into this new era. The melody is playful and catchy and so is the wordgame, while the second part of the chorus is in charge of the emotional part. They realized that the pop music scene was much welcoming than the always serious and heterosexual male predominant indie rock. “I don’t want to be your secret anymore,” Sara painfully signs to her lover, but it’s also a clever statement of the band current position in the music scene. 
[8]

Leonel Manzanares: Tegan and Sara have consistently put out gem after gem, but “Boyfriend” is some next-level shit. We needed an “I Kissed a Girl” anthem from the perspective of the person experimented with; a person that’s already emotionally invested and wants the relationship to come to light — she just wants her to do the right thing. The lyric “You call me up like you want your best friend//You turn me on like you want your boyfriend //But I don’t want to be your secret anymore” is pop canon-worthy, and it’s all wrapped in a track the ’80s are green with envy about. I can almost hear the twins and Greg Kurstin patting themselves on the back. 
[8]

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

Snuper – Platonic Love

An apt description of our responses.


[Video][Website]
[5.33]
Jessica Doyle: Sweettune already gave this song to Infinite, and I didn’t like it then either.
[3]

Cassy Gress: Oh my, this is a glorious aerobics song! Bust out the high kicks and the jogging in place; get those leg warmers ready! To English-speaking ears, Snuper has a silly name, but they’re so sincere and ebullient that I can’t pick on them, despite the parts where they let the rapper sing. It even gets a wink of a guitar break. I adore the second half of the chorus, where “love, love, love” repeats in the background behind “neuryeodo gwaenchanha / neujeodo gwaenchanha / neoramyeon gwaenchanha / gidarilge,” a commitment to wait as long as it takes.
[9]

Anthony Easton: Sort of like how “Take on Me” tries for that super slickness but is not quite mannered enough. The edges don’t really show interesting choices.
[3]

Iain Mew: There’s a moment in the bridge when the synths sparkle and crack and Snuper swap raps that sounds like something new and interesting out of obvious influences. The rest conjures A1 in their ‘VR matrix simulator.’
[3]

Madeleine Lee: Finally, Seo In Guk’s cover of “Take On Me” gets the legacy it deserves! Anyway, as inessential as this ultimately is, it’s nice to hear that newer boy groups are still taking up this kind of shiny, synthy perfect-pop thing that Infinite excelled at, and it’s good to know that Sweetune haven’t totally lost their synthy perfect-pop touch.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The legacy of “Take On Me” persists, forgiving attempts to forego its sparkly melodic line and to embrace a chorus that rejects consummation. I yanked my ear towards the guitar and got nothing.
[5]

Leonel Manzanares: Oh, i know this sound; during the late 80’s/early 90’s, every single pop group in Mexico tried this combination of feather-light, spacey synths and jaunty choruses. However, unlike the overwhelming majority of those bands, Snuper could pull this off without getting too cheesy or too treacly. It’s a song that feels like innocence, and there’s even room for a guitar solo, a rap, and a last-chorus key change.
[7]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Shimmering Italo bounce, and an ’80s tinge that has that “leftover traits from the ’70s” arrangement to the chorus backing vocals. More charming than funny in their head over heels presentation of devotion.
[7]

Patrick St. Michel: All credit to the shimmering ’80s music for propping up a clunky hook (although trying to make “platonic” work deserves a “best effort” ribbon of some sort).
[6]