Next month, Prince would have been turning 65, but for the unfortunate circumstance of no longer being alive. (Damn you man, that was not cool.)
Marking that in Sydney, the Strobe Music Film Festival – which kicks off this weekend with films on Lee Fields, Ronnie Scott’s Soho Jazz Club and Can – is running a series of Prince films, from Purple Rain to Graffiti Bridge, via Under The Cherry Moon, Sign O’ The Times and the Prince-adjacent Batman, for which he did the soundtrack.
In the cheaper seats of Wind Back Wednesday we’re going instead to one of those “he’s back” moments in the chequered second half of the Prince career, his 28th album nearly 20 years ago. This review is small and breezy compared with the films, so consider it an aperitif for your movie nights.
THERE ARE MANY REASONS why Prince lost his way in the ‘90s: a change of name no-one could pronounce; changing public tastes; a sense that his best years were behind him. But one key element was that Prince forgot what he was about – being himself – and wasted years trying to incorporate ill-fitting parts together so as to sound “new”.
Hip hop in particular never suited Prince, a man who grew up on a diet of ‘70s funk and soul, ‘60s pop and R&B and Joni Mitchell. (For that matter his more jazz and jazz fusion-oriented albums of the past couple of years, Rainbow Children and N.E.W.S. never suited us.) But if you hear some resonance in this line from the title track of this album, “Wish I had a dollar/4 every time u say/Don't u miss the feeling/Music gave ya/Back in the day” then you can celebrate the fact that Musicology is the best pop album Prince has made in a long time.
The title track name-checks Sly Stone, Earth Wind And Fire, Kool and The Gang, or “the old school joint/4 the true funk soldiers” and from then Prince is loose, funky and casually catchy. In Life O’ The Party he struts around in the manner of his best party-up songs from the early ’80s, in What Do U Want Me 2 Do he takes Stevie Wonder out for a stroll, and the soul-drenched ballads such as Call My Name are like old friends.
But Musicology isn’t just some digging up old bones: these songs feel fresh. Cinnamon Girl may borrow a title from Neil Young but it is frisky and vampy and takes on some Dubya Bush-era politics (as does the activist-spurring Dear Mr Man) and Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance has a great pimp roll feel.
Of course, we don’t get the rampant sex any more (he’s born again sadly) but he hasn’t lost his sly sensuality. And Musicology proves he hasn’t lost his pop sense either. Hallelujah.
Find the program for The Strobe Film Festival at https://www.groovescooter.com/strobe-film-festival/