Beginning Endlessly 05:27
Future Soul Song 05:08
Sticky Like Glue 04:46
Act of God 03:14
Walk in Sand 03:30
Sea of Everything 03:49
Everybody Loves Me 04:09
Laydown (Hidden Track) 03:07
Laydown Xtended (Digital Download Only) 05:54
Produced, Arranged, Composed and Per4med* by: Prince
Prince has reached that stage that so many musical legends do when it comes to their new releases. He is no longer truly innovative or groundbreaking or, many would argue, relevant. So a new Prince release certainly doesn’t generate the excitement it once did. But really, what else does he have to prove? Few can boast of the incredible run of one great album after another that Prince was on throughout the 1980’s.
There is no sense in going into great detail here about where Prince’s career has gone musically since the end of the 80’s. There were still plenty moments of greatness in the 90’s, with 1995’s “The Gold Experience” being the highlight, his last truly great album from start to finish. And 1996’s three-disc opus “Emancipation” suffered from some filler, as most three disc sets would, but overall still stands as an essential release in the Prince catalog.
It is his post-“Emancipation” work that has shown the greatest lack of quality control and an overabundance of mediocre material. 2004’s “Musicology” was a solid return to form but it was sandwiched in between forgettable releases like “The Rainbow Children” (or as I like to call it, Prince’s comedy album), and the dreck that is “Planet Earth”. Last year’s set of “Lotusflow3r” and “MPLSound” continued the maddeningly inconsistent output, some solid songs mixed in with some sappy ballads and attempts to recapture his earlier sound that just sounded forced.
So that brings us to “20Ten”, an album that at the time of this review has only been released as a giveaway CD, included with a few newspapers and magazines in select countries overseas. Since my expectations for a new Prince album are so low these days, it’s nice to be pleasantly surprised when he comes out with something worthwhile. Although “20Ten” is not a great album by any means, it is the second best full length he has released post-“Emancipation”, falling only behind “Musicology”. There are a couple duds, but the strength of the remaining eight tracks places this far above most of his recent output.
Unfortunately the album starts off with one of the aforementioned duds, the cornball “Compassion”. It sounds like Prince lifted the drum track from “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” for this song, but that is the only comparison you can make to that sexed up classic. This is that funk-lite crap Prince has been spewing for too long now, with show tune hornlines, the cheese just drips off this one. Even worse is “Everybody Loves Me”, an attempt at being tongue in cheek that will instead make you insert finger down throat to induce vomiting. I guess he is going for the playfulness of earlier “rockabilly” type tracks like “Horny Toad”, or over the top bragging songs such as “Prettyman”, but instead winds up with a song that joins the likes of “Jughead” and “Right The Wrong” as one of the worst things he has ever released.
So now that the ugliness is out of the way, we can turn to what is right with the album and that is the other eight songs. Prince is definitely going for a retro-80’s vibe here, but it does not sound forced as it did on last years’ “MPLSound”. He takes the best of his signature sounds, the Linn drum machine, funky guitar licks and sparse arrangements, then adds some modern touches that for once reveal a refreshing sound, not an overproduced, trying to keep up with current trends mess. Prince actually sounds like Prince again.
“Beginning Endlessly” combines a Linn beat with a dark electro groove and it works, especially when he adds some guitar to the mix in the latter portion of the song. It’s an updated version of the Minneapolis sound that actually holds up. The keyboard line of “Lavaux” sounds awfully close to The Pointer Sisters’ “Automatic”, but the song chugs along as Prince decries how “Life back home depresses me” as he sings the praises of his new found paradise.
“Sticky Like Glue” sounds like a lost outtake from the “For You” or “Prince” sessions, a slice of Princely 70’s funk with some updated keyboard parts. Sung in his classic falsetto, the first half of the song would have fit right on those early albums with the sparse drum beats, popping bass and scratchy guitar licks. It then leads into a smoking hot second half with Prince smack talking about this strange relationship. “I know we’re dysfunctional but I just can’t see myself with another girl, what in the world is wrong with me?” he offers as his backing female vocalists belt out the chorus in this gem. Play this right after listening to “Soft And Wet” and “Sexy Dancer”, you’d swear it is from the same era.
“Act Of God” is another funky highlight, with Prince decrying what the “dirty bankers” have done to this country. It’s a much better lyric than his recent run of out of touch, over-simplistic political musings. The biggest problem with “Act of God” is it is too damn short at just over three minutes long. Just when things start to get really smoking with an instrumental breakdown near the end, it abruptly ends. This is a song screaming for an additional couple minutes to stretch the funk out and keep that nasty guitar line going.
“20Ten” also sees Prince return to form in the ballad department. The man has recorded so many classic ballads over the years there are too many to list, but those have been lacking lately as well, bogged down in tepid schmaltz or trying too hard to fit into modern R&B trends. The heavenly melodies are back with the trio of slow jams contained here, starting with “Future Soul Song”. Prince sings in a deep, lower register not heard often enough on his slower material, where he usually leans on his falsetto. The chorus is full of cooing female backing vocals and the song contains all the elements that make for a classic Prince ballad, including some killer guitar work in the second half.
The album’s other two ballads run into each other starting with “Walk In Sand”, which is one of the few songs not built around the Linn drum machine. The live drums and jazzy guitar are a nice contrast to the heavily electronic sound of the rest of the album. As good as the other two ballads are, “Sea of Everything” is the highlight, a new Prince classic that oozes sexiness. His vocal performance here is stunning as his falsetto carries the entire song over a Linn pattern and sparse instrumentation. “Will U wander the wilderness searching for a king, or will U settle for a Prince and a Sea of Everything” he sings to one of those melodies only Prince can write when he is at the top of his game.
In typical Prince fashion, he buries one of the album’s best songs as a “hidden track” 77 on the CD. “Laydown” calls to mind more recent funk excursions like “Face Down” or “Days Of Wild”. It is a slice of raw funk with abrasive guitar and nasty popping bass with Prince bragging “From the heart of Minnesota/here come the Purple Yoda/guaranteed 2 bring the dirty new sound.” Once again, the only problem is the song is too short, barely clocking in at three minutes when it deserves plenty more time to build in its fierceness. “Everybody Loves Me” deserved to be buried as a hidden track, not this new funk anthem.
It’s starting to look more and more like “20Ten” will not see a wider release but copies are easily available on Ebay, and there are plenty of people selling them at reasonable prices if you look hard enough. Does this album join the ranks of Prince’s greatest works? Of course not. But it is definitely worth tracking down an official copy since it contains some of the best songs he has released since “Musicology”. I’d share a few here, but I don’t feel like fending off Princely harassment or a lawsuit over his “intellectual property”. If you’re a fan of his music, track this album down, you won’t be disappointed.