A crisp remaster and discs of bonus material will make you miss the pop auteur even more.
A legendary control freak, Prince's business instincts were always idiosyncratic, from scrawling "SLAVE" on his face and changing his name to an icon (to protest his Warner Brothers contract) to his New Power Generation pop-up shop in Minneapolis (for the year or so it lasted on Lyndale Avenue, I always remember finding it empty – when it opened at all – save its clerks). In some cases, time proved him prescient: Frank Ocean and others have refined the pop-up, while Prince's CD giveaways and streaming service holdouts are now standard marketing strategies. As for sitting on decades worth of "vault recordings" of still-unknown quantity and quality, the jury is out, and it's impossible to know if Prince would have ever green-lighted the release of the early-to-mid-Eighties outtakes included in both the two-disc Deluxe Edition and four-disc Deluxe Expanded Edition of Purple Rain, his megahit soundtrack LP to the film of the same name. Perhaps it's best to take them as a gift from an artist you will miss even more after hearing them.
Billed as the Prince-supervised "2015 Paisley Park Remaster" of Purple Rain, the reissue of the original album may or may not be the same mix posted in 2015 to Tidal – comparing the latter stream with a new one provided by the label, it's hard to discern much difference. Nevertheless, it's a fabulously crisp mix of one of modern pop's greatest LPs. Details sparkle: the string flourishes on "Take Me With You" and "Purple Rain"; the finger-snap on "When Doves Cry," just after dude coos about "you and I engaged in a kiss"; the actual kiss around the three-minute mark of "Baby I'm a Star."
The bonus disc titled From the Vault & Previously Unreleased opens with "The Dance Electric," an apocalyptic 11-minute party jam with a churning machine-funk groove and Syndrum sequences that mirror West African talking-drum salvos. "Good morning, children" begins the Purple Proctor, echoing the "Dearly beloved" intro of "Let's Go Crazy." He instructs his charges to "Listen to the rhythm of your soul," and that they'd "better love each other," invoking Babylon and the "light of truth" along the way.
"Love and Sex" – unrelated to the Sheila E song of the same – refracts elements of "Take Me With You" in a galloping mix of Prince tropes, decked out in squishy DX-7 synths, "sh-boom"s and "sha-la-la-la"s. A 12-minute version of "Computer Blue" is exploded from the album version with an eight-minute jazz-funk-rock coda full of over-the top guitar alongside trippy Prince narration and a Siri-like cyborg (likely a mix of Revolution bandmates Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman) scolding a "poor lonely computer/It's time you learned 'love' and 'lust'/They both have four letters, but they're entirely different words."
"Electric Intercourse" is a falsetto ballad grounded in florid church piano chords, guilded with synths and driven with programmed drums – another digital sex metaphor that maybe hits its target a bit too squarely. More interesting is "Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden," a cleaned-up medley of two songs recorded in '84 at his 26th birthday concert. "Our Destiny" features marvelous orchestral framing, with lead vocals by Lisa Coleman; then Prince comes in slinging memories ("This is the house where we used to play"). It's a taste of what his golden-era music might have sounded like if he'd shared the spotlight more often.
"Possessed," about being crazy in love, has a melody which snakes through fluttering harp notes towards a breakdown that never quite arrives, peppered by a processed vocal display worthy of The Exorcist. "Have you ever had the feeling that someone was tearing you up into little bitty pieces and contemplating selling you for a jigsaw puzzle?" sings a chorus of demonic Princes. Absolutely, dudes.
Befitting its title, "Wonderful Ass" might be the most purely satisfying of the vault tracks: a chipper, silly funk-strut duet between Prince and Lisa Coleman, who were at the time dating the twin Melvoin sisters (both of whom shared the titular attribute, according to Coleman). The bandmates rap-rhyme "educate," "negotiate," "communicate," "litigate," "interrogate" and "masturbate" because, well, that's what they do.
"Velvet Kitty Kat" sounds like a solo Prince demo: lo-fi, slightly muffled, with a basic drum track and simple guitar. Its charm is its brevity and DIY simplicity, a rarity for Prince at this stage. "Katrina's Paper Dolls," meanwhile, is something of a mystery, sketching a story of a lonely girl who stays home and makes her own company, literally. It might be about Prince's protégée Vanity (real name Denise Katrina Matthews) of Vanity 6. Or it might just be an interesting metaphor for a guy who made his own company similarly, by shaping artists like Vanity.
Opening with finger cymbals and what sounds like an oud, the outrageous "We Can Fuck" gets straight to the point, then makes it for 10 minutes, putting a Middle Eastern spin on his sexual revolution over a slow funk jam as X-rated as any official Prince release to date. It's followed by "Father's Song," the piano meditation written, or in any case co-written, by Prince's dad, John Nelson. A fragment appeared in semi-autobiographical context in the film Purple Rain, and its melody was used as the main motif of "Computer Blue"'s back end. Here, the piano melody is teased out and ghosted with synth, becoming an easy-listening psychedelic coda to this scrapbook culled from what may stand as Prince's hottest streak.
The Deluxe Expanded set includes a DVD of a 1985 Syracuse show that's circulated in bootleg bits on YouTube for a while, as well as the Single Edits & B-Sides disc. The latter gathers worthy flipsides, including the two-cigarettes-and-a-broken-heart anthem "17 Days" (Prince's second-best lyrical application of the word "rain"); the bizarre steam-kettle space-gospel ballad "God"; the aching, banana daiquiri-soused lover's requiem "Another Lonely Christmas"; and the mighty seven-minute "Make Love Not War Erotic City Come Alive" mix of "Erotic City" – which reminds us that, as long as we are alive, "We can funk until the dawn," which is good advice always.
Sprightly but vanilla electro-pop from arty LA talent.
Given Lawrence Rothman's ongoing experimentation with dazzling and often disturbing video clips and a shape-shifting Bowie-like approach to his own look and style, the Californian's debut LP is surprisingly conventional sonically and musically – a series of upbeat synth-based tracks with roots in 1990s R&B (How To Dress Well, who references the same period more successfully, appears on the so-so "Wolves Still Cry"). In moving away from the adventure of darkly excellent 2013 single "Montauk Fling", Rothman is playing it safe, but his deep, sensuous baritone remains a striking point of difference.
Wordy New Jersey DIY punks deliver storytelling good times.
One of the surprise success stories of wordy, beardy-man-feels punk, the Front Bottoms' easygoing nature belies just how smart, insightful and genuinely moving their ouvre can be. Brian Sella remains strikingly relatable as the everyman with the reedy storytelling voice coughing up sneaky-deep narrative gems like the travelling doubt of "Raining". The plaintive "Trampoline" and charming "Don't Fill Up On Chips" are terrific, but the perky synths on "You Used To Say (Holy Fuck)" and the ponderous "Grand Finale" land awkwardly. But for communal drunken sing-alongs ("Ocean", "Everyone But You") and bud hugs, few do it better.
Spunky diva keeps the energy high, vitriol catchy on seventh album.
Pink was dominating the charts with spunky, real-talking anthems back when today's slow-sad divas were in preschool, and her seventh LP is a reminder of that. The title track and the strummy "Whatever You Want" are vintage Pink, with juicy hooks and pop-rock muscle; "I Am Here" underscores its EDM-powerment message with a gospel choir. Beautiful Trauma's chilled-out middle sags, but "Revenge," her bad-romance duet with Eminem, is an early shot of energy; Max Martin and Shellback's homage to Dr. Dre's skip-step beats may be too on the nose, but Em's rhymes nicely recall a time when even lunatics rode bright hooks.
Indie-rock leaders fail to uncover common ground on collaborative LP.
Her: a master of the mundane, building global recognition on recalled tales of gardening-induced faints and sulky fist-shakes at the depressingly exorbitant state of the Melbourne housing market. Him: less fussed, by everything, nowhere to be but strumming on some stoop in Philadelphia, stoog between fingers. World's apart, quite literally, and while this merger between two of the best modern indie-rock conversationalists might be a marketing wet dream, Lotta Sea Lice lands closer to compromise than collaboration.
In lieu of uncovering commonality across the album's nine tracks, the pair end up sticking to a to-and-fro chat, covering general catch-up topics – from sleep routines ("Let It Go") to social faux pas ("Blue Cheese") to creative approaches ("Over Everything"). Side-by-side the glaring differences of their individual styles emerge – and are ruthlessly diluted. Vile's obfuscated, laconic drawl is exposed in often-cringeworthy clarity, while Barnett's anxious energy and linguistic playfulness are levelled out with a stoned metronomy. The ill-fitting partnership works better on the pair of previously released solo tracks ("Outta the Woodwork" and "Peepin' Tom") which, despite being performed by the other party, sound distinctly less forced. Rare flashes of comfort on a release that's less the sum of its parts but rather two halves awkwardly moulded together.
St. Vincent writes her most together album about falling apart.
Annie Clark's last album in 2014 was both critically lauded and her most commercially successful. And yet the 35-year-old who makes music as St. Vincent was barely holding things together physically, spiritually and emotionally. While Clark is pretty much the opposite of a confessional songwriter, Masseduction is uncharacteristically open and a rare thing – a together album about falling apart.
"I spent a year suspended in air," she sings over the herky-jerky, almost hysterical feel of "Pills", before detailing all the meds she had to take to keep functioning. "New York", on the other hand, is a bewitching piano-based ballad about a city not being what it was now that a significant other has gone. Yet it's not sentimental. How could it be with the killer line "You're the only motherfucker in the city who can handle me"? It's enough to make even the late Lou Reed crack a smile.
Jack Antonoff (Lorde) co-produces and his maximalist pop tendencies are targeted rather than overwhelming – the title track's Prince-meets-Janelle Monae freak-funk; the helicoptering keyboards and shuddering beat of "Sugarboy". Whether she's sweating out a slinky kink-fest ("Savior") or creating a beautiful ode to a difficult relationship with a junkie ("Happy Birthday, Johnny"), Clark hits the head, heart and hips simultaneously.
Lucky 13th album is all of Beck's feelgood summers at once.
Since Midnite Vultures followed Mutations followed Odelay, the radical mood swing from string-soaked acoustic introspection to beat bustin' party central has been a key premise of Beck's discography. Accordingly, after the ravishing autumnal down of 2014's Morning Phase, Colors is a whole new summer high.
"I'm So Free" might be his most irresistible mash of experimental sonics, rubber-lipped rap and classic grunge guitar chorus hook ever. That's the third killer track on the trot on an album that almost hyperventilates in pursuit of the ultimate endorphin kick.
Mad genius pop producer Greg Kurstin (Sia, the Shins, Tegan and Sara) brings an extra sugar rush to the table, retro-tastic in the flagrant Beatles pastiche of "Dear Life", punching a hole in the mirror ball of "Dreams" then floating into the futuristic ether of "Wow".
Subject wise, the hedonistic gist of "Seventh Heaven" and "Up All Night" sums up the best part of Beck's headspace, but there's enough intrigue in his lyrics to keep the brain in gear even as blood rushes to the dancing organs. In the closing track, "Fix Me", he finally exhales in the album's sole slow track, an oceanic ebb designed to segue, perhaps, into his next morning phase. For the rest of this cycle, though, get ready to party like it's 2019.
Has Adam Sandler become a lyric writer for the Darkness?
The Darkness have never been a band for serious lyrical sentiment, but their transition into full-blown Carry On territory is complete with their fifth album. Musically it's all top notch glam rock fare, the AC/DC swagger of "Solid Gold" butting up against the pop-rock mastery of "Happiness" and steaming riffing of "Japanese Prisoner of Love", but Justin Hawkins' lyrics push so far into joke territory that the album may as well be filed under "comedy" – witness the opening line of ballad "Stampede of Love": "You walked in and the ground shook/Can't believe how much food you took".
Darwin soul singer charts new heights in cool on debut.
An A.B. Original collaborator and one half of electro-soul duo Sietta, Caiti Baker draws a heady through-line from Bettye Swann to contemporary peers including Ngaiire and Son Little, remaking soul music in her own image. Zinc harnesses brassy mid-century big band and R&B cool ("I Won't Sleep") to filigreed neo-soul texture ("Dreamers"). The album's most intoxicating tracks sample roughcast recordings of Baker's bluesman father laying down guitar licks on a smartphone; Baker and producers Michael Hohnen and James Mangohig welding the dawn of popular song to engrossing contemporary production. Each piece is unique, each uniquely wonderful.
Goth-metal veteran gets back to his shock-rock roots on 10th album.
Two years after releasing the surprisingly mature goth-metal offering The Pale Emperor, Marilyn Manson has returned to straight-ahead shock. "I write songs to fight and to fuck to," he sings on "Je$u$ Cri$i$," from his 10th LP, over spiky, electro-hard-rock riffs that occasionally recall his glammy Mechanical Animals period. That old black magic often sounds forced, but he makes up for it with a few more melancholy tracks, the best of which, "Saturnalia," is an eight-minute ode to orgiastic revelry that feels like a long-lost descendant of Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead."
Oasis singer sticks to brawny Britpop and Beatle-esque melodies on solo debut.
It may be the closest Liam Gallagher has come to apology. "In my defence all my intentions were good," the ex-Oasis singer asserts on his solo debut, in a song that shares its title with Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth." "But I am a dreamer by design," Gallagher adds, as good a description of kamikaze stardom as anything he sang in Oasis, from his brother Noel's songbook. Eight years after that band's messy breakup, Liam puts his signature voice on the line in a mostly original set of strut and reflection that sticks to Oasis' template – brawny Britpop, Beatle-esque ballads – and often invigorates it.
Like his brother, Liam openly quotes his inspirations: "She's so purple haze" (the suitably dreamy "When I'm in Need"); "Angels, gimme shelter/Cause I'm about to fall" (the harder, thumping "You Better Run"). There are fresh twists on the classicism too: the slashing-riff charge and falling-vocal chorus in "Greedy Soul"; Gallagher's scouring bray swimming through the acid-folk "Chinatown." As You Were lacks one Oasis specialty – straight-up helter skelter. But if the album is a few steps shy of his old band's best, it has Gallagher writing like he means it and singing like his dream isn't over.
Kiwis return with more woozy synth-pop.
Yumi Zouma opted to decamp to their native Christchurch to knuckle down on their second record, the result sparkling with the same shiny, polished electronic sheen that defined their much-admired debut Yoncalla. This is disco-influenced dream-pop at its most wistful, strongly in the vein of early Empire of the Sun, but ultimately the album, while pleasant and breezy, feels a little one-paced, unobtrusive and samey. Highpoints come when Christie Simpson's understated and distant vocals transcend the hazy production ("In Blue"), otherwise the LP can be regarded as one of considerable skill, but little penetration.
Bloc Party frontman's transition to earnest singer-songwriter.
Well, this is unexpected. Trickling acoustic guitars, parping woodwinds and sighing strings are not what you'd associate with Okereke. Unfortunately the transition to earnest singer-songwriter on his third solo album is an awkward one. For starters, his voice is more suited to impassioned yelping in front of post-punk or electronica, and it shrinks when spotlit in crooner mode. His attempts at gloomy folk ("Streets Been Talkin"), polite soul-pop ("Do U Right") and a song for his kid ("Savannah") sound stretched, and the whimsical vamping of "Capers" is ill-advised. Lyrically, things you can get away with when yammering over a racket don't pass muster in quiet mode.
Toronto folk singer expands her sound on compelling fourth LP.
With its ragged, sometimes strangled electrified guitars ("Complicit") and bustling drums ("Kept it All to Myself"), Tamara Lindeman's self-described 'rock & roll record' builds on the delicate trad-folk that has long soundtracked her poetic profundities. Less like fellow Canadians Jennifer Castle and Joni Mitchell – nudging, instead, early Fairport Convention – the rawer textures underscore the gutsiness of Lindeman's insightful meditations on the shifting sands of selfhood and relationships ("Thirty"). It's all carried by her spellbinding vocals – which hint that she has even more to say than time allows.
Sydney metallers push the sonic extremes.
On their third full-length Sydney metallers Lo! draw heavily on the Lamb of God and Meshuggah playbooks, vocalist Sam Dillon summoning the guttural roar of LOG's Randy Blythe over a corrosive collection of thrash riffing and time-signature-bending rhythms. It's undeniably powerful stuff, crippled only by the feeling we've heard this before. The atmospheric, spoken-word "Bombardier" provides welcome, moody respite from the aural battering around it, flowing nicely into the more sludgey "A Tiger Moth's Shadow". "Judas Steer", too, demonstrates an ability to inject dynamics into its blastbeat insanity, a formidable example of what Lo! can do.