If the people who went to Paisley Park for three nights last weekend to celebrate Prince’s new album were disappointed because he didn’t perform, then fans who buy “HitNRun Phase One” might be let down because he doesn’t deliver enough here, either.
Unless you consider three or four winning tracks enough.
Prince and his co-producer/programmer Joshua Welton have billed the 11-song album, which was released Monday exclusively on Jay Z’s streaming service Tidal, as experimental. It’s more like a hodgepodge — tracks from one-off sessions with vocalists Rita Ora and Curly Fryz, some numbers that predated last September’s twin releases, “PlectrumElectrum” (with 3rdEyeGirl) and “Art Official Age,” and some remixes from the latter album. So much for Prince’s espoused philosophy of releasing music as soon as it’s made.
On his third album in 11 months and 34th studio recording overall, Prince, 57, plays lead, rhythm and bass guitars and Welton handles keyboards and programming percussion and beats. Welton, 25, the husband of 3rdEyeGirl drummer Hannah Ford Welton, tries hard to be hip but his EDM-obsessed experiments don’t quite find their footing.
“Shut This Down” sounds like Usher, “Uptown Funk,” “Blurred Lines” and a video game rolled into one slamming cut-and-paste pastiche. Similarly, “Million $ Show,” featuring Prince protégée Judith Hill of “The Voice” fame, weaves pop, swing, rock and classical into an expensive tapestry with the seams showing.
“This Could Be Us,” which was a sweet ballad on “Art Official Age,” has been re-imagined as a spare electronic number with an often thundering dubstep rhythm. At least it gives fans a taste of Prince’s guitar heroics.
So does “HardRockLover,” which celebrates the facts that turning up Prince’s guitar can make a woman scream and he’s “living in a woman’s jeans.” Indeed, the Purple One is not shy here about suggestive language but he keeps it PG. He sings about a pimp in the Latin-tinged “Like a Mack,” tying her up in lace on the soulful “1000 X’s & O’s” and “a body like that should never be alone” on the droning “X’s Face.”
Not included here is “Baltimore,” his topical song released in May about the controversial Freddie Gray death in that Maryland city that led to a concert there starring Prince and 3rdEyeGirl.
Prince’s idea of commentary on “HitNRun” is a glimpse at the state of the music industry — hard rock vs. R&B — in “HardRockLover.” That hard-rocking tune is featured on the second and stronger half of the new album. Another highlight is “Fallinlove2nite,” a bright, synth-pop ditty that sounds like it could have been an outtake from 1985’s “Around the World in a Day.”
Ballads are best
The best selections are the final two: the sexy, minimalist, come-back-to-me slow jam “1000 X’s & O’s,” about how he has 1,000 hugs and kisses for his baby when she comes back home, and the dreamy, rivetingly weird, metaphysical ballad “June” (the month).
The latter selection features Prince’s most personal lyrics here, including his musing that sometimes he feels he was born too late and “I should have been born on the Woodstock stage.” That comes after the admission that he and the woman in question make love to a Richie Havens vinyl LP. Another line that jumps out: “How can you be everybody’s dream and still be somebody’s wife” followed by “tell me what did you have for lunch today.”
The Rock Hall of Famer shows his sense of humor by remixing and retitling “Art Official Age’s” “Clouds,” featuring the heavenly Lianne La Havas, as “Mr. Nelson.” If you didn’t know, that’s Prince’s surname.
Prince has promised physical versions of “HitNRun Phase One” but has not indicated when they will be available. Maybe he’ll rework this hit-and-miss collection into “Phase Two” by then — and perform the new tunes live for the faithful at Paisley Park.