Prince and 3121, the real comeback?

Prince - Saturday Night Live 02/04/2006 (madcatsandclouds.com)

Prince – Saturday Night Live 02/04/2006

Support real musicians

Prince, February 2006

Introduction

In 2004 Prince had stepped back into the limelight again, particularly in the US. His Musicology album and his Musicology Live 2004ever tour had become hugely successful and his status of most exciting live-act had been reaffirmed. But, the album wasn’t that convincing. Yes, it was ok, but it was mostly decent, very decent. What would his next step be?

Prince - Musicology (amazon.com)

Prince – Musicology

Comeback

The year 2004 was called the year of Prince’s comeback. Next to the success of Musicology he opened the 46th Grammy Awards on February 8th, 2004, with guest star Beyoncé. It was a true spectacle. On March 15th, 2004, Prince was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. The guitar solo he played as part of an all-star ensemble at the end of the evening is widely regarded as one of the best guitar solo’s of all time. Read about that night in Prince at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: the guitar solo.

Europe

The following tour was a great success. Prince sold out everywhere, played in huge arena’s and grossed over $87 million. But, this all played out in the US, where the album was received very well. In Europe people were less enthused by Musicology. The album didn’t contain very much of the well-known Prince genius. It was a decent album, somewhat predictable and even boring; not a highlight in his career, at all. Had Prince’s time finally come and gone by now? Would Prince turn into a novelty act, who faithfully played his biggest hits, but nothing exciting and fresh would ever be released by him ever again? The question was answered as well: Unfortunately, yes.

Prince’s next step would undoubtedly be the proof in the pudding. Of course, it all turned out quite differently.

Prince - 3121 (bol.com)

Prince – 3121

3121

3121 (“thirty-one twenty-one”) is the 31st studio album by Prince and was released on March 21st, 2006 (in Europe on March 20th, 2006), by NPG Records. Distribution was handled by Universal Music. Initially, the album was highly successful: it even entered the Billboard 200 chart at number 1, due to more than 180,000 copies sold in the first week of its release. Prince hadn’t held the number 1 position since 1989’s Batman.

The album debuted the rhythm section C.C. Dunham (drummer) and Joshua Dunham (bass player), a married couple that would work with Prince up until the summer of 2010. Also, Támar Davis (simply known as Támar), played a big part on the album. At the same time work was underway for her debut album Milk & Honey.

On June 26th, 2006, 3121 was certified Gold in the US (500,000 copies).

Prince - 3121 - Promotion (twitter.com)

Prince – 3121 – Promotion

Promotion

On March 19th, 2005, Prince performed at the NAACP Image Awards with a new band. Besides playing a new song (Satisfied), which pointed towards new music, Prince wore a jacket with “3121” embroidered on the back. The first hint of a new project?

At the time Prince had left Minneapolis for the Westcoast of the US. Multiple stories appeared about parties and shows at the house Prince had rented. The address: 3121 Antelo Road, Los Angeles, California. Another clue referring to “3121”.

Singles en route to the new album

On December 13th, 2005, the single Te Amo Corazón was released. The first affirmation of new music. The same song was re-released on Valentine’s day February 14th, 2006, now including the video for the song. On February 21st, 2006, the single Black Sweat was released, immediately earning lots of airplay. The black and white video performed very well on television music stations.

Private show

The release of the album was accompanied by the chance to win attendance at a private show by Prince at his home. The competition was only available for citizens of the US, Japan and The Netherlands (!). In seven of the 3121 cd’s so-called “Purple Tickets” were hidden (signifying a 1 in 107,143 chance of winning). Tickets were to be handed in before April 11th, 2006. The concert was held on May 6th, 2006, at Prince’s house with the lucky winners present.

N.B.:
The Dutch book Prince: The Dutch Experience by Edgar Kruize (recommended!) tells the tale of the collapse of the sales of 3121 in The Netherlands after April 15th, 2006, the day that the winner of the competition was announced of Dutch television.

Prince - BRIT Awards rehearsal 2006 (twitter.com/housequake)

Prince – BRIT Awards rehearsal 2006

TV shows

Op February 4th, 2006, Prince performed at Saturday Night Live and played Fury and Beautiful, Loved And Blessed. Eleven days later he performed at the BRIT Awards in London, with former Revolution members Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman in the band, complemented with Sheila E. A fine performance. On May 24th, 2006, Prince performed at the season’s finale of American Idol.

Internet

Following the closure of his online forum and website www.npgmusicclub.com, Prince launched 3121.com in March 2006. The site was online for almost two years: in January 2008 the site closed down.

Nominations

The album was nominated for 5 different Grammy Awards, including Best R&B Album. The nominations didn’t turn into wins.

Prince - 3121 - Poster (Dutch) (unknown)

Prince – 3121 – Poster (Dutch)

Meaning

What does 3121 represent? It’s actually not exactly clear, but the references stand out:

  • 3121 was released on March 21st: 3/21 in the English format
  • The single Te Amo Corazón was released on December 12th, 2005: 12/13 in the English format, 3121 in reverse
  • The sum of 3121 is 7 (3 + 1 + 2 + 1), a number that is featured in a lot of Prince’s songs, which was his favorite number
  • The address of the rental house Prince stayed at in 2005 and part of 2006 was 3121 Antelo Road, Los Angeles, California
  • Is it a reference to the Biblical book of Psalms 31:21?
    May Jehovah be praised,
    For in a wonderful way, he has shown his loyal love to me in a besieged city.

    (source: New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, used by Jehovah’s Witnesses)
    After all, the album is dedicated to: “All praise and glory 2 the Most High – Jehovah”

3121 was used for more than just the album. At the end of 2006, beginning of 2007 Prince performed in Las Vegas under the moniker Perf4ming Live 3121. In 2007 the perfume 3121 was made available. Supposedly, work was underway to make a movie entitled 3121. Unfortunately, This was never completed.

Prince - 3121 - Album cover photo shoot (facebook.com/prince)

Prince – 3121 – Album cover photo shoot

Album cover

The photo on the cover of the album was shot by photographer Afshin Shahidi backstage at the NAACP Image Awards on March 19th, 2005, where Prince showed the term “3121” for the first time. The photo was colorized at a later time by graphic designer Sam Jennings who had been working with Prince for quite some time. All pictures in the 3121 booklet were shot at the 3121 Antelo Road, Los Angeles, California house.

Songs

Unfortunately, not very much is known about the recoding process for the songs on 3121. They were mostly recorded between 2004 and 2006 at Paisley Park Studios and the house at 3121 Antelo Road, Los Angeles, California. While compiling the album, the songs Streets Of Panama and The Morning After were discarded.

All songs were written by Prince, except Beautiful, Loved And Blessed written by Prince and Támar.

Prince - 3121 booklet - 3121 (45worlds.com)

Prince – 3121 booklet – 3121

3121

Recorded in 2004.

This album immediately kicks off in a way that predecessor Musicology couldn’t even remotely match. A truly phenomenal song, on which old acquaintances Michael B. and Sonny T. provide the lazy hypnotic beat (someone had been listening to D’Angelo and Questlove). Distorted voices, alienating sounds, choirs, it has it all. A glorious solo, deep funk. A wonderful opener.

Through the gates Knock on the door
Put Ur clothes in the pile on the floor
Take Ur pick from the Japanese robes and sandals
Drink champagne from a glass with chocolate handles

© 2006 Prince

Prince - 3121 booklet - Lolita (45worlds.com)

Prince – 3121 booklet – Lolita

Lolita

Recorded in 2005.

Nice pop song, that came to life when played live. Would have made a great song on one the albums by The Time, due to the call and response at the end of the song.

Imagine me on the tip of Ur tongue
If took a sip then would be on the run
Hellhounds barkin’ ’round my door
can’t sip U once ‘less sip U some more
Lolita

© 2006 Prince

Prince - 3121 booklet - Te Amo Corazón (45worlds.com)

Prince – 3121 booklet – Te Amo Corazón

Te Amo Corazón

Recorded in 2005.

Time for a ballad, with latin influences. The song works very well. It was released as the album’s first single on December 13th, 2005. A rather remarkable choice, because it’s not the most obvious choice for a lead single.

Salma Hayek debuted as director when filming the video to the song, which was shot in Morocco.

Prince - 3121 booklet - Black Sweat (45worlds.com)

Prince – 3121 booklet – Black Sweat

Black Sweat

Probably stems from 2004, with some additional work done later.

Electro funk pur sang. Yet another incredible song. Great instrumentation, ingenious beat. A hip-hop feel, some James Brown and the Kiss falsetto. Such bliss!

don’t want 2 take my clothes off
But do
don’t want 2 turn nobody on
‘Less it’s U

don’t want 2 dance 2 hard, babe
But this is a groove
‘m hot and don’t care who knows it
got a job to do, yes

‘m workin’
Workin’ up a black sweat

© 2006 Prince

The song was released as the second single prior to the album’s release. It was accompanied by a beautiful, funny black and white video.

Prince - 3121 booklet - Incense And Candles (45worlds.com)

Prince – 3121 booklet – Incense And Candles

Incense And Candles

Recorded in 2005.

Prince uses autotune for the first time. Why is a complete mystery. The song itself is a rather slick R&B tune, which might even have worked without the autotune. Not now.

Prince - 3121 booklet - Love (45worlds.com)

Prince – 3121 booklet – Love

Love

Recorded in 2005.

The first obvious reference to the Bible: “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”, coming from the Biblical book of Matthew.

Great song with a catchy riff and glorious rhythm guitar work.

Are the lyrics about Manuela Testolini, his second wife from whom he was divorcing at the time?

What’s the point of giving me ultimatums?
Smiling at my friends when U really hate ’em
Trying 2 convince me that should 2…
What’s the point?

© 2006 Prince

Prince - 3121 booklet - Satisfied (45worlds.com)

Prince – 3121 booklet – Satisfied

Satisfied

Recorded in 2005.

A classic soul ballad, neatly colored within the confines of its rules. Beautiful horn parts, choirs, stop/start moments. Predictable, yet it works well, very well indeed.

One of the examples of the songs that reference sex in a somewhat veiled manner, something Prince seemed to allow back into his music again.

ain’t talking about nothing physical
‘Cause 4play starts in the mind
‘m just trying 2 get you 2 think about doing things
That U’ve always wanted but could never find

© 2006 Prince

Prince - 3121 booklet - Fury (45worlds.com)

Prince – 3121 booklet – Fury

Fury

Recorded in 2005/2006.

A great song, with glorious guitar work. A shame it’s accompanied by lame drumming and an uninspired keyboard riff.

When Prince lets his guitar roar, it’s truly blissful. As was the case with Lolita, Fury really comes to life when played live.

Prince - 3121 booklet - The Word (45worlds.com)

Prince – 3121 booklet – The Word

The Word

Recorded in 2005.

Prince dives deep into his religious beliefs, but not in an annoying way. A beautiful song with some strong melodies. And a great guitar solo to top it off.

What is this new exaltation that just can’t explain?
What r these new inspirations that can’t get out of my brain?

How am gonna sleep with this feelin’ rushin’ all thrU my veins?
Get up, come on, let’s do something
Don’t u wanna go get saved?

© 2006 Prince

Prince - 3121 booklet - Beautiful, Loved And Blessed (45worlds.com)

Prince – 3121 booklet – Beautiful, Loved And Blessed

Beautiful, Loved And Blessed

Recorded on October 6th, 2005, a duet between Prince and Támar.

The religious theme is reprised. Prince and Támar are thankful. Very, very light.

When you found me
was just a piece of clay
was formless
U gave me a new name
With the breath of life now live abundantly
All needed was the potter’s hand
And the blood on Calvary

© 2006 Prince

Prince - 3121 booklet - The Dance (45worlds.com)

Prince – 3121 booklet – The Dance

The Dance

The oldest song on the album, it probably stems as far back as 1999 and has been released before in another version on 2004’s The Chocolate Invasion.

It starts off as a regular ballad, midway morphing into a latin feel. After 04:15 the song explodes. Prince shouts and screams. Every time he does that, it’s a feat to behold. True bliss!

Baby, how U gonna really just stand there
And act like U don’t want this, baby?
If U do then U knwo just don’t care
Oh baby, can find another just like U anywhere
Oh baby, they might not have Ur hips, girl
Or all that pretty hair
But at least they won’t spend all day in the mirror
Trying 2 find something 2 wear
At least they won’t want 2 make love like U do
On the stairs
Against the pole
On the north corner of the…
Oh baby, baby, baby, baby, it’s just not fair
It’s just not fair!
Oww!

© 2006 Prince

Prince - 3121 booklet - Get On The Boat (45worlds.com)

Prince – 3121 booklet – Get On The Boat

Get On The Boat

Recorded in 2005/2006.

A funk song with latin influences, that’s overtly religious in nature. The song’s message points towards the story of Noah’s Ark, as well to the Jehovah’s Witnesses conviction that only 144,000 souls will end up in heaven. The implicit message being that all those that don’t Get On The Boat will be lost.

Well…

The song is nice enough, though a bit predictable, resembling Prettyman off 1999’s Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic album.

What’s the harm in listenin’ 2 the hopeful words we say
If it moves your ♥, U know U better get in without delay

Get on the boat
Get on the boat, people
Get on the boat now
We got room for a hundred more

© 2006 Prince

Prince - 3121 - The singles (bol.com/amazon.com)

Prince – 3121 – The singles (Te Amo Corazón, Black Sweat, Fury)

Singles

Three singles were culled from the album:

  • Te Amo Corazón
    (released on December 13th, 2005, as a download and on February 14th, 2006, on CD)
    B-side to the CD single was the video for Te Amo Corazón
  • Black Sweat
    (released on February 21st, 2006)
    B-side was Beautiful, Loved And Blessed
  • Fury
    (released on May 22nd, 2006)
    B- side was a live medley of Te Amo Corazón and Fury, recorded at the BRIT Awards on February 15th, 2006
Prince & Salma Hayek on the set of the Te Amo Corazón video, Morocco (facebook.com/prince)

Prince & Salma Hayek on the set of the Te Amo Corazón video, Morocco

Musicians

All vocals and instruments by Prince, with help from:

  • Michael B. – drums on 3121
  • Sonny T. – bass on 3121
  • Maceo Parker, Candy Dulfer – saxophone on 3121, Satisfied and Get On The Boat
  • Greg Boyer – trombone on 3121, Satisfied and Get On The Boat
  • Ray Monteiro – trumpet on 3121,Te Amo Corazón, Satisfied and Get On The Boat
  • New Power Generation – additional voices on Lolita
  • Joshua Dunham – bass on Te Amo Corazón and Get On The Boat
  • Cora Coleman-Dunham (als C.C. Dunham) – drums on Te Amo Corazón and Get On The Boat
  • Ricky Salas – timbales, bongo and percussion on Te Amo Corazón
  • Herbert Ureña – congas, bongo and percussion on Te Amo Corazón
  • Támar – vocals on Incense And Candles, Love, Satisfied, Beautiful, Loved And Blessed and Get On The Boat
  • Sheila E. – percussion on Get On The Boat
  • Liza Lena – ‘guest per4mer’
  • Clare Fischer – strings arrangement on Te Amo Corazón
Prince - 3121 – Ad (unknown)

Prince – 3121 – Ad

Review

In spite of some weaker moments (Incense And Candles, Beautiful, Loved And Blessed and Get On The Boat) I was (and am) very happy with 3121. Where predecessor Musicology wasn’t a convincing artistic statement, 3121 does quite the opposite. Songs like 3121, Black Sweat, Love and The Word are very strong indeed and don’t pale next to the innumerable classics from Prince’s golden years. If Lolita and Fury had been given some more attention, they would have fit right in. All in all a very good score.

The disappointment that was Musicology, was forgotten and forgiven in one single swoop. Could Prince keep this up? One year later the next album Planet Earth would arrive. More on that album at a later time.

Rating

Prince - Per4ming Live 3121 - Billboard (facebook.com/prince)

Prince – Per4ming Live 3121 – Billboard

Per4ming Live 3121

Almost eight months after the release of the album Prince started his Per4ming Live 3121 stay at the Rio hotel in Las Vegas. From November 10th, 2006, to April 28th, 2007, Prince performed almost every Friday and Saturday in a room he had dubbed Club #3121. The shows were very relaxed and differed from anything Prince had done before. That was partly caused by his revamped band:

  • Prince – vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards
  • Cora Coleman-Dunham – drums
  • Josh Dunham – bass
  • Morris Hayes – keyboards
  • Renato Neto – keyboards
  • Maceo Parker – saxophone (from 11/25/2006 to 01/14/2007, 17 to 02/19/2007 and 21 to 04/29/2007)
  • Greg Boyer – trombone
  • Mike Phillips – saxophone, vocoder
  • Lee Hogans – trumpet (from 01/20/2007 onwards)
  • Shelby J. – background vocals (from 12/30/2006 onwards)
  • “The Twinz” (Maya & Nandy McClean) – dance, background vocals

Even though the stay used 3121 in its name, the shows were not geared towards the album. On average two or three songs off the album were played.

The club was relatively small (some 1,000 people could enter the club), making the shows an intimate affair. Prince confiscated the next door restaurant, renaming it to 3121 Jazz Cuisine. Prince regularly played aftershows on concert nights.

The shows were well received by press and fans alike. The idea of a steady place over a longer period of time felt good to Prince. After the release of next album Planet Earth Prince would play 21 nights at London’s O2 Arena using the tour name 21 Nights In London: The Earth Tour.

Támar - Beautiful Loved & Blessed, Milk & Honey (apoplife.nl/music-bazaar.mobi)

Támar – Beautiful Loved & Blessed, Milk & Honey

Támar

Támar Davis had caught Prince’s eye for the first time in 1994. Ten years later they bumped into one another again and they decided to work together. In 2005 and 2006 work was done on an album, originally entitled Wild Child, renamed to Beautiful, Loved & Blessed (using its title in ads in the first pressings of the 3121 album), until finally settling on Milk & Honey.

Prince put a lot of effort into promoting the album and even went along with Támar on tour as part of her band, playing in 13 clubs. They were probably romantically involved as well during this time.

The album was postponed numerous times, March, May, August, ultimately resulting in cancellation. When Prince was negotiating with Universal the Támar album was part of the deal. However, when Prince decided not to tour the album (as had been agreed) Universal lost interest in the Támar album.

The 12 songs for the album were written by Prince.

Prince - 3121 - Las Vegas (lipstickalley.com/dribble.com/facebook.com/prince)

Prince – 3121 – Las Vegas

In closing

Prince’s Las Vegas stint was interupted only for a performance during the break of the Super Bowl XLI at the Dolphin Stadium in Miami Florida on February 4th, 2007. This performance is widely regarded as (one of) the best Super Bowl performances of all time. Prince played in the pouring rain, yet gave an electrifying 12 minute show, leaving behind an ecstatic crowd. Maybe more on that show at a later time.

What do you think of 3121? Were you also pleasantly surprised or do you love all the music that came out between 2004 and 2007? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Prince and 3121, the real comeback?. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.

More Prince?

Prince - 3121 logo (pinterest.com)

2 comments

    • ELIAS ARIAS on 03/21/2021 at 11:15 PM
    • Reply

    3121 IS A MASTERPIECE!!! FROM THE GREATEST PRODIGY IN ROCK MUSIC!!! PERIOD.

    1. THANK YOU FOR YOUR REPLY!!!

Compliments/remarks? Yes, please!