On June 19th, 2003, a new song was made available by ‘accessing’ a special ‘room’ within the NPG Music Club, an online Prince community, which was active from 2001 to 2006, through which Prince was able to communicate directly with his fans and release his music. For a yearly contribution of $100,- (lowered to $25,- in the fourth year of its existence) members received (new) music on a monthly basis, physical cd’s and access to exclusive pre-sale for concert-tickets, guaranteeing a (secured) place in front of the stage.
The new song was the introduction to the album N.E.W.S., which is styled as n·e·w·s on its cover. In this article I use the name by which it is used on the official site: using capitals.
At the end of May the first clues were visible. The letters N, E, W and S were shown on the floor of one of the ‘rooms’ in the NPG Music Club. A few days later the album was added to the discography section, called The Vault.
At first the songs were only made available online. As stated above, it started with North on June 19th, 2003. In the following days East, West and South followed.
Contrary to Xpectation and C-Note, N.E.W.S. was also given a physical release. Using a signing up list, members of the NPG Music Club could order the CD. First copies were received by the end of June.
I can’t remember why, but I decided to wait for the retail release. On July 29th, 20013, the album was released. At the time I bought it in Alkmaar, the Netherlands, on that very day.
N.E.W.S. is the 27th studio album by Prince. It contains four instrumental songs which are all exactly 14 minutes long. The performers on the album were all part of the One Nite Alone… Tour, that was underway in 2002.
On February 16th, 2003, five musicians gathered at Paisley Park Studios: drummer John Blackwell, saxophone player Eric Leeds, keyboard player Renato Neto, bass player Rhonda Smith and Prince. The purpose was to jam. Very little is known about that day or the recordings, but it is highly likely that the song (or musical pieces) were not played the exact same way they turned up on the album. Ending a song at 14 minutes exactly, even if it is just once, requires extreme planning, let alone four times and with different songs as well. Besides, the music sounds far too organic and spontaneous for that. On the song North Clare Fisher is credited for orchestration, which was added after the recording session.
Advised as new directions in music, the album is experimental and a new and exciting field for Prince. At times the music is made up of standard funk work-outs, which Prince could chime out without even thinking about it, but the majority of it is music that sounds fresh, new and exciting. At the time it was blatantly obvious that pop reviewers didn’t get the album at all. Within jazz circles the album was valued much higher.
All songs written by Prince. The album uses the term directed by. It is very likely that the musicians contributed to the end result, because of the spontaneous jam feel of the album.
- Prince – guitar, fender rhodes, digital keyboards and percussion
- John Blackwell – drums
- Renato Neto – piano, synthesizers
- Rhonda Smith – bass
- Eric Leeds – saxophone
- The album’s title is made up of the starting letters to the song titles;
- The N.E.W.S. album cover is a so-called ‘fold-out’ cover. To see the cover in its entirity the cover needs to be completely folded open. The CD is placed in the middle;
- The album was nominated in the Pop Instrumental Album category at the 2004 Grammy Awards.
Yes, that’s really what it says. I love this album. I thought the way Prince seemed to be headed was exciting. Even though not everything was that good (many songs on Xpectation were below average), it was new and fresh. I really liked C-Note and played it often. This album surpassed that, easily. I know there are many, many Prince music lovers that don’t think this album is worth anything, but I thoroughly enjoy the playing and the melodies.
The level of musicianship is ridiculously high. John Blackwell is the best drummer Prince has ever had, Eric Leeds always delivers and brings something extra. His playing is highly recognizable, unique and ‘different’ (for lack of a better word). Leeds’ importance, with whom Prince also created the Madhouse project, can not be overestimated. Bass player Rhonda Smith was Prince’s steady bass player since 1996 and would be that for 8 straight years. No other bass player played with Prince for so long. Renato Neto played with Prince since 2002 and was highly valued. I recall reading somewhere that Prince was impressed by the true soloing of Neto: he never ever repeated a solo, he always played from his heart. Prince was Prince: the guitar work is very funky, heavy and exciting.
The song East is part of my Prince song top 50. Two years ago I wrote:
This song is from the album N.E.W.S. which was released on Prince’s own NPG Records. The album only contains 4 instrumental pieces of music; each piece is 14 minutes long. Recorded in one day at Paisley Park Studios the album initially was exclusively available through the NPG Music Club. Supposedly it’s Prince’s weakest selling album, but I thought (and still think) it’s an intriguing album, in which Prince tries new ways. From time to time I play the album and every time the spontaneity, inventiveness and musicality surprises me.
I might just as easily have nominated North, West or South. The text remains true to this day. Essential listening!
This was the last release in 2003. The next year everything would be completely different. In part thanks to this album. Thanks to this album Prince got the chance to perform at the Grammy Awards. He agreed on the condition he could open the show. He was going to do that with the new hot female star of the day: Beyoncé. It was a spectacular performance. Prince was back. More on that at a later time.
Do you know N.E.W.S.? What’s your opinion? Let me know!
I hereby genuinely thank Bram and Edward for their proofreading.
Prince – N.E.W.S. header and Prince – N.E.W.S. images: princeestate.com
NPGMC Logo image: princevault.com
Prince – N.E.W.S. – Flyer image: unknown
Prince – N.E.W.S. – Inside of the fold-out cover and credits images: discogs.com