Prince steps back into the limelight: Musicology

Prince - Musicology Live 2004Ever (newsok.com)

Prince – Musicology Live 2004Ever

I am really an artist and a musician at heart, that’s what I do. Musicology has no boundaries or formats. It is long overdue to return to the art and craft of music, that’s what this album is about. School’s in session.

Prince – 2004

Introduction

Op March 29th, 2004, Prince released 3 albums through his on-line store Musicology, part of the NPG Music Club. This article focuses on the one album that was released in a physical format: Musicology.

The other two albums, The Chocolate Invasion and The Slaughterhouse, have been discussed in a previously published article: Prince – The Chocolate Invasion & The Slaughterhouse: ‘File under P’?.

Obscure?

In 1999 released the album Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic on the Arista label. The high expectations surrounding the album and the cooperation between and Clive Davis’ label were not met. The album tanked and the cooperation turned sour very quickly. blamed the label (wrongfully I might add) and reconsidered his strategy. He focused on his own on-line community NPG Music Club. It did produce some truly great albums:

Title Release date Remarks
Rave In2 the Joy Fantastic   04/29/2000   Remixalbum of Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic, published using the name
The Rainbow Children   11/20/2001    
One Nite Alone…   05/14/2002   Only available through the NPG Music Club
One Nite Alone… Live!   12/17/2002    
Xpectation   01/01/2003   Only available as a download through the NPG Music Club
C-Note   01/03/2003   Only available as a download through the NPG Music Club
N.E.W.S.   06/19/2003    
The Chocolate Invasion   03/29/2004   Only available as a download through the NPG Music Club
The Slaughterhouse   03/29/2004   Only available as a download through the NPG Music Club

But the albums weren’t enough. Particularly during the first year of the NPG Music Club‘s existence, tons of music was offered in the so-called NPG Ahdio Show. Several hour-long streams filled with new music, classic live recordings, complemented with clips and (live) videos. During the period 2000 up until March 29th, 2004, alone, Prince released a treasure trove worth of superb music.

The music Prince released was different, more free and experimental. The consequence being that his fans turned into even greater admirers (if that was even possible). On the other hand, to the people on the outside, Prince more and more turned into a relic of times long gone past. His concerts were still out of this world, but even there he focused on free jams, obscure songs and jazz, which (again) did not appeal to the masses.

On the road to success

In 2004 Prince had had enough. Was there the need for making money? During the previous years his own studio, Paisley Park, had been in business like before. He still recorded truckloads of music, made videos and movies, without huge benefits to cover the costs. The recording studios and rehearsal spaces at Paisley Park weren’t open to business for outsiders anymore. Prince used it for his own music and projects.

Prince & Beyoncé - Grammy Awards 2004 (billboard.com)

Prince & Beyoncé – Grammy Awards 2004

Whatever the reason: 2004 would be Prince’s year. It all started on February 8th. Prince opened the 46th Grammy Awards with a 5 minute long medley. He suggested to do the performance with Beyoncé, who had released her debut solo album Dangerously In Love the year before. It turned into some memorable 5 minutes. Prince and Beyoncé whirled around the stage. Prince ended the performance by stating: Don’t hate us cause we fabulous!. Americans were reminded of what and who Prince was.

On March 15th Prince was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. He opened the show and closed it as well as part of an all-star band to salute George Harrison. Prince made all the greats on stage turn pale by comparison with his otherworldly guitar playing. Read all about that night in Prince at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: the guitar solo.

On March 29th Prince released three albums through his recently opened on-line store Musicology, which was part of his NPG Music Club:

The year 2004 would be geared towards that first album, on which Prince was obviously focused. It was released using a major label (Columbia). After its initial on-line release, it was made available for retail on April 20th, 2004 in the US (April 19th in the UK). According to my records, I bought the physical release on April 17th, 2004. The site princevault.com states that the first physical copies were passed out on March 27th to visitors of the concerts. The cover was nothing more than a card-board box with the name of the album printed on it.

Musicology

Prince - Musicology (amazon.com)

Prince – Musicology

Musicology is Prince’s 28th studio album and the first since 1999 to be released on a major label. The rights to the music are owned by NPG Records. The album was a huge success. Partly because of the meticulous strategy to sell Prince to the masses. On the other hand, with every ticket sold to the (hugely successful) Musicology Live 2004Ever tour a copy of the cd was delivered. These cd’s counted as units sold in the album’s certification. In January 2005 the album was certified double platinum in the US. At the 2005 Grammy Awards the album was nominated in the category Best R&B Album, but didn’t win.

On a number of songs, Dutch Candy Dulfer is featured (Candy met Prince at the 1988 Lovesexy tour). She would also be a part of the band that played during the elaborate tour.

Meaning

When Prince was touring his One Nite Alone… Live tour in 2002, Prince oftentimes talked about real music by real musicians and school’s in. He wanted to express he was one of those musicians who still made real music. This theme was continued with Musicology. The term means:

Musicology is the scholarly analysis and research-based study of music. Musicology departments traditionally belong to the humanities, although music research is often more scientific in focus (psychological, sociological, acoustical, neurological, computational). A scholar who participates in musical research is a musicologist.

© wikipedia

Prince used the word on several outings. It wasn’t just the title to the album, but also of its opening song, the name of the accompanying tour and of the on-line store in the NPG Music Club.

Songs

All songs written and performed by Prince, unless stated otherwise. All songs recorded at Paisley Park Studios.

Prince - Musicology (single) (discogs.com)

Prince – Musicology (single)

Musicology

Recorded in 2003.

A funky song which serves as a perfect introduction to the album (and the concerts during the tour). A great song. Released as a single.

Wish had a dollar
4 every time they say
Don’t u miss the feeling
Music gave ya
Back in tha day?

Let’s Groove, September
Earth, Wind and Fire
Hot Pants by James
Sly’s gonna take u higher
Minor keys and drugs
Don’t make a rollerskate jam
Take ur pick – turntable or a band?

If it ain’t Chuck D.
or Jam Master Jay
Know what?
They’re losin’
‘Cause we got a Ph.D. in
Advanced body movin’

© 2004 Prince

The song has a strong ‘it used to be better’ feeling. Not just lyrically, but musically as well, the song references times long gone by. At the live shows the song was successfully intertwined with Tighten Up, which James Brown used at the end of the 1960’s.

It’s remarkable that Prince name checks Chuck D. and Jam Master Jay as examples of the good old days. When rap was emerging Prince initially was part of the group that states rap wasn’t real music. In The Black Album‘s Dead On It Prince said:

See the rapper’s problem usually stem from being tone deaf
Pack the house then try 2 sing,
there won’t be no one left

© 1987 Prince

By the way, Chuck D. guested on the Rave Un2 The Joy fantastic album on the song Undisputed, so clearly Prince thought differently some years later.

The end of the song contains a ‘segue’ that contains sounds searching for radio stations. Several Prince songs pass by: If I Was Your Girlfriend, 17 Days, Kiss, Sign O’ The Times and Little Red Corvette. Does he give the impression he thinks he used to be better back in the day as well?

In 2005 the song won a Grammy Award in the category Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance.

Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance

Probably recorded at the end of 2003.

A great, funky song. Two songs into the album and all’s well.

A Million Days

According to a former employee the song stems from 1995.

It reminds me of the fantastic Dolphin off the The Gold Experience album, but then very badly executed. This is not a good song, in my opinion.

Life O’ The Party

Probably recorded at the end of 2003.

Prince gets funky again. Fairly good, which truly convinced in a live setting. The studio version pales in comparison.

Vocal contributions by Candy Dulfer and Chance Howard. Candy Dulfer also plays saxophone.

Prince - Call My Name (single) (wikipedia.org)

Prince – Call My Name (single)

Call My Name

Probably recorded end 2003 / early 2004.

A classic soul song. The song was released as a ‘promo only’ single in the US. In 2005 the song won a Grammy Award in the category Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. It was also nominated for Best R&B Song, which is presented to the composer, but Prince didn’t win.

Chance Howard, Stokley Williams and Kip Blackshire provided vocals. Clare Fischer added strings (a sample lifted from previously recorded orchestration).

Prince - Cinnamon Girl (singles US and Europe) (discogs.com/wikipedia.org)

Prince – Cinnamon Girl (singles US and Europe)

Cinnamon Girl

Probably recorded at the end of 2003 or early 2004.

The song could have benefited from a edgier production. It all sounds a bit tame now. Unfortunate, because the song in itself is a rather convincing protest song. It portrays the way the US look at Muslims after the 9/11 terror attacks and the following unscrupulous war on terror.

Cinnamon Girl of mixed heritage
Never knew the meaning of color lines
9/11 turned that all around
When she got accused of this crime

So began the mass illusion
War on terror alibi
What’s the use when the god of confusion
Keeps on telling the same lie?

© 2004 Prince

Candy Dulfer, Chance Howard and Rhonda Smith added vocals.

The song was released as a single and nominated for a Grammy Award in the category Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, but didn’t win.

What Do U Want Me 2 Do?

The songs stems from 2003.

On November 13th, 2013, the song was streamed on-line through the NPG Music Club. A rather dull jazzy song.

The Italian text is spoken by Ornella Bonaccorsi.

Prince - Musicology Live 2004Ever - Acoustic guitar (pinterest.com)

Prince – Musicology Live 2004Ever – Acoustic guitar

The Marrying Kind

Probably stems from 2003.

Beloved song by many, but I don’t think it’s any good, at all. Just like the awful Three Chains O’ Gold off the album, this is supposed to be a prog-rock-ish song that steers into all kinds of directions, except the right one.

John Blackwell drums and Candy Dulfer, Maceo Parker and Greg Boyer provide horn parts.

If Eye Was The Man In Ur Life

Probably stems from 2003.

This song seems to be linked to the one before, but luckily is much better.

John Blackwell drums and Candy Dulfer, Maceo Parker and Greg Boyer provide horn parts.

On The Couch

Probably stems from 2003.

What a relief! Beautiful soul ballad, a bit like Al Green. Great use of silence and the subtle organ make this one special. I think it’s sublime:

Come on, baby
Don’t make me sleep on the couch

© 2004 Prince

John Blackwell drums and Candy Dulfer, Maceo Parker and Greg Boyer provide horn parts.

Dear Mr. Man

Stems from 2003.

And another hit. Prince is totally convincing in this political song, that covers differences in poverty and welfare, the current state of democracy and being left behind.

Musically sparse, yet exciting. A world class song.

Ain’t no sense in voting
Same song with a different name
Might not be in the back of the bus
But it sho’ feel just the same
Ain’t nothin’ fair about welfare
Ain’t no assistance in AIDS
Ain’t nothing affirmative about ur actions
‘Til the people get paid!

© 2004 Prince

Helped by:

  • Candy Dulfer – vocals
  • Rhonda Smith – bass
  • John Blackwell – drums
  • Maceo Parker – saxophone (not accredited)
  • Sheila E. – shaker
  • Renato Neto – Fender Rhodes

A live version of this song was used as the B-side to the Cinnamon Girl single.

Prince featuring Wendy Melvoin - Reflection (Tavis Smiley Show) (pinterest.com)

Prince featuring Wendy Melvoin – Reflection (Tavis Smiley Show)

Reflection

Probably recorded early 2003.

On May 29th, 2003, the song was made available as a download to the NPG Music Club members.

Yet another hit! Prince sounds melancholy and sincere. Beautiful closer. In April 2004 het played the song with former Revolution guitar player Wendy Melvoin at The Tavis Smiley Show.

Sometimes just wanna go
Sit out on the stoop and
Play my guitar
Just watch all
All the cars go by

© 2004 Prince

Prince - Musicology Live 2004Ever - Band (prince.org)

Prince – Musicology Live 2004Ever – Band

Singles

As stated above, three singles were culled from the album. Every single contained a ‘virtual B-side’.

Magnificent

Probably recorded early 2004.

On April 5th, 2004, the song was ready for purchase in the Musicology Download Store as the ‘virtual B-side’ to the Musicology single.

Not too special, for it reminds me of What Do U Want Me 2 Do?.

United States Of Divison

Probably recorded early 2004.

Prince - United States Of Division - NPG Music Club screenshot (princevault.com)

Prince – United States Of Division – NPG Music Club screenshot

On July 4th, 2004 (coinciding with the American ‘Independence Day’), the song was ready for purchase in the Musicology Download Store as the ‘virtual B-side’ to the Cinnamon Girl single. It was also part of the physical cd single in Europe.

I like it. Another political song. The first line: 2004, still at war and everybody hates Americans. The Iraq war is a recurring theme on this album (and B-sides). Prince is (very) vocal about his dislike of the war and its consequences on a human level.

Silver Tongue (Demo)

Probably recorded early 2004.

On July 13th, 2004, the song was ready for purchase in the Musicology Download Store as the ‘virtual B-side’ to the Call My Name single.

The song fits the overall theme and sound of One Nite Alone…. Nice.

The lyrics are written by Nikki Costa.

Prince - NPG Music Club - Pre-paid membership card (eil.com)

Prince – NPG Music Club – Pre-paid membership card

Review

Well, what do I think about the album? I have mixed emotions. It is a fine commercial product, sales figures don’t lie, but artistically it’s not a convincing statement. After the years of obscurity, during which Prince made exciting music, the 2004 releases disappoint (me). Prince seems to be going through the motions and lacks in delivering a 100% effort. During the times he does give more, it immediately gets better, thrilling even.

The last three songs make the album rise above mediocrity and bring more to the table than it was all better, back in the day, which really says a lot about an artist of Prince’s caliber, but at its core is a rather sad statement. Prince can do so much more, as he would prove two years later on 3121.

Rating

Musicology Tour (princevault.com)

Musicology Tour

Musicology Live 2004ever

Prince went on a tour of the US, which ran from March 27th to September 9th, 2004, promoting the Musicology album. The tour consisted of 77 shows in 51 cities, playing to 1.47 million fans and making $87.4 million along the way. It was the best selling tour of 2004 in the US.

Despite the name of the tour, usually not more than 3 songs were played off the Musicology album. Prince played a kind of ‘greatest hits’ show and gave audiences what they wanted (instead of what they needed, which was the general idea behind the One Nite Alone… Tour).

The band supporting Prince was basically identical to the one used during the superior One Nite Alone… Live tour of 2002, with some additions. Candy Dulfer played an important part in the show, vocally as well.

Prince - Musicology - Double platinum award (twitter.com)

Prince – Musicology – Double platinum award

Comeback

To the general public Musicology was a comeback. Prince had been there all along, but off the public’s radar. Given the sales numbers, the concert attendance and the public’s enthusiasm, Prince was completely back. The readers of the magazine Rolling Stone titled Prince as being the Most Welcome Comeback.

A part of Musicology‘s success was that the album was sold as part of the concert tickets. As a result Billboard and Nielsen SoundScan changed their rules. From then on customers “must be given an option to either add the CD to the ticket purchase or forgo the CD for a reduced ticket-only price”.

In closing

Just recently Musicology was released on purple vinyl.

What do you think of Musicology? Let me know!

Video/Spotify
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Prince steps back into the limelight: Musicology. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.