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Although released under the New Power Generation name, New Power Soul is a Prince album through and through. Unlike the two previous NPG albums, Gold Nigga and Exodus, Prince sings lead on every track for New Power Soul. Unfortunately most of the album is Prince-by-numbers, a collection of lightweight pop and R&B that doesn’t add anything of significance to his catalog. There are three exceptions — the bitter “Wasted Kisses,” which ends the album as a hidden track, and the two singles, both of which are classic Prince: the funky old-school groove of “Come On” and the breathtaking ballad “The One,” which features one of Prince’s truly astounding vocal performances. “The One” is easily one of his finest singles of the ‘90s, so it’s a shame that most of the material surrounding it is largely routine and uninspired. New Power Soul, released when Prince as at his commercial nadir with the general public, was largely ignored upon release.
Released exclusively via his NPG Music Club, One Nite Alone… is Prince at the piano. Sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s as freakishly talented on the keys as he is on guitar, but his playing on One Nite Alone… is dazzling. He also delivers a number of stunning vocal performances. The title-song is truly sublime, as is his cover of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of U.” “Have a Heart” is a lovely ballad, and “Pearls B4 The Swine” is a catchy, clever little track that might have actually been a good single. The strongest moment may be the “Avalanche,” on which Prince’s vocals are particularly impassioned and convincing. One Nite Alone… might be a side project that saw limited release, but it’s warm, heartfelt, and exquisitely performed by Prince.
Prince’s first album, released when he was only 19 years old, showcases his virtuosity at an early age. Prince wrote, produced and played all the instruments on the 9-track collection of slick pop, funk and R&B. He was just flexing his creative muscles for the first time, and for a teenager it’s truly remarkable. The two standout tracks are the singles — the sexy “Soft and Wet” and the sweet soulful pop of “Just as Long As We’re Together,” a song that should have been a hit. There are a few other strong moments, like the breezy “My Love is Forever,” the tender ballad “Baby” and the guitar workout “I’m Yours,” which foreshadows Prince’s future guitar heroics. For You shows Prince in the embryonic stage of his musical development, but the fact that he was capable of putting together an album this strong shows his drive and singular talent right from the start. Stardom didn’t just happen to Prince — he went out and made it happen, his boundless talent too obvious to overlook.
One of four albums released by Warner Bros. in order to allow Prince out of his contract (the others being Chaos & Disorder, Come and The Black Album), The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale is a compact compilation of jazzy-pop numbers that hang together surprisingly well considering the album is essentially contract filler. The soulful ballad “Extraordinary” was released as a single, and although it’s quite a nice track there was really no interest at radio for it. But despite being basically a nonentity commercially, songs like “Sarah,” “She Spoke to Me,” “The Rest of My Life,” “It’s About That Walk” and especially “Five Woman” have a real energy and are some top rate pop/R&B. The only real egregious clunker is the short interlude “My Little Pill” which opens Side Two. That said, it’s a missed opportunity — the track “Old Friends 4 Sale,” for example, dates to the mid-80s and far superior unreleased versions circulate among collectors. And of course it’s an album designed to check a box on a contract, and Prince no doubt didn’t want to hand over more material to Warner Bros. than he had to, so the album clocks in at a brief 39 minutes — an album called The Vault could be much more. But still, it’s clear that Prince didn’t want to make fans waste money on halfhearted material, and The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale is a nice little gem of an album.
With 20Ten, for the first time in his career Prince released an album that was generally unavailable to his fans in the U.S, although anybody who wanted it merely had to log into eBay and there were plenty of copies listed. 20Ten was bundled with various magazine publications in the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Germany and France. Ultimately there wasn’t much angst on the part of snubbed American fans, as 20Ten is not one of his major efforts. It’s ten tracks worth of moderately interesting pop/R&B, with very little that could be considered truly inspiring. The best moments are the ballad “Future Soul Song,” which features a lovely vocal arrangement, and “Beginning Endlessly,” with its heavy synth riff over electronic beats. “Lavaux” bears a striking resemblance to the Pointer Sisters’ “Automatic.” “Walk in Sand” and “Sea of Everything” are pretty if unremarkable ballads, “Sticky Like Glue” is a moderately appealing funk-pop, but the whole things kinda reeks of pointlessness. 20Ten is Prince in the studio churning out material that he could produce in his sleep.
Packaged with the far superior Lotusflow3r, MPLSound is similar to 20Ten in that Prince mines his past glories for inspiration. That said, there are a few outstanding moments on MPLSound — particularly the sparse and funky “Dance with Me,” and two outstanding ballads: “”U’re Gonna C Me,” a re-working of a song that originally appeared on One Nite Alone…, and the truly gorgeous “Better With Time.” The album opens with the tepid and tired braggadocio of “(There’ll Never Be) Another Like Me.” Better is “Chocolate Box,” a catchy, uptempo track for which an elaborate video was filmed. “Ol’ Skool Company” is a shout-out to far better years, and “No More Candy 4 U,” a nod to the Controversy era, has an oddly bitter and scolding vibe to it. “Here,” a trippy and melodic pop song, is one of the best moments on the album. Unfortunately, much like 20Ten, MPLSound seems rather pointless, Prince-by-numbers.
Like its inferior companion The Slaughterhouse, The Chocolate Invasion is a collection of songs originally made available online via Prince’s NPG Music Club. The material on The Chocolate Invasion is much stronger overall. Two tracks in particular make this set worth seeking out — the smoldering rock ballad “When Eye Lay My Hands on U,” and a soulful duet with Angie Stone called “U Make My Sun Shine” that reminds everyone what a truly monumental vocalist Prince truly is. There are other high points too, like the upbeat pop songs “Supercute” and “Vavoom,” and the smooth R&B ballad “Underneath the Cream.” Had Prince taken the best tracks of the period during which the tracks for The Slaughterhouse and The Chocolate Invasion were recorded and released one great album — and given it a proper release with real promotion — he might have had a hit on his hands. As it is, most of this material will only be heard by die-hard fans, which is truly unfortunate.
Another contract-filler, Chaos and Disorder is an appropriate name for this odd little album. The liner notes even includes a disclaimer that it’s a collection of songs original intended for “private use only.” Chaos and Disorder is mostly a rock album, so like the jazzy-pop of The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale, at least the contract fillers he turned over the Warner Bros. are cohesive and contain generally strong material. There are a few moments on Chaos and Disorder that are classic Prince: the hard rocking “The Same December” and the companion tracks “Into the Light/I Will,” both of which would have fit right in on The Gold Experience. “Dinner with Delores,” a rather lightweight but endearing guitar shuffle, was released as a single but with little promotion it was treated more as a curio. The album suffers from inconsistency, and both “I Rock Therefore I Am” and “Right the Wrong” are rather noxious. Also, a much better version of the blues-rocker “Zannalee” circulates among collectors. But for all its faults, Chaos and Disorder is a worthwhile listen, an offhand little collection that does sound a bit like a mixtape. It does nothing to add to Prince’s reputation as a musical genius, but not every album has to be Purple Rain or Sign o’ the Times to be (mostly) enjoyable.