Prince: Ranking His Albums, Bottom to Top

NewPowerSoul31. New Power Soul (1998)

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.

OneNiteAlone30. One Nite Alone… (2002)

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.

ForYou29. For You (1978)

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.

TheVault28. The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale (1999)

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. 

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