Prince: Ranking His Albums, Bottom to Top

TheRainbowChildren15. The Rainbow Children (2001)

Given that The Rainbow Children was recorded shortly after Prince’s conversion to the Jehovah’s Witness religion, and he’s always been notoriously anti-drug, he likely wouldn’t approve of a room full of people sitting around, getting high and blasting his 2001 opus, but it is indeed a great loopy funk album perfect for that purpose (or so I’d imagine). The Rainbow Children is heavily influenced by his new religion — and yet, it’s a trippy album that veers from jazz to R&B to funk to pop with a spirit of experimentation and freedom that infuses all of Prince’s best work. Prince narrates the album in a deep, digitally manipulated voice that sounds like a prophet from the top of some sacred mountain. Yeah, some of the lyrics are kooky, but when hasn’t that been true on a Prince record? The Rainbow Children features some of his most fascinating and experimental work, especially on the lengthy title song that opens the album. “She Loves Me 4 Me” is a gorgeous, breezy ballad that should have been a hit single. “1+1+1=3” is a slice of sizzling funk that can’t help but get your ass moving. “The Last December” is a spiritual epic that closes the album with extraordinary beauty. There are the long funk workouts “The Everlasting Now” and “Family Name” that are both prime, classic Prince tunes. The Rainbow Children is completely unique in the vast catalog that Prince has created, and if there is any justice will only grow in stature as the years go by. It doesn’t really make much sense, but in the right frame of mind, it doesn’t need to.

 Come14. Come (1994)

Come is the moody, misunderstood sibling of The Gold Experience. Both albums are derived of material from the about same time period, but while The Gold Experience is boisterous, bright and loud, Come is darker, lower-key and at times unsettling. It opens with the long, smooth title track which is nice enough but it should have been substantially edited (and the slurping noises really need to go). Then it gets into some classic Prince. “Space” is easily one of his best tracks of the’90s. It’s gorgeously produced with shimmering layers of keyboards and beautiful harmony vocals. The sexually obsessed “Pheromone” is a fantastic twisted dance track in which a voyeur watches a couple at play in a dangerous sexual fantasy. “Loose!” is a wild techno freak-out and “Papa” is a troubling piece about child-abuse. “Dark” is a heartbroken ballad, one of his best of the era.  The slick “Letitgo,” the album’s first single, has a soulful, very melodic vibe. The chilling “Solo” features one of the most unhinged vocals Prince has ever delivered. Come is supposed to be an album of contract-filler, but it’s loaded with top-notch material that hangs together very well as a coherent album. Come didn’t make a significant chart impact upon its release, with only “Letitgo” reaching the Top 40 (a paltry #31). It’s arguably the most underrated album of his career.

 Symbol13. O(+> (1992)

Prince’s follow-up to the successful Diamonds and Pearls doubles-down on that album’s hip-hop flavor, but overall the material is much stronger and the production work is stellar. The audacious “My Name is Prince” and “Sexy M.F.” open the album with a strong one-two punch. “The Morning Papers,” which boasts some white-hot guitar, is an essential Prince single. Prince’s vocals are particularly exquisite on the shimmering ballad “And God Created Woman”; it’s a hidden gem that should have been a single. The big hit from the album, “7,” is notable for its massive wall of vocals. The epic “3 Chains o’ Gold” is overwrought and melodramatic, but it’s impressive nonetheless, with absolutely breathtaking vocals and guitar heroics. The lightweight reggae “Blue Light” is a fun and sexy little tune, another one that should have received strong consideration to be a single. Also strong are the sizzling funk/rocker “The Continental” and the elegant ballad “Damn U,” featuring Prince in his sweetest falsetto. Unfortunately the album is burdened by a dumb conceptual framework that includes segues featuring news reports and telephone calls between Prince and Kirstie Alley (it’s as bizarre as it sounds), and there are a couple blots on the album that should have been left as B-sides — particularly “The Max” and the rap number “The Flow.” It could have been better had the fat been trimmed, but O(+> is an essential portrait of the early-90’s version of Prince.Although it was a moderate hit, it didn’t sell as well as Diamonds & Pearls, which is a shame because there are several potential singles that were left on the table, and are now known mostly by the die-hard fans when they should be on his greatest hits collections.

312112. 3121 (2006)

It’s difficult to fathom that by 2006 there were still chart accomplishments that Prince hadn’t yet managed, but he did something with 3121 that was a first: debut at #1 on the Billboard Album Chart. It was also his first #1 album in 17 years, since Batman. Musicology brought at least some degree of mainstream attention for the first time in years, and Prince was able to take advantage with 3121, a first-rate collection of well-produced pop and R&B. The first single was “Te Amo Corazón,” a beautiful bossa nova ballad with an exquisite acoustic guitar solo. It was followed with “Black Sweat,” a stripped down electronic-funk jam that is sorta a modern take on the “Kiss” formula. The scorching rocker “Fury” was another great single. 3121 is all over the place stylistically, and everything he tries on it works. For example, the old-school soul ballad “Satisfied,” or the electrifying dance/funk of “Love” and “Lolita.” The elegant “Incense and Candles,” featuring some terrific harmonies, is one of Prince’s sexiest tracks in ages. “The Dance” is a haunting ballad with whirring strings on which Prince delivers a stunning vocal. The final track is long, infectious funk workout with blistering horns and a joyous vibe. There are no weak tracks on 3121. Starting with Musicology, Prince had returned to a more concise album-length compared to his ‘90s works which often stretched the CD to its limit, and that move pays off on 3121 — it’s a compact 12 songs that are all worthy additions to Prince’s musical galaxy. The title song asks the question –“Don’t you wanna come, 3121?” The answer is a resounding YES. With 3121, Prince not only returned to #1, but he did it with an album that shows beyond all doubt that the man can still release a tightly focused album with terrific songwriting and production.

Music writer for Metro Weekly. Contact at cgerard@metroweekly.com.

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