Since his ‘80s heyday, Prince’s output, while prolific, has been hit-and-miss. He’s released some tremendous records like 3121 and The Gold Experience, but too often his albums almost seem like afterthoughts. On tour he plays his hits and long extended jams, and the new albums are generally neglected. As it’s been years since he’s been tied to a major label, he’s comes up with creative ways to get his music to the fans. For his 2009 release Lotusflow3r he also included a second disc of Prince material called MPLSound and a disc with vocals by his protégé of the moment, Bria Valente, called Elixer. The 3-disc package was only available Target or via Prince’s costly website (which ended up being a fiasco). The main disc is by far the best of the three, and easily one of the Top Three albums Prince has released since the ‘80s. Lotusflow3r is primarily a rock album, featuring blues-rockers “Colonized Mind” and “Dreamer.” “Wall of Berlin” is classic Prince, an air-tight, sizzling rocker. “Feel Better, Feel Good, Feel Wonderful” is old-school funk, and the catchy “$” should have been Prince’s biggest single in years. Lotusflow3r did debut at #2, but it fell rapidly after die-hard fans picked up the album, and none of the tracks ever really made an impact nationally — a shame. There is a lot to love about Lotusflow3r, and it’s good to know that Prince can still bring it when he wants to.
Prince’s follow-up to his debut For You is a huge leap forward in all respects. Prince is a slick collection of pop/rock/R&B with some amazing songwriting for a man who was only 21 at the time of its release. Prince wrote, produced, and performed every instrument, and his growth in confidence as a musician, songwriter and vocalist since his debut is obvious. His first big hit came with the disco-kissed “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” topping the Billboard R&B Singles chart and crossing over to the pop chart, where it hit #11. Subsequent singles, the pop/rocker “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad” and the smooth soul ballad “Still Waiting,” failed to match that success, but it hardly mattered. It was obvious by this point to anybody paying attention that Prince was a talent to be reckoned with. The album was more daring than his debut by leaps and bounds, especially with the sexually charged rocker “Bambi” and the kinetic funk of “Sexy Dancer.” Prince also includes the sterling pop track “I Feel for You,” which of course later became a huge smash for Chaka Khan and begs the question why Prince didn’t choose to release it himself, as it is easily the most commercial track on the album after “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” Prince is a gleaming hybrid of influences that not only points the way forward to future greatness, but stands as a classic album in its own right.
Prince amps up the new wave elements on his follow-up to Dirty Mind, 1981’s Controversy. The lead single, built on pulsing synths over a strong backbeat and a funky guitar riff, is one of Prince’s all-time greats. The album version is 7 minutes and 16 seconds of Prince at his purest, in its vibe, lyrics, and attitude. The rest of the album is strong, but while it expands on Dirty Mind stylistically, it doesn’t have the razor sharp focus and cohesion. A couple of tracks are a bit throwaway, especially the curiously perverse “Jack U Off.” Clearly the most commercial track on the album, “Private Joy” was never released by Prince as a single — perhaps because he realized that radio programmers might have balked at the perturbing misogyny it portrays. The high points on Controversy far outweigh any negatives, though. “Annie Christian” is a foreboding new waver with some wicked guitar licks, and a strong argument could be made that “Let’s Work” is the greatest pure funk track of Prince’s career — that bassline just melts the brain. Controversy also contains the first of Prince’s classic ballads, the languidly erotic “Do Me, Baby,” notable for its long pillow-talk ending that becomes fully orgasmic. Controversy is another step on the ladder for Prince. His songwriting is getting more varied and adventurous, and his confidence is soaring. The next album would be one of his masterpieces.