Unlike September’s poorly-received Phase One this surprise end-of-year release is a step away from digital production and back to the classic funky analogue sounds that Prince does so well.
This is not an entirely new album. Some of the tracks have been released already and can be found for free online, some have been performed in recent live shows and some are from Prince’s archive of thousands of songs he has previously recorded — but it doesn’t suffer for all that.
The album was recorded over a four-year period in his studio, which must be a considerable size to fit in, among others, a welcome return of the his band the New Power Generation and a 16-piece horn section.
The album opens with “Baltimore”, a track he released last May. Referencing the killing of Freddie Gray, it is Prince’s contribution to the Black Lives Matter movement against police racism and violence.
Prince makes it clear which side he takes with both the video and the lyrics: “Nobody got in nobody’s way/ So I guess you could say it was a good day” — referencing Ice Cube — and, “If there ain’t no justice/ Then there ain’t no peace”, the cry that has run from LA through every protest against police brutality.
“Baltimore” isn’t Prince’s only foray into social commentary — think 1987’s “Sign O’ The Times” — nor even necessarily his best, but it’s a good track, and it’s great to see a major artist making a statement at an important moment.
However, being Prince, this album isn’t all politics. There’s an awful lot of sex in there too. Songs like “Look At Me, Look At U” and “Revelation” (although you spend most of the latter trying to work out if it’s about religion or sex) are trademark Prince numbers both lyrically and musically.
“Black Muse” shows what a talented musician Prince is. First heard in his live tours of 2010 with female leads, on this recording Prince takes over the vocal lead and it’s hard to understand why it was around for five years without release.
Prince has always been a bit of a maverick — remember his protest against the record company by performing with “slave” written across his face, and the years he wanted to be known as “symbol”.
He has boycotted Spotify, stating that the free streaming platform allows record companies to take more money and give less to the artists, making it harder for new artists to break through. Both HITNRUN albums have been initially released on Jay-Z’s streaming site Tidal.
Prince has also been prolific (this is studio album 39, I think) and although the quality has varied, he has always been innovative and prepared to try new techniques.
However, HITNRUN Phase Two is a return to what Prince does best — sexy, funky soul. It may not be the pinnacle of his illustrious career but it’s probably his best album this century.