Here at Music Morphine, I aim to provide new, not-so-new, and retro reviews. My goal is talk about music I love on a dying format that makes me no money and consistently makes me wonder if I should just switch to YouTube. If that’s your thing, check out similar reviews!
The Purple One deserves his own op-ed, but in absence of that, I decided to focus on one album.
It’s something I’ve been planning since this blog’s inception. But it’s fucking Prince. Where do you start? The man has a massive career spanning decades. His albums are an exercise in genre-jumping. He doesn’t have just one style, though the classic hits radio stations would have you believing otherwise. The songs he’s known for–“Purple Rain”, “Raspberry Beret”, “Little Red Corvette”, “Kiss”–don’t even scrape the surface of Prince as an artist. I figured an album review would be the best place to start though.
Why on Earth would I start with PLECTRUMELECTRUM for an album review or analysis of any kind? Not Diamonds and Pearls, Purple Rain, 1999, or my personal favorite, [Love Symbol]?
It’s simple: why not start with PLECTRUMELECTRUM?
I’m here to spread the Gospel of Prince. That means hailing his later work that many fans may have cast aside and casual listeners may not even know about. Besides, this album has all the hallmarks of a typical Prince album: genre-fusing, mixing funk and rock with jazz and some soul; spine-tingling melodies and solos; an approach to song composition that sometimes leaves you slack-jawed in amazement that, yes, he can keep doing this.
By 2014, when this album was released, we couldn’t have known that Prince would meet an untimely death just 2 years later. By that point, the only single I remember him releasing in his “twilight years” was “Black Sweat”. I put “twilight years” in quotes like that because Prince was a relic of the 80s to me at this point, having known him for just his pop hits at that time. I don’t remember this album, or its sister ART OFFICIAL, being released, nor do I recall any of the singles. That was my loss. It wasn’t until his death though that I was able to explore his discography fully and realize the breadth of his work. The topic of today’s blog becoming a shining star in his library for me.
PLECTRUMELECTRUM is a special to me because of how deep its rock roots go. Donna Grantis is an animal on guitar and a great complement to Prince. 3RDEYEGIRL, the 3-piece girl group she was part of at the time, was Prince’s flavor of the year for band collaborations, i.e. New Power Generation or The Revolution. The infusion of talent is a breath of fresh air with the sexy riffs, rhythms, and lyrics abounding. Okay, the lyrics aren’t anything to write home about. But that’s because I don’t care about those. At least not on this record.
I’d like to help further your education of the Prince of Funk with this track-by-track review of PLECTRUMELECTRUM.
The rollicking rhythm, almost hypnotic, is like a pendulum going back and forth and hits you in the face with each snare hit. The way the beat lands on each measure is impactful and definitely adds to the WOW factor.
The titillating, psychedelic guitar work in the last third of the song mixed with some spicy 90s-esque bass thumping gives this song so much personality. The driving riff will make sweet love to your wife and you will thank it for that.
Another monster riff that is so simple in its execution. Then, morphing to a Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary”-esque tempo shift, it admonishes “maybe the hand that you’re looking for is at the end of your arms”. Finally, it turns into another grungy, sludgy tempo shift before ripping another solo through your ear space and descending into a discordant, cult-sounding message. So, there’s that.
One of my favorite tracks proves why I don’t care about the lyrics on this album. It has none. One of the most compositionally-complex, and more importantly, interesting songs on the album. Like a lot of my favorite songs, it has many layers. Building up to the song’s climax is a journey to be enjoyed along the way. The lead guitar serves as our vocal melody and shines in front of another monster riff.
The first time this album slows down is for this reflective, jazzy number. Hannah Ford’s vocals are not the most inspiring, but she gets the job done. It’s nothing personal though. I think I would prefer this song as an instrumental because the vocals don’t seem to fit quite right with the melody, perhaps being written as an afterthought. The guitar notes and bass line compete for your attention in between the verses and that’s what makes the song for me.
I’ll forgive that the intro sounds exactly like “Just What I Needed” by The Cars and makes me think a Toyota ad is about to play. “Another brick in the misogynistic wall” is the most memorable lyric of the album because I always think it’s a reference to Pink Floyd. No idea if it is. This song is perhaps the weakest of all the tracks simply because it doesn’t offer much, which is surprising to me on an album full of songs that seem to push their own limits.
This funky, spicy, girl-centric song evokes a very 90s attitude of “hey, we’re fly, and we know it, but whatever.” You wouldn’t know it by the song credits (or lackthereof), but Lizzo is on this song. Sophia Eris makes an appearance on the intro rap, too. Usually, I find guest rap verses on non-rap albums gratuitous, but I find these two to be a rather good addition to the song. I also enjoy the main female vocals on here by Claire de Lune.
A self-indulgent R&B jam with a beat that slaps and tip-toeing, guitar picking that contrasts with conspicuous bass lines. While timeless in a sense, it can’t help but call upon 80s and 90s R&B a little bit. It’s entrancing, either way, and undeniably sexy.
My absolute favorite song of the album is this gorgeous cover of indie artist Alice Smith’s song. Prince’s seething interpretation of the lyrics is the most emotional performance of the album, and it wrecks me. I’m happily in a relationship now, but my heart aches with familiar rejection when I hear this. He is absolutely dripping with bitterness, which builds exponentially with each line. The rock elements set to a more soulful time signature is another great mark on the metaphorical score card. The cherry on top is the incredible solo (by Donna Grantis!).
The placid track after ANOTHERLOVE feels like a lullaby in comparison. I’m not a fan of the harmonies on this song because of how they’re mixed–so blended that they’re indistinguishable from one another. There’s never a lead singer, and the guitars are too subdued. It’s going for dreamy and soft, but lands somewhere between unmemorable and boring.
Second-favorite album lyric “Lost my job at Mickey D’s / for giving away too much food for free”. It’s a rapid-paced, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it track about how bizarre the the world is today, especially regarding racial injustice.
Honestly they could have just named the whole album FUNKNROLL. The song certainly lives up to its name with a funky groove and infectious keyboard melody. It takes a slight detour into Gospel toward the end, which feels like a natural progression.
If you liked what you read here, you can check out another one of my posts! I write album reviews, like the above, track rankings of my favorite albums, First Impressions, which are quick reviews, and You Should Listen To, where I pick some favorite tracks by one artist.