Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The second posthumous collection from the overstuffed Prince vaults should have been the first. While 2018’s release of the appropriately titled Piano & A Microphone captured Prince at his most raw, personal and least expansive in rehearsal mode, it wasn’t something anyone but the most ardent fans would likely play more than once.
This is much different… and better.
As the title implies, these are Prince’s versions of 15 songs he gave to other artists to record. Like with the early Lennon/McCartney partnership, Prince was on such a songwriting tear in the mid-’80s he gave away choice tunes, some that easily could have been hits under his own name. Many collaborators, like the Time and Sheila E., were in his Paisley Park stable, but others, such as Martika and Kenny Rogers (!), were not. Several are well-known classics, like “Nothing Compares 2 U” (first recorded by The Family, then Sinead O’Connor) and “Manic Monday (the Bangles). But the set also includes far less popular fare like “Baby You’re A Trip” (Jill Jones) and “100 MPH” (by a band called Mazarati). All but one were recorded in Prince’s ’80s prime.
A few, such as the Rogers-recorded “You’re My Love,” are too slick and commercial to be considered for a Prince album, and even these relatively stripped down versions border on the cringe-worthy. Others, like “Wouldn’t You Love To Love Me” (given to Taja Sevelle), fall on the flimsy side. And these original versions of the Time’s “Jungle Love” and Sheila E.’s “The Glamorous Life” are so close to their final released recordings as to be nearly carbon copies that these acts just recorded new vocals over.
It really is a treasure trove of amazing music, all professionally recorded, even if some of these selections didn’t make it onto Prince albums because they just weren’t up to his high standards of the time. But tracks like the techno “Make-Up,” given to Vanity 6, and “Holly Rock,” which ended up hidden on the Krush Groove soundtrack by Sheila E., are strong enough to have been added to Prince’s albums. All but one are previously unreleased and show not only how prolific he was but how much work he put into these demo recordings, which sound as good as the finished product. Better yet, it’s an example of the quality of material still lurking in the Prince archives. This hour-long collection will more than satiate fans of the artist until the next batch inevitably appears.