Which "new" Prince album should you listen to?

A whole lot of late-era Prince music just hit streaming services, but not all of it is equal. If you’re wondering what’s essential funk, here’s my take.

Prince had, it’s fair to say, a complicated relationship with the Internet. Some days he loved it, and won awards for his pioneering attitude towards self-marketing and online music availability. Other days he hated it, suing everybody, pulling music offline and declaring that the internet was “completely over”. 

Then, sadly and very suddenly, he passed away. I’ve been a Prince enthusiast for decades now, and when he died, I wrote about my thoughts around his essential tracklist as well as which Prince albums you really ought to buy.

Also read:

Reflections on Prince

Which Prince Album Should You Buy?

Yeah, I said buy, because like Prince, I’m old school and like owning my music. I also tend to think he’s an essential enough artist that he’s worth owning, but I know I’m behind the times.

Still, there was a challenge for anyone wanting to follow my previous lists, because a lot of the music I really like from the tiny purple funkmeister was rather hard to officially get hold of.

Much of it was out of print, and very little of it streamed. Prince’s Warner Bros catalogue rather rapidly appeared on streaming services as soon as it was cleared, but that left the latter part of his career woefully under-represented on streaming services.

Over the weekend, the new deal that Prince’s estate cut with Sony kicked into effect, with 23 albums of Prince’s late career appearing for you to listen to.

Not new to me, or any long term fan of Prince, but for a lot of folks, that’s a period that probably ended around the time of the Love Symbol album, and his appearances in the charts at that time. There’s a lot of time, and LOTS of albums that came out in the period that the freshly-streaming music represents.

Specifically, you can now use Apple Music, Google Play Music, Spotify or Tidal to check out:

  • The Gold Experience (1995)
  • Chaos and Disorder (1996)
  • Emancipation (1996)
  • Crystal Ball (1998)
  • The Truth (1998)
  • Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic (1999)
  • Rave In2 The Joy Fantastic (2001)
  • The Rainbow Children (2001)
  • One Nite Alone… (2002)
  • One Nite Alone…Live! (2002)
  • One Nite Alone…Live – The Aftershow: It Ain’t Over (Up Late with Prince & The NPG) (2002)
  • Xpectation (2003)
  • N.E.W.S. (2003)
  • C-Note (2004)
  • Musicology (2004)
  • The Chocolate Invasion (Trax from the NPG Music Club: Volume 1) (2004)
  • The Slaughterhouse (Trax from the NPG Music Club: Volume 2) (2004)
  • 3121 (2006)
  • Planet Earth (2007)
  • Indigo Nights (2008)
  • LOtUSFLOW3R (2009)
  • MPLSoUND (2009)
  • 20Ten (2010)

That’s a LOT of Prince Music, but then once he was essentially self-releasing, he did let his creativity run wild… with very mixed results. I like the idea that he could release when he wanted to, but it did often lead to a lot of material being released that was less polished, or simply not his best actual work.

Tastes can vary, but I think there’s little doubt that a bit of self-editing (or preferably someone willing to tell him no) might have worked wonders for some of the more indulgent albums and offerings.

Notably, The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, one of his last big single hits, is totally MIA. I understand it’s a complex legal rights thing to do with the messy not-quite-post-warners-symbol-name thing, and the label he was sorta-maybe-on at the time.

It’s totally on YouTube at the moment now, though. Look!

Don’t blame me if this is offline by the time you click play.

So what should you listen to? It’s tempting to point you towards the “new” streaming compilation, Prince Anthology: 1995-2010, because it’s a bit of a sampler of everything.

To give it the full rundown with albums identified, it covers the following:

  1. Emancipation (Emancipation, 1996)
  2. Black Sweat (3121, 2006)
  3. P. Control (The Gold Experience, 1995)
  4. Crucial (Crystal Ball, 1998)
  5. The Love We Make (Emancipation, 1996)
  6. Eye Hate U (The Gold Experience, 1995)
  7. The Greatest Romance Ever Sold (Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, 1999)
  8. Eye Love U, But Eye Don’t Trust U (Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, 1999)
  9. Gold (The Gold Experience, 1995)
  10. Guitar (Planet Earth, 2007)
  11. Dream Factory (Crystal Ball, 1998)
  12. The Work Part 1 (The Rainbow Children, 2001)
  13. Call My Name (Musicology, 2004)
  14. Strays of The World (Crystal Ball, 1998)
  15. Shhh (The Gold Experience, 1995)
  16. Dreamer (LOtUSFLOW3R, 2009)
  17. Chaos and Disorder (Chaos and Disorder, 1996)
  18. Endorphinmachine (The Gold Experience, 1995)
  19. Musicology (Musicology, 2004)
  20. Northside (The Slaughterhouse, 2004)
  21. When Eye Lay My Hands on U (The Chocolate Invasion, 2004)
  22. Beautiful Strange (Rave In2 The Joy Fantastic, 2001)
  23. Future Soul Song (20Ten, 2010)
  24. Empty Room (C-Note, 2004)
  25. 3rd Eye (The Truth, 1998)
  26. U’re Gonna C Me (One Nite Alone…, 2002)
  27. Dinner With Delores (Chaos and Disorder, 1996)
  28. Ol’ Skool Company (MPLSoUND, 2009)
  29. 4ever (LOtUSFLOW3R, 2009)
  30. West (N.E.W.S., 2003)
  31. Xpedition (Xpectation, 2003)
  32. Muse 2 The Pharaoh (The Rainbow Children, 2001)
  33. Somewhere Here On Earth (Planet Earth, 2007)
  34. U Make My Sun Shine (The Chocolate Invasion, 2004)
  35. 1+1+1 Is 3 (The Rainbow Children, 2001)
  36. Chelsea Rodgers (Planet Earth, 2007)
  37. We March (The Gold Experience, 1995)

It’s a really weird collection, which is maybe fitting for a weird dude like Prince, because it represents just how uneven his albums could actually be.

There are some essential and wonderful tracks there, like Gold, Musicology, The Greatest Romance Ever Sold and Guitar present, but also some weird and not terribly great content, like just about anything from Chaos and Disorder or The Rainbow Children. Quite why you’d finish with We March eludes me, and the lack of She Gave Her Angels makes me sad.

Dammit, but this song gets me EVERY time.

Which means we’re back to the albums again. Thankfully, there’s a couple of really easy recommendations if you want to ease yourself into a sudden flood of “new” (to you) Prince material.

If you want just a single album, go for Musicology. The title track is worth the price of admission alone, but the rest of the album is really very good indeed. The Gold Experience would also fit into that category.

I’d also strongly recommend either Emancipation or Crystal Ball if you’re after a wider multi-album set, although for either it’s not hard to see where a little judicious editing could have led to a super-tight double album rather than the two being triple disc offerings. Although I always think of Crystal Ball as being 4 discs, because when I got it, it came with The Truth as a bonus disc, whereas now it’s apparently its own album.

You’ll have to (in my estimation) work a little harder to find the gems across a lot of the rest of the “new” catalogue. Most notably, Chaos & Disorder is a mess that only saw release to help Prince get out of his Warners catalogue, and it’s mostly lazy and slightly dull stuff.

Sure, it’s Prince, so it’s still good (in parts), but it’s not great. Depending on your view on either straight jazz or religious music, the same could be true of N.E.W.S or The Rainbow Children.

The live albums are good, but (and this is very much my opinion) they’re a little hollow simply because Prince was such a great act to see live. You had to be there to appreciate it at the time, which of course none of us will sadly ever do again. The energy on the live albums is only a fraction of what you’d feel in the room at the time, and as such where some bands shine in a live album environment, Prince is not quite at his best. 

Still, there’s plenty to listen to, so what are you waiting for?

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