Today’s review is something unusual, and not just because it’s a twofer. It’s because I’m taking a risk by reviewing two albums that were not submitted to me, I found them on my own, and that carry with them the specter of possible litigation.
First, I’m taking a risk by reviewing Passion Pit. The album is being released in the U.S. on Frenchkiss records, an indie label, but I’ve read that Columbia Records is handling the band’s UK promotion. That makes it not indie. But I’m making an exception to my indie-only rule for two reasons: It’s indie in the U.S., and it’s a really great record.
Second, I’m reviewing a Prince album. Prince has gone independent, selling his latest (3-disc!) album on his own via his own website and at Target, but that doesn’t stop him employing Web Sheriff. In fact, he may be the only guy who has sued more folks over music rights than the RIAA. So why would why I give him time on my site? One reason is: He’s the Artist. He created the music, so I get his being possessive of it. But more importantly, he’s one of the greatest musicians of our time, LotusFlow3r is a project worthy of bearing his name, and he’s finally released something independently, so a review fits with my purpose here on this site to promote only those artists who aren’t backed by big money publicity machines.
But legal issues aside, there’s another reason to review these albums together: They’re two sides of the same coin. Prince, regardless of his Religious bent or his pure musical intentions, makes dance music. It’s what he’s always done, in one form or another. But, let’s be honest, most clubs and kids are dancing to funk and instrument-driven R&B anymore. They’re listening to synth-and-sample driven beats that focus more on the hook and the vocals than on a groovy guitar solo or a winding sax lick. It’s just a fact. Prince is old, and Passion Pit are new.
Now, I’m not in any way trying to suggest that “Manners,” the brainchild of 21-year-old Michael Angelakos, approaches the musical brilliance of any of Prince’s best works (which include, let’s remember, Sign O’ the Times, Dirty Mind, The Symbol Album, and one of the greatest records of all time, Purple Rain). But Passion Pit’s debut does rate up there in terms of quality with some of Prince’s more mediocre works (such as Come or Crystal Ball). It’s fresh and sunny, taking familiar sounds and themes (it’s regularly compared to Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds) to new heights, it’s catchy as hell, and it’s almost impossible to avoid dancing while it’s playing. That’s not very different from the young Minnesotan upstart who basically smoothed out James Brown’s rough edges and sprinkled in ‘80s androgyny. Plus, Angelakos is already known for being a studio perfectionist. Thus, the similarities continue. By the way, “The
Reeling” has a synth beginning that reminds of some song I can’t quite put my finger on, but I know I’ve heard it before and it’s driving me insane. Any help out there?
As for Prince, his new one is a triple(!) album and is being sold by Target (it’s a steal—three records for $11.98) or through his impenetrably complicated and self-indulgent website. Actually, it’s not really a triple album. It’s two Prince albums (LOtUSFLOW3R and MPLSoUND) and the decent-but-not-great “Elixir,” the debut album release of Bria Valente. Still, either one of the Prince records is worth twelve bucks, so even if you never give Valente a chance, you’re still ahead of the game here. It’s amazing that after 25 years, Prince is still releasing stuff worth listening to. Some of the stuff here has already been released, but usually in different forms as demos, live tracks, etc., and when you’ve got a double album there’s bound to be some filler. But the good news is, there’s not a lot of it. There’s the ‘60s groove of “Feel Better, Feel Good, Feel Wonderful” and “There’ll Never Be Another Like Me,” a nice Latin rhythm on “Love Like Jazz,” playful blues on “Colonized Mind,” and good old classic rock and roll guitar work on one of the greatest cuts here, “4Ever.” On “Chocolate Box,” Prince manages to make dirty funk without profanity or even the suggestion of something untoward. He does seem, literally, to be saying that he’s “got a box of chocolates that will knock the socks off” the girls. It’s innocent, fun, and funky as hell. But the track that will probably get the most written about it is the cover of “Crimson and Clover.” Although it’s not unusual for Mr. Nelson to do covers in his live act, to my knowledge he’s never recorded one before. And even if he has, he’s certainly far better known for being covered himself. The awesome thing about this cover of the ‘60s garagepsych cover is it’s seamless melding of “Wild Thing.” It reminds me of the great song, “Stairway to Gilligan’s Island,” in which the lyrics to the one song were sung to the tune of the other. That’s almost what’s done here, except that Prince jumps from one song back to the other and through the last one so completely, so fluidly, and so often that both songs cease to exist, and only one remains. Plus, the guitar solo sizzles. “LotusFlow3r” is definitely the better of the two albums here, but both are pretty cool and it’s hard not to see them as parts of the same record (kinda like GnR’s Use Your Illusion 1&2).
So, you get two recommendations here: Prince’s Lotusflow3r and Passion Pit’s Manners. Buy ‘em both and get ready for an enjoyable afternoon. But you’ll have to take my word for it because there’s no way in hell I’ll post a song by either artist. And you probably won’t see me write again about guys when I don’t feel like I can (safely) offer you a sample. This is a one-shot, so enjoy it.
To soothe you, though, why not dig some Prince covers?
Prince covers, A to Z: Coming tomorrow.