Paul Morley on music: Prince

Is Prince lost inside the reverberating hallucination in which we all now live – or is he one step ahead?

Prince
Sign of the times: Prince’s latest album came as a gift inside yesterday’s Mirror. Photograph: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

George Michael has crashed his car, again, this time into a Snappy Snaps at 3.30am. Cheryl Cole is the second most beautiful woman of the 20th century – between Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe – and she has malaria. Ozzy Osbourne is now the health columnist for Rolling Stone and his genetic code is being mapped to see how the hell he has survived to 61 going on 356. Lady Gaga is the new creative director for Polaroid, the lenses she wore in the "Bad Romance" video pose a risk to eyesight, she thinks money is boring and has overtaken Barack Obama with her Facebook followers to become the first living person to have more than 10 million fans. DJ Tiësto has issued a statement denying that he is dead, which must mean he's alive. Fernando Torres thinks Kasabian are the best group since the Beatles and you can ask Liam Gallagher questions at Ask Liam via his Pretty Green fashion label.

Cheryl, as I write, and it is hard to keep up – by the time you read this she might have turned into a carnation – has now been moved to a special centre for tropical diseases, and the newsreader says, "We wish her well". Oh, Jedward are apparently already planning her funeral.

Everywhere you look, there seem to be increasing signs that we are living inside a novel that JG Ballard started to write at the exact moment he died, a novel that takes the form of a reverberating hallucination that just keeps giving. Perhaps the novel/hallucination ends when Ballard himself is the most followed character on Facebook, his brain radiating astounding time-bending realities at the centre of the new post-internet universe where the numerous and multiplying levels of our existence interact. For reasons that help the writing of this column, the soundtrack to this novel/hallucination would be best supplied by Prince, himself currently mucking around with reality and his possible mysterious connection to it in ways that mix up the Ballardian with splashes of obsessive Gaga narcissism, madcap McLuhan theorising, larky Russell Brand lunacy and teasing Dylan masking.

Prince's latest album, 20Ten, something like his 33rd since 1978's For You, came as a gift inside yesterday's Mirror. This suggests he either knows exactly what he is doing, and is plotting his career in just the right conceptual way as one music industry dissolves and another materialises, or he is as lost as anyone can be faced with a stunning change in circumstances that suggest in 20 years' time we might all be living full-time inside our dreams and wildest desires as monitored and limited by Google, Facebook, Apple and Cheryl Carnation. The Mirror itself gives a rave review to the album it is marketing, as if to say "it is his best album for 23 years" makes some kind of sense, as if everything is as it always was, even though it cannot be because we live in a world where one of the greatest musical minds of the past 50 years is giving away his newest work, one he says he is proud of, which even if it is just another Prince album, or just another album, is still part of the tiger-bright Prince canon, which does unfold with fertile, otherworldly, Dylanesque consistency. But then new Prince music, however it appears, is surely something to be enthusiastic about. I mean, if we lose our enthusiasm for being enthusiastic, perhaps the one thing we can really call our own as we're increasingly hemmed in by all this choice, then all we have left is mere desperate survival.

The idea that it might suit him as the kind of imaginative legend, artist, guitarist and composer he is to release his music on a postmodern traditional label such as Nonesuch, XL or Warp would be too narrow, small‑time and old‑fashioned for an abstract sensationalist like Prince, and ultimately not the act of someone who likes to be in control of his destiny, his general distributed aura, as much as his music.

Is the mad, conniving and neurotically prudent Prince joining forces with the Mirror as a peculiar, slightly undignified hybrid of art, celebrity, gossip, commerce, stunt, ego and news one of the daftest signs of a collapse in the essential 20th-century pop reality that enabled a Prince to be who he is? Or is it a perceptive, if eccentric, collaboration of threatened superpowers that will lead to an ingenious reinvention of that pop reality?

As Ballard makes clear, all things are possible, and as Prince makes clear, ooh wee sha sha coo coo yeah.


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  • Mikeydoollee Mikeydoollee

    11 Jul 2010, 5:09AM

    I think the new album is pretty damned good. I think what you have to ask yourself in the case of Prince is why does he do it? Why another album, given away free again? Unlike the likes of la Cole and the other British tabloid courting mob, Prince seems unconcerned with mere publicity, but endeavours to have people simply listen to his music. It seems almost quaint now, but on the face of it that's what he wants.

    While I have seen Cheryl Cole mime "live", like many of her contemporaries, Prince has inspired a legacy of live, inherited by successive generations of musicians. "A loop is a loop is a loop is a loop" Prince has sang, and he is certainly a master of electronics like no other, but when push comes to shove, and he straps that guitar/bass/keyboard/trumpet/drum/glockenspiel/tambourine or, you know, a penny whistle on, it just rocks or breaks your heart.

    For those who think Prince is past it, I ask you to simply listen to one song from the last album. The song is called Colonized Mind. Ask yourself how badly music has slipped when newspaper journalists try to convince us that Cheryl Cole or Simon Cowell have anything at all to do with real music.

    Long may Prince play it like it matters. And don't let Cheryl Cole, or any other pretender, colonize your mind.

  • mmmmbeer mmmmbeer

    11 Jul 2010, 7:53AM

    Another riffing word-fest from Paul Morley that shows what a well-rounded writer he is; articulate and coherent and able to make a variety of impressive cultural refernces. Just one thing that you forgot to mention in all that word-play Paul, IS IT ANY BLOODY GOOD??
    If it is tell us why, if it isn't tell us why not. If you are stuck for words, and I can't see why you should be, have a look at the first sentence on the comment above and riff around that.

  • christopherhawtree christopherhawtree

    11 Jul 2010, 11:03AM

    What a hopeless piece of writing, would-be Nik Cohn (when he was good). The piece says nothing except that Mr Morley is very confused by the world now. As for Prince's disc, which he appears not to have heard, I looked at the Mirror yesterday, remembered that I have only twice played the Prince disc free with the Mail a couple of years ago, and, most pertinently, flicked through the Mirror: what a thin, unallurring thing it is. To survive it has to start over. That takes considerably more than a Prince disc.

  • helienne helienne

    11 Jul 2010, 2:38PM

    Contributor Contributor

    In my opinion, and on first listen, it's a good record. Much better than the last giveaway album, though it appears has stayed true to his recent anti-computer stance and made a record that sounds more like Purple Rain than any other record in decades (though a CD, of course, is digital, and if he really wanted to take that stance should've only released it on vinyl).

    I wonder if the fact that Gracenote did not recognise any of the tracks when I put it in my computer, and that there are 66 five-second track of silence before the bonus track, is his way of trying to combat piracy or if it's a jab at iTunes, of which he doesn't approve as they don't pay advances.

  • hugsandpuppies hugsandpuppies

    11 Jul 2010, 3:40PM

    Total Prince fan as growing up, really like the new record - laughing at the supposed superiority of The Observer and it's writers over the Mirror. Exactly who supported G.W.Bush again...?

  • Larsenico Larsenico

    11 Jul 2010, 7:39PM

    I hardly think that the world has gone mad or that Prince has lost his mind because of a record given away with a newspaper, although I admit it is surprising to have done so in such terms.

    Nonetheless music has gone through considerable devaluation any way because of new media, and live music is where the industry gains its main income, not record sales.

    In addition Prince has often spoken against the industry after all the issues he had with his label, and this seems yet another stab at the dying monster, an act of defiance.

    He has done it before; it could be also read as an act of publicity, or an instance of the discourse on rock authenticity: by publicly refusing to follow the system its artistic merit is validated; Radiohead have done it too. Also guessing Prince will receive payment from the Mirror? Probably also making a profit.

    I see much rationality in all of this, like in the fact that a popular music artist is er, more popular than the president of the United States. As Bjork once stated: 'Aretha Franklin has saved more lives than Bill Clinton".

    p.s. I much disliked your comments on Cheryl Cole as malaria kills many people, it's not just a fashion faux pas, that can be idly ridiculed. Also I am very confused by the definition of a 'postmodern traditional label' as it sounds like a contradictio in adjecto

  • FatRoland FatRoland

    11 Jul 2010, 11:24PM

    I'd *love* to see a Prince album on Warp Records! Then again, they have Jamie Lidell, who, quite frankly, is more Prince than Prince will ever be these days.

    Personally, I think Prince will profit quite nicely from this, but that doesn't stop him from needing taking down a peg or three (see my blog: http://tiny.cc/PaisleyBerk). I do think the strange nutter despots of pop belong to a previous Jacko era.

  • sourpus sourpus

    12 Jul 2010, 1:32AM

    I think it was Dylan who said of himself that he understands what it is to be always in a process of becoming, and that if people recognise this about themselves and the world around them, they will 'probably be alright'. Prince gets this principle and runs with it. Its not rocket science. I dont think Prince is doing anything so earth-shattering by choosing a more reliable means to fund his work. Just going with the flow really.

  • ninorc ninorc

    12 Jul 2010, 1:46AM

    20Ten is not a bad album, it's just not very good and there's no track that stands out, to my ears, like I Love My Guitar did on the last one. At any rate, I've listened to it twice and couldn't hum you one of the tunes. There are no other musicians on the record, apart from horns - inc. Maceo - and backing vox. Prince won't make records with an actual record company again, because he might have to relinquish some degree of control. Whereas, this way, he can make a record at home for next to nothing and get an almost instant return by auctioning it to the newspaper with the biggest promotional budget in each country across Europe, where he is currently touring. (Check the YouTube vid of him jamming 'Superstition' with Stevie Wonder and Sheila E in Paris on July 3rd. It's one of the few Prince performances you can see on YouTube because he doesn't own the copyright and, therefore, can't take it down).

  • EugenieTCF EugenieTCF

    12 Jul 2010, 1:00PM

    Well as someone who promotes music for labels and musician clients and who has been guilty of 'cover mount activity' on at least 5 occasions for various mags I think the reasons Prince has done this are clear. 1. He is fed up with the powers that be in the industry (iTunes/Record Labels) 2. He is cynical about the industry and the way it treats musicians so he is just doing what makes commercial and artistic sense given that his objective is to 'reach' the masses.

    Put simply, The Mirror will have had to pay out substantial MCPS fees for a 'premium cover mount product' like that. Amounting to approximately 0.10p a track per unit manufactured. They would have had to manufacture the CD (all at no cost to the artist). So already there is a very simple financial incentive if you just look at the number of tracks and the print run for The Mirror. So it is utterly incorrect to say Prince is 'giving' away his music. No he is insuring payment for his music, where he has not had to sacrifice long term rights or pay for manufacturing.

    Above and beyond that no record label PR department can guarantee to get your music to that many people in one go. Even if they do, record companies particularly majors pay low royalties say 16 - 25% dependent on 'who you are'. They also then hold your 'rights' for a decade or so. And to top it all they are not usually that good at accounting and invent a million and one 'interesting' deductions prior to paying you your royalties.

    I so can see why Prince is doing this. In fact I can't see why he wouldn't. It simply makes more sense for him. He is also using his platform to have a pop at iTunes who have a very dominant position in the market and who really should not be charging such high fees.

  • jasonaparkes jasonaparkes

    12 Jul 2010, 1:09PM

    The last crap Prince LP given away was with the Mail on Sunday. I slid it into a more respectful paper and even when "free" thought it was the usual crap the Purple One has been flogging since...Lovesexy or Diamonds & Pearls (...can't quite work out where he lost it).

    Prince was great between Dirty Mind (1980) and The Black Album (1988) - the strike-rate was quite high considering a mass of great b-sides (Erotic City, Horny Toad, God, Feel U Up, She's Always In My Hair, How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore, Irresitible Bitch etc). When he stopped snarfing chemicals and veering between the devote and the horny he became a lot less interesting.

    Sadly I persisted buying his records throughout the 90's, there were bits on Come and The Gold Experience and the Vault-compilation. But now he's peddling more tepid funk almost as depressing as late period James Brown and performing cover versions...and hooking up with the Mirror.

    The idea is probably the same as the 'slave'-cobblers he peddled in the 1990's - where he felt a victim of Warners while living in luxury and seeming to forget that record company backed him for several flop albums until Purple Rain made him huge. Now he would have been dropped after Dirty Mind or Controversy and would probably not get to make a movie where he played himself.

    Whether a Prince LP means as much as a copy of the Mirror, I don't know. I'm thinking that a record as great as Sign 'O' the Times wouldn't be given away free with a tabloid between pages on Cheryl-Moat-a young lady with her chest out-sportsnonsense etc. I could be wrong though...

  • TimFootman TimFootman

    12 Jul 2010, 2:44PM

    @mmmmbeer

    Just one thing that you forgot to mention in all that word-play Paul, IS IT ANY BLOODY GOOD??

    If you want to know that, why not read a review of the album?* The article doesn't claim to be that.

    *Not Tony Parsons', that would just be silly.

  • mutante mutante

    12 Jul 2010, 4:05PM

    @jasonaparkes - Lovesexy was really good, I thought. Probably the last album I thought was worthwhile from start to finish.

    That said, the new one was well worth the 65p I paid for it, even if I had to hold my nose while buying the Mirror. His best since Sign O The Times, as Tony Parsons claimed? Well no, but not so far off either. He seems to have gone back to the sound of Parade (sadly without a Kiss), which is a huge relief after all those years of uninspired ballads and dismal funk.

    I liked only bits of Musicology, Planet Earth left me cold, but I suspect this one will be a keeper.

  • scopey scopey

    12 Jul 2010, 6:03PM

    My Wife got the album (and the Mirror).

    My Conclusion: He is stuck in the past and doesn't know how to get out.

    He is anti Record label, but seemingly anti-downloads and Itunes.

    The music was poor and dated too.
    (include other albums in this especially Musicology)

  • Bernsteiner Bernsteiner

    13 Jul 2010, 11:04AM

    Fair play to the (little) fella! Guarantees himself some income with very little hassle. The Mirror may seem like an odd choice (bought it, read it, realised why I don't usually buy or read it) but he has got himself paid and had a few thousand copies distributed.

    The album itself is actually quite good. Nice to hear he's dug out his Let's Go Crazy drum-machine too. Nowt stands out immediately, but there's a nice (unforced) retro sound to it. I think it's fair to say that Prince stopped making hits after Diamonds and Pearls (at least anything chart-friendly) but it's good to know that he's still at it.

  • Worky Worky

    13 Jul 2010, 11:37AM

    Fuck Prince.

    I paid a fortune to see him at the 02 a couple of years back. All bags were searched, not for food, guns or drugs, but for recording devices or cameras.

    The paranoid freak made us all queue for 45mins to hand in our cameras and then queue for a further 45mins to retrieve them after the show.

    As we queued I sarcastically asked the security guard about mobile phone cameras. 'Just don't get them out during the concert', he replied. Throughout the whole performance, the 02 security spent their time running round the auditorium asking people 'politely' to put their phones away.

    The guy's lost his mind.

  • christyfur christyfur

    13 Jul 2010, 5:12PM

    Hey Worky, FUCK YOU TOO.

    Yeah, those £31.21 tickets at the o2 sure were "a fortune" weren't they? What, haven't you ever been to another concert before? Let me clue you in on something, security always checks bags. Not just for recording devices either - I'm pretty sure if they found any guns or drugs, those would be frowned upon too.

    Do you think Prince is the only artist for whom this happens at concerts? If he's "lost his mind" because of this, so has every other fucker who's ever perfomed at the o2. Gee, what an asshole he must be for not wanting to be bootlegged at concerts.

    Still, why expect intelligence from a twat with an avatar of Margaret Thatcher.

    Hope you enjoyed the album.

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