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Prince – Welcome 2 America

August 11, 2021

When I first heard about this album I assumed if Prince shelved it there was a good reason – like it did not pass his quality control. After listening to the teaser singles my conclusion was that it was not quality, but that he did not feel the time was right in 2010. Well the time is now.

Per a Prince press release: “Recorded in the spring of 2010 and then mysteriously abandoned by Prince before its release, the statement album Welcome 2 America documents Prince’s concerns, hopes, and visions for a shifting society, presciently foreshadowing an era of political division, disinformation, and a renewed fight for racial justice.”

Prince has always had social commentary, politics and black pride themes in his music, but this album is his most in your face political statement of his career. Why did he withhold it in 2010? I have a theory: He was not fooled by America electing a black president and that racism was suddenly behind us. Yet he did not want to stir the pot during the Obama administration. So he sat on it. He passed away before Trump was elected, otherwise we might have heard this sooner. According to people who worked with Prince, as relayed on the podcast series that his promoting the album, the reason is “because he didn’t want to.” Prince rarely explained himself. We will never know.

Ideally this album would have been released in the summer of 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd and a racist president running for re-election. But bringing an album to market posthumously during a pandemic is complicated. Despite the delay, the content of this release is still relevant. Just because Joe Biden beat Trump and Derek Chauvin was convicted and in prison doesn’t let us off the hook. So the timing of the album is still perfect.

I religiously studied every Prince album from his debut in 1978 through the end of the 90s. I was a bit hit and miss after that. This is the most excited I have been about a Prince album since 1998’s Crystal Ball. The is not just a posthumous money grab by the Prince estate (not that there is anything wrong with that), this is an important entry in the Prince catalog. Hopefully, this is a foreshadowing of more gems in the infamous Prince vault.

Prince uses the titular track to give us his state of the union address via a Parliament-Funkadelic groove. Prince is funky, but he’s not happy.

“Running Game (Son of a Slave Master)” is a slinky groove. Prince and Shelby J trade verses mocking the music industry. Prince, an internet innovator in marketing his music, knew the game was up and the power was shifting back to the major labels. The song is in essence an editorial – an amazing musical editorial. This is a great song despite the heavy theme.

Prince was friends with polymath Dr Cornel West. “Born 2 Die” was recorded as a rebuke toward West, who said Prince was “no Curtis Mayfield.” On a recent podcast, regarding this album, West shared that he loved that he was proven wrong with this track.

“1000 Light Years from Here” is a song of hope imagining a better world. The one we live in is not so great for many:

“We can live underwater
It ain’t hard
When you never been a part
Of the country on dry land”

“Hot Summer” is a departure from the soul and funk: a garage rock song complete with cheesy organ and hot vocals from Liv Warfield. At the moment this is my favorite song on the album.

The one cover on the album is not an R&B standard but a song from Soul Asylum (written by Dave Pirner and released on 2006’s The Silver Lining) a Minneapolis band that has its origins in punk vs funk. Prince makes “Stand Up and B Strong” totally his own and has the hottest guitar solo on the album.

“Check the Record” is classic Prince funk-rock. It is a romantic kiss off. It has a great shout out Sheryl Crow:

If it makes her happy

Can it be that bad?

Like Sheryl said

It might be the most favorite mistake I’ve ever had

“Same Page, Different Book” is a cynical, but joyous admission our world is a mess.

“When She Comes” is classic silky Prince erotica with jazz flourishes. No one does it better.

“1010 (Rin Tin Tin)” was a bit mysterious to me. I googled “1010” and it means: to embrace positive thinking, as you don’t know what’s going to happen or change in your life. It’s a message to stay relaxed and open to new possibilities. Or as Prince sings in the song: “We need to let the funk unwind.”

“Yes” is an arena anthem of positivity with a bit of a Sly & The Family Stone vibe. Nice antidote to some of the heavier earlier material.

“One Day We Will All B Free” is an inspiring end to the album. It starts out like a hymn, but gets bouncy and is very up lifting. Prince name checks Franklin Benjamin Banneker. I googled him and he is a pretty fascinating historical figure – read about him here.

Welcome 2 America featuring Tal Wilkenfeld on bass, Chris Coleman on drums, Morris Hayes on keyboards, and vocals from New Power Generation singers Liv Warfield, Shelby J. and Elisa Fiorillo. Prince had never worked with Wilkenfeld and Coleman before and he never worked with them again. He was not disappointed with them and in fact he complemented them for helping him capture a sound that had eluded him.

Musically the album does not chart new ground, but the craftsmanship is superb. Lyrically this is one of Prince’s strongest performance. This is a super collaborative sound between the band and vocalists. What a great gift from the grave to up lift us in these trying times. I am now very curious to learn what other shelved masterpieces are in the vault.

I have been listening to an MQA Master stream since release day and it sounds fantastic, but the vinyl edition sounds even better.

From → Music Reviews

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