Prince’s “Emancipation” Reviewed
You know how they say “oh another double album that woulda made a great single” or in this case a triple that would’ve made a great single. Well, no. Prince’s 19th album would not have been better as a single, it would have been exactly the way it was and the reason is, none of it is bad but none of it is great, and there is too much of it. It wouldn’t have made a difference. Also, Warners or NPG -that made no difference either. Jazz jonesing and housebeats would not have been demurred on a Warner Brothers contract, and are just about as good as the sad songs on the second album, dedicated for the most part to his son, who died of a rare defect soon after his birth. It is solid and everything except for the occasional song, “The Holy River” was a beauty, and three of the covers are awesome, is nothing else but solid. Having said that, did Prince really want to emancipate himself for the best version of “One Of Us” you’ve ever heard?
Obviously, this was not a musical emancipation, this was so he could get his hands on his masters going forward, and the album is enthused with a thrill: the thrill of his marriage to Mayte Garcia, the thrill of the approaching, not yet tragic, birth of his son, the thrill of his freedom from WB, the thrill of a moment in time when he was so prolific that, even if there may be a question of quality, he released FIVE ALBUMS worth of material in 1996.All good enough, except anywhere there is a rap going on, and all hold up well.
Here’s an exaggeration: the first album are jams, the second are ballads, and the third are both. Highlights include a very soulful, possibly better than it deserves “One Of Us”, a cover of “Betcha By Golly Wow” that gives the Stylistics everything it deserves, Prince maintains a note perfect falsetto through the entire song and while it doesn’t cut the original, it is as sincere as possible: the “I love you, baby” was for Mayte. That song is followed by a fair enough funk work out “We Gets Up” and here we reach the Prince quandary. In 1980 Prince was a crossover artist but by 1996, he needed you to reach him. The track is followed by “White Mansions”. “White Mansions” is fine, the slap happy bass reminds you of Larry Graham, and the moody blaze of it works alright -yet, here is something not said much but it is truth, he lost his whiteness, he lost his crossover skills. Yet, for all his skills, and yes, genius, Prince wasn’t James Brown: He needed his glammy songwriting skills to breakout of his own way. Emancipation is a true black album, but the blacks were listening to Biggie and Tupac, and the whites weren’t being seduced.
It is both easy to say and not true that funk workouts are rote for Prince, but even so, this doesn’t stretch him. The three hour album is difficult to listen to in one, or even two, long stretches. Sampling Ice Cube doesn’t change anything (though it is kinda funny). It isn’t good enough to maintain your attention, and the occasional housequake isn’t a good enough reason to claim he was evoliving. Prince wasn’t evolving, he was, indeed, stepping back from the pop charts. I liked and didn’t love Emancipation at the time, and I love don’t like it now. I thought it was much worse than it is. The problem is three hours of this stuff works against it, it is so hard to validate an album that won’t shut up. It’s like an entertaining dinner guest at 2 in the morning. They stop being entertaining. The fast ones at least bounce, the slow ones don’t, “Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife” is worse than the title, a darg on the album and not the only one. “Jam Of The Year” was a hit single and out of context it is a blast, and at the top of the album it is horntastic grooviness, but if you put it in the middle of the album it would disappear.
The comparison is with Michael Jackson, whose 2001 Invincible took New Jack City and modeled it to his pop persona.The new Usher was released today, nd remember when Usher was the new MJ? It is so difficult to be both a popstar and an on the one black groove master, one takes over. Usher didn’t come close, His new album doesn’t even give a sniff to crossover. Prince came close but by here he has abdicated. Whatever his genius was, it wasn’t MJ’s.
I saw Prince at Roseland in January of 1997, playing a blazing white guitar (if you see what I mean) , a Love 4 For Another benefit, in memory of his son, and if the best way to mourn is through giving everything you have, Prince was electric that night. The immortal we knew he was. I went back to the album and still lost interest. If you wanna parse the triple, listen to “The Holy River”, “Jam Of The Year”, “One Of Us” and “Betcha By Golly Wow”.