Prince’s “Hit N Run Phase Two” Reviewed
Hit N Run Phase Two, Prince’s 42ND and final album, released December 2015, four months before his untimely death in April 2016. It wasn’t a final statement, it wasn’t a Blackstar or Adios, rather Prince was still in the hit and miss thick of it all; it seemed as though he wasn’t certain what direction to take him music, Phase One was electronica, Plectrumelectrum hard rock and rap. Both were co-produced by Joshua Welton but neither were improved by the thick smear if post-modernism. They had moments but hindsight finds Prince working his way into the world of pop, figuring where he stands, where he is going. Phase Two is not a step backwards and not forwards, rather it is how Prince might sound if he wanted to be Prince yet wasn’t quite firm enough.
The sound is great, the first couple of songs are terrific, and then he kinda jazzes it all up falls into typical Prince grooves. When Prince doesn’t finish a song, he adds a bassline and dances his ass off and we don’t notice. By the time we reach “Xtraloveable,” we are back to fill in the groove (the next song is “Groovy Potential”), getting there is more fun than usual. The album opens with “Baltimore,” Prince’s answer to the hospitalization and death of Freddie Gray and the subsequent riots. Prince would hold a benefit but this response, his final great song, is the real reward. A gorgeous soul song that harkens back to the golden 80s through one of his sweetest melodies for the benefit of his brothers and sisters, and a reminder that Prince could do whatsoever he chose to. The original version which I downloaded off soundcloud was better, without the overdubs and without the harmony, it had room to just luxuriate in its melodic perfection.
If nothing else is as good, no album with a sex jam as excellent “When She Comes” has anything to apologize, while groove might well be his default, groove is his gift, and all of the unadorned funk outs on Phase Two are world class. “Rocknroll Loveaffair” is hard rock as funk workout, “Screwdriver” is funk as rockabilly dream funk wild one work out, “Black Muse” is funk as Motown wannabe, and “Big City” is a horns driven jazz meets Philadelphia work out with Prince so alive it is preposterous to imagine him gone.
Phase Two isn’t a great album but it suggests he was still moving, still searching, still redefining his funk after his experiments with modern pop fell flat. At 57 years of age, Prince was far from done.
Having worked my way through his entire back catalog (I will review post-humus as they are released),the 80s cemented his reputation of one of the greatest of all times, everything here corded up to Lovesexy was the top of the food chain. While the 90s had their peaks, the 00s were disappointing but the funk was always on the money, whatever he tried to do, he could always write and record a funk bass heavy dance track. The crossover genius didn’t survive but the black lives matter when they’re dancing remained constant. Live, he never faltered for an instance. I rank Prince behind James Brown as the greatest purveyor of funk of all time. I rank Prince behind Michael Jackson as the greatest crossover black star of all time. But put them together and he was the greatest.