Prince’s “The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale” Reviewed
You come to Prince’s 22nd album with this sense of impending doom, here we are where Prince’s self-indulgence meets his laziness meets his dislike of Warner Brothers, meets your own ability to really remember it well. So you might be pleasantly surprised by some of these unreleased tracks dating from 1984 to 1995 and, party over whoops out of time, released in 1999. The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale isn’t much of an album, all those jazz workouts are a drag, and while their are a coupla goodies here and there, it has no real high point and still isn’t memorable (he was holding up for the soon come Rave2), it sounds better than you think it will.
Even so, it has no bottom, there is nothing on the album that has you wishing you were somewhere else, the biggest problem is more structural: as the album titles suggests, this is Prince raiding his vaults and choosing a handful of songs and releasing them. Compare it, for reasons of synchronicity, to 1999. There is nothing on Vault that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath, nothing really matters, it is more in the nature of a current day mixtape or an old school boot, than a completed album. It is very difficult to accept that Prince would palm this off as the current state of his art form.
We sort of knew all that, so why is it so much better now than it was then? For one reason, we have no Prince and so despite its lightness, it is indeed Prince and we miss him: one way or another it is definably Prince. Next, many of his, increasingly through the years, quirks, all that rock operas that aren’t rock or operas, in fact, even completed rock operas, are not here. He pussy as theological aphorisms are on holiday. And finally, the rest of it ain’t that bad.
Start with the biggie, the eight minute jazz workout “She Spoke To Me”, which tempers his usual funky bottom swirl with jazz horns aplenty and dance grooves that are really real. “The Rest Of My Life” is a crafty rock out that resists his usual overcookedness with a percolated piano and horns horns horns. Surprisingly enough, “Sarah” channels Chuck Berry, it puts him through a Prince blender before spitting him out in the chorus (“Is that yoooou?). The spoken word “My Little Pill” rides a piano motif to an epitaph none of us expected. “A pixie does my laundry and the universe my will” is quite amusing -though the moral is don’t mess with the universe. Those tracks are all much better than I remembered, but the biggies, the ones you do remember , “Extraordinary” (no, still not up to the Stylistics level), and “Old Friends 4 Sale” (shoulda remained a rarity), fall apart on fresh listening, and everything else shouldn’t have been released, though I don’t really mind. It ain’t Thanks For The Pepperoni.
So, yeah, if you want to run out the contract, don’t drag me down into your battles through inferior product, though, and here comes Prince 101, inferior Prince ain’t THAT bad.