90s Prince albums – A Lost Decade?

In the previous post I gave a summary review of Prince’s 80’s albums and Prince gave us 3 important lessons – 1) How to be a one-man band, producer, writer and composer. 2) How to become a megastar. And 3) How to take Marketing 101 and throw it out of the window. So, with that in mind let us proceed to the 90s Prince albums and see what lessons are in store for us here.

90s Prince albums welcome you to the New Power Generation

Lovesexy hinted at it, Batman showcased it, and from here on in 90s Prince albums and beyond changed tact in the production studio. Maybe Prince had upgraded his studio at this time or maybe he learned the ways of digital. With a bit of cash in the bank thanks to Batman, Prince’s disappointment with the sales figures of Lovesexy must have diminished somewhat. With confidence riding high again maybe it was time for Prince to press on with his new found commercial success. You would think anyway. But first another movie and perhaps some time taking note of what other artists were doing and see if he could do better. I wonder if he could?

Lesson 4) How to get your record label to offer you the biggest recording contract in history

Graffiti Bridge (1990)
So, here we go again. Prince went to the bank with Batman and the successful stripped down Nude Tour. His name was back in the limelight so obviously he capitalised on this and doubled down by following Batman with another solidly commercial offering right? Wrong. Prince decided to make another movie. Oh dear. As the third movie of his career (not counting the Sign O The Times concert movie) Graffiti Bridge is by far the worst. If you have seen Under the Cherry Moon you would have to say that movie is Oscar worthy compared to Graffiti Bridge. But this isn’t a movie review fortunately. The album of the same name is actually very good. This is the most collaborative release of his career so far with the likes of The Time, Mavis Staples, George Clinton, Tevin Campbell and Elisa (who?) all taking the lead vocals at various times. Of the 17 songs 10 of them have Prince on lead vocals, the rest are sung by others. This makes the album somewhat incoherent but still incredibly good and the best songs are reserved for the man himself. Not a bad way to start the 90s Prince albums collection.

Of course, needless to say but I will anyway, all of the songs were written by Prince. Some of the songs such as Joy In Repetition, Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got and Tick, Tick Bang were written several years before and dusted off for this release. We also get the first glimpse of what was to come a plenty in the song New Power Generation, with guest rappers, big bass and drums and full band collaboration. Still Would Stand All Time is an awesome gospel ballad and Elephants & Flowers is a great guitar driven track. The only real stinker on the album is the title track which is way too cheesy for my tastes. Other than that, a very solid album and, if you create a playlist from the Prince-only songs, you have an incredible solo album. It’s just a shame that we had to endure the movie which was essentially one long music video with some silly whispering, Purple Rain-esq band battles and meandering poetry joining the songs together. New to Prince? Yes, get this album. It can be seen as the bookend to the end of the 80s wizardry and the start of the 90s turmoil. Pretty much all of the 90s Prince albums have a foundation somewhere in this album. This can be both good and bad.8/10

Diamonds And Pearls (1991)
I presume that the Graffiti Bridge movie, the extended music video, got bank managers all concerned and Warner Bros. panicked. Batman aside, Prince’s sales really were on a downward trend and it really needed for someone at WB to grow a pair and tell Prince it’s time to start making some consistent coin. Well, if that is how it went down, then Prince certainly listened. Not only did he create a commercially accessible album but he also did the whole PR thing for the album. This resulted in Diamonds & Pearls being his biggest hit since Purple Rain and one of his biggest selling 90s Prince albums. As a Prince fan this album is a mixed bag. There is some really great stuff here like Willing & Able with an underlying African rhythm and soulful choir backing and Thunder, a guitar heavy gospel song which takes several twists and turns as the album opener. Gett Off is another great song and the precursor to his heavy, new power funk that became his staple for much of the early 90s with raunchy guitar, raunchy lyrics and raunchy… er… flute.

Cream is another great song in the vain of T-Rex with it’s subtle rhythm guitar over laid with other guitar ditties and effects. The title track, a duet with the great Rosie Gaines is a bit too cheesy for my liking but it fared well as a single. There are also a few clunkers here. Jughead is a mess. A funk laden beat with various band members providing a chorus of pointless rap – a fan favourite to rip apart making it the bench mark when comparing Prince’s worst songs. The songs however are by and large good and certainly aimed at an audience bigger than his fan base. After this album succeeded Prince signed a new contract which, on paper at least, was the biggest record deal ever signed by an artist (it contained many caveats that need not be reported for the sake of the headline). New to Prince? You should definitely consider getting this. It is actually a very good starting point if you are starting from scratch. It is accessible and fun and will ease you into the more complex stuff that follows (or came before). 7/10

Love Symbol (1992)
Prince now had in his hands the biggest deal ever made between an artist and a record label. Prince was huge once again. What wasn’t widely reported was that the deal had a few caveats, one of which was the annoying target set for each album. Prince now had to play the numbers game and sell in the millions for each subsequent album in order to collect the reported $100m headline amount. Furthermore, Prince had solidified Warner Bros. grip on his master recordings meaning they owned everything Prince created. But hey, this was the biggest deal ever so who cared about that? Well, Prince did it seemed what with his 20/20 hindsight. Prince’s next album had no title. Instead it was titled with a symbol that seemed to be a mashup of the male and female symbols. The album was billed as a rock opera and kind of told a story if you kept a very open mind. Having said that, this album is incredible. It is everything that Diamonds & Pearls wanted to be. It is funky, it is spiritual, it is in your face new power funk. It is one of, if not THE best 90s Prince albums released.

This album tones down the needless rapping from Tony M that hindered the previous album, the classic 7 which was released as a single is the sort of song only Prince could make with its acoustic guitar chords underlain with a busy programmed drumming and bass-line. Sexy MF is a masterclass in funky rhythm and lead guitar and, although it should never have really been a single, remains one of the highlights of the album. The ballads are nice and there is even a nod to Queen with 3 Chains O Gold. This is a wild and fantastic album laden full of everything Prince was at this point in time. Unfortunately, it was less commercial than the previous release and the poor choice of lead singles combined with less than stellar marketing meant that commercially speaking, this album was a flop. Uh ho, I feel an argument coming on. Prince Vs Warner Bros. Please take your seats and wait for the show to begin. New to Prince? Awesome album. Another masterpiece. A great place to dive in and hear how complex and addictive Prince’s music is. The best of the 90s Prince albums in my opinion. Get it. Do not waste time, just get it. 10/10.

The Hits/The B-Sides (1993)
This is the only greatest hits album I will include in this line up simply because it the best there is and because the others just rehash more of the same, only less. Strictly speaking this is not one of the 90s Prince albums we are discussing in this post. It is a compilation of the 80s singles with a few from the 90s up to this point. You get all the hits except for anything on Batman (I suspect there was a rights issue with the movie tie in). You also get a disc of B-sides which is a brilliant collection of songs that never made an album but saw the light of day on the flip side of the singles that were released. You get songs like How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore, a beautiful solo piano ballad. There is the club favourite Erotic City as well as the how-on-earth-it-didn’t-make-the-album She’s Always In My Hair. We also get to hear Prince’s version of Nothing Compares 2 U, a song written for The Family and consequently made famous by Sinaed O’Connor. It is a live version and a duet with Rosie Gaines. Maybe one day we will get to hear the studio version, which would be nice. If you are a completest or just want a summary of everything up until this point in time, then this compilation is an absolute must. The best document of Prince’s career before everything went nuts. 10/10.

What’s the use of money if u ain’t gonna break the mold?

Clearly Prince had decided he wasn’t going to chase the numbers required to collect on the biggest record deal in history. Of course, it wasn’t all his fault. Prince blamed Warner Bros. for the lack of promotion for the Love Symbol album, and there may be some truth to that, but something else was brewing under the surface too. Prince wanted his masters back despite signing them away as most artists did at the time. Not only that, he felt he had enough music to be releasing more than he currently was and wasn’t happy with the way his record company were editing him down. Prince decided he was going to take a stance and single handedly change the music business. Perhaps taking on too much there? Let’s see.

Lesson 5) How changing your name does not get you out of a contract.

Come (1994)
Prince 1958 – 1993 adorns the cover of this album. This is probably the first of the 90s Prince albums that highlights the turmoil brewing between Prince and WB. The fighting had begun and Prince had a lot of music he wanted to release. The plan was to release Come under the moniker of Prince and then back to back release the Gold Experience under the symbol moniker. The latter was supposed to be the superior of the two showcasing the new artist formerly known as Prince as better than Prince. It didn’t work out that way and WB refused to release the albums back to back. Prince then removed tracks from Come and submitted what can only be described as a contract filler. Not to say that it is a bad album, but it isn’t the original vision it was meant to be. WB even had to twist Prince’s arm into including the title track. In the end he submitted an 11 minute horn laden meandering version of the song.

There are some great moments on the album. Papa, a song about child abuse is haunting in its bluesy delivery and Dark is one of his best ballads with deep synth sounds and subtle horns. Space is a nice little song but as the Space EP revealed, it was not the best version that appeared on the album. Race is a socially conscious song about, well, race and it is a thumper of a song with driving synth bass and funky rhythm. There are some clunkers here too. Solo is an a cappella that doesn’t really work and orgasm is what can only be described as album filler, but I suppose it does fit in with the title of the album. If you are new to Prince I definitely would not start here. Leave this one well alone until such time as you have a good enough familiarity with Prince to accept its short comings. 6/10.

The Gold Experience (1995)
It was a year or more prior to this release that Prince announced he was no longer to be called Prince and now went by the name of an unpronounceable symbol. He had written slave across he cheek and was publicly dissing Warner Bros. in an attempt to get his master recordings back as well as get out of the “biggest recording contract in history”, now very much written in inverted commas, Prince went slightly mad for a while. Although he attributed the name change to some mystical gibberish that only he understood, I think the real reason was an attempt to release music out of contract and not have to answer to Warner Bros. Unfortunately, he was wrong about that. WB had him under lock and key no matter what name he went by. The Gold Experience was supposed to be the debut of the Artist Formerly Known As Prince, aka Symbol. Unfortunately, by the time this was released we had already had the smash hit The Most Beautiful Girl in the World and the news of the name change had been around for a while now. Fans of the former Prince had already heard the majority of this album after he had been playing most of the stuff live for over a year.

The delays in releasing the album were partly Prince’s fault and partly Warner Bros. But by the time it was released it seemed that neither party were interested in promoting it. Unfortunately, because of the spat between Prince and his label, this album never got the attention it deserved. It is a solid album full of great songs. The sound is big and the production is in-your-face fat. The segues between songs do not stand up to the test of time but will not annoy a new listener, not for a while at least. There is everything from all out rock on endorphinmachine, to sultry ballads like I Hate U. Gold, the closing track is as close as Prince ever got to repeating Purple Rain, the song, only missing the mark with some over production that cheesifies the song a little. P Control is corny as hell but despite first appearances gives out a positive message about girl power. As 90s Prince albums go, this is a great album mired by a jaded relationship between artist and record company. All in all this is a return to form after the disappointing Come and was certainly the last great album to come from Warner Bros. New to Prince? A must buy for the simple reason that it is both good and pivotal in Prince’s history. 8/10.

These CDs are becoming harder to find these days so you may want to try iTunes. You can also stream most Prince albums on Tidal if you are inclined to go down that route. Otherwise perhaps try your luck on Ebay

Chaos And Disorder (1996)
The public feuding with Warner Bros. continued unabated and fans the world over were getting a little bored with it all to say the least. Little did they know that below the surface the music world was changing. Other artists began to speak out about ownership rights and record companies were beginning to worry about the fallout that may follow. Whilst the former Prince may have approached things a bit strangely, he was certainly having a profound affect on the future of record deals. Never the less, his own music was suffering poor sales with his fight overshadowing the music. Not to worry, after agreeing with Warner Bros. that he only had to submit one more album of new studio material (plus some vault material and another greatest hits package or two), he could then walk away a free artist. So, over dinner that night the former Prince put together Chaos & Disorder. An album made up of tracks that were only intended for personal use (according to the liner notes).

I actually really like this album. It is a great little rock album with some solid guitar driven songs that hold together well. Only two songs do not seem to fit with the sound of the album – a pointless Had U and an EDM, almost drum & Bass driven song called Dig U Better Dead. A good song, I like it, it just doesn’t fit sonically with the Rock sound of the rest of the album. Chaos & Disorder unfortunately slipped well below the radar and sunk like a lead balloon but it is by no means as bad as the sales would have you believe. Finally the former Prince was able to walk away from WB, freed of the “biggest record deal in history”. Unfortunately, what was going on outside of the music overshadowed the music itself, and as Prince walked away from WB, many fans walked away from him. New to Prince? Nothing wrong with buying this album. Its nothing innovative but it is a guitar driven album of which we haven’t heard before from Prince. Worthy of any 90s Prince albums collection.7/10.

These CDs are becoming harder to find these days so you may want to try iTunes. You can also stream most Prince albums on Tidal if you are inclined to go down that route. Otherwise perhaps try your luck on Ebay

Be glad that you are free, free to change your mind – 90s Prince albums fight back!

Finally the former Prince was free of “the biggest record deal in history” and was able to get back to doing what he did best, release album after album and without, for the first time, any corporate accountants telling him to hold back on product. Were we witnessing a new dawn of 90s Prince albums? Was the former Prince finally giving the world everything he had been holding back? Well, lets explore that.

Lesson 6) How to be an independent superstar.

Emancipation (1996)
There is a lot of music on this album. So much so that it is hard to take it all in. It has a whopping three hours of music strewn across three CD’s which also include, for the first time, three songs that The former Prince did not write. Yup, there are cover versions on this album. Are they good cover versions? In a nutshell, no. There are some real gems on here though, but they are out numbered by some very mediocre songs. The production is a little bland throughout the album too, making it sound a little dated these days. But it was the 90s and we are discussing 90s Prince albums, so calling the sound dated may not be fair. If you visit the Prince fan forum (of which only one remains, sadly) and search for Emancipation within the discussions you will come across a myriad of topics discussing the best single CD album Emancipation should have been. And you will see that there is very little agreement on what that single CD album should be. The only consensus is that it would make a fantastic one disc album. It is no secret that Prince created much more music than he actually released, and every album he did release contained the songs that HE thought we wanted to hear. Maybe on this occasion Prince decided not to make the choice for us and gave us the entire kitchen sink for us to make that choice ourselves. And when you look at it this way, it could perhaps be one of the best one disc albums Prince ever made. You just have to put in a bit of work to come up with your own, tailor made version yourself.

But therein lies the problem. In order to come up with an incredible hour long playlist, you do have to sit through a further two hours of what you may consider filler (one mans filler is another mans sandwich!). And this may be a little discouraging for the newcomer. Having said that, no matter what, it is an essential part of the Prince story and if you really want to learn more about the last 25 years of Prince’s work, it is required listening. And if truth be told, it doesn’t get any easier for several years following this release. So Prince newcomers, I would suggest getting this, mixing it up with a bit of selective editing and see what comes out. 5/10 (8/10 as my preferred single disc).

These CDs are becoming harder to find these days so you may want to try iTunes. You can also stream most Prince albums on Tidal if you are inclined to go down that route. Otherwise perhaps try your luck on Ebay

Kamasutra (1997)
By TAFKAP and the NPG Orchestra. Initially released in 1997 via his 1-800 number, this is the former Prince getting all classical on us. Except, well, he isn’t really. This is pretty bad. Touted as a ballet for his then wife Mayte, it really is dull. I can’t really say much more about it. There was one track I remember thinking was OK, Promise/Broken I think it was. I presume so many copies went unsold that he decided to throw it into the Crystal Ball “Hockey Puck” that he released the following year through an innovative (at the time) yet flawed online, direct to fans sale. New to Prince? Luckily you can’t buy it unless you happen to find (and can afford) a rare “Hockey Puck” version of the 5 disc Crystal Ball. Otherwise worry not, you’re safe. Not recommended or required in any 90s Prince albums collection.2/10.

Crystal Ball (1998)
Well, what we have here is a mixed bag of awesomeness combined with rubbishness spanning 3 CD’s. This is one of those 90s Prince albums that is more a compilation of old and new rather than a legitimate album. Not to be confused with the unreleased album from 1986/7 this is a compilation of outtakes that were previously bootlegged mostly from the 1990’s. There are a few 80s outtakes on there, and they are really good to have. Crystal Ball, the song, is a gem and worth the CD price alone and there are other great songs like Movie Star, Last Heart and Crucial. There is also some weird choices. Considering the wealth of material Prince had to choose from, it is odd that a remix of the Continental should appear here, the same can be said about Loose and So Dark. They really are not required. I suspect Prince had issues with Warner Bros. regarding this release and found that he had no rights to release any of his songs recorded whilst under contract with them. Maybe that’s why we never got the promised Crystal Ball II. But to be fair to this release, there is more good than bad and, like Emancipation, you could quite easily come up with a fantastic single disc. You could probably come up with a great double disc too.

This collection was first released online direct to fans, a first in the industry back then, but many fans never received anything. I was fortunate in that I did get my copy but only after I had already bought the version that made its way to the stores several months later. The original version came in the shape of a clear plastic hockey puck and contained two bonus discs – The Truth, an acoustic album (see below) and Kamasutra, a classically themed ballet (see above). The version sold in the shops came in your regular square shaped double CD cover and is the one you are more likely to find today. This came with only the Truth as a bonus disc (no loss there). New to Prince? Definitely worthy of a place in your 90s Prince albums collection (if you can find an affordable copy) but you may have to put in some work to get your ideal playlist out of it. 6/10 (9/10 as a my preferred double disc).

These CDs are becoming harder to find these days so you may want to try iTunes. You can also stream most Prince albums on Tidal if you are inclined to go down that route. Otherwise perhaps try your luck on Ebay

The Truth (1998)
A bonus disc added to Crystal Ball (above). This is a semi acoustic album that hits the mark at times and misses just as much. The title song is a nice little blues number and holds together pretty well with only a few overdubs getting in the way. Cool as The Other Side of the Pillow is the standout track for me. Another bluesy song sang in his falsetto. Then there are a few duds where he can’t help but add studio trickery on top, probably to try and make the song sound less dull. We also get an acoustic version of a song called the Dawn. Probably the title track of an album that never saw the light of day. It sounds unfinished, like a demo, and and I can only imagine the final finished song sounding somewhat like Gold from The Gold Experience. Circle of Amour is a cute little number and there are two quite emotional tracks in Comeback and One Of Your Tears. New to Prince? Well, i would say you should get this (if you can) just to hear another side to Prince, but you can only get this by buying Crystal Ball (above). That is worth getting too if you can afford it. 6/10.

These CDs are becoming harder to find these days so you may want to try iTunes. You can also stream most Prince albums on Tidal if you are inclined to go down that route. Otherwise perhaps try your luck on Ebay

Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic (1999)
Ok, we’re nearly at the end of this 90s Prince albums overview and the independent superstar seems to have lost focus somewhat. We’ve had a triple album and a triple album with two bonus discs thrown at us in the space of 3 years. not to mention the NPG release, New Power Soul. Perhaps it is time for a more focused comeback record to set the world on fire again. Well, this would have been a good time to do it, but he didn’t. It was not entirely his fault though. Arista, the label he signed a one off deal with went bust at release time of the album and promotion sucked. The album itself isn’t too bad. You could see he was going for the Santana effect and getting a whole bunch of guests to appear on record. Sheryl Crow, Gwen Steffani, Ani Defranco, Maceo Parker, Chuck D. to name a few. There is certainly a commercial vibe about the album and several potential hits. The title song is a leftover from an album that never got made to make way for Batman back in 1989. Its a good song and serves as a good opener with a haunting guitar riff that we have heard before on the Max from the Love Symbol Album. The cover version of Sheryl Crow’s Every Day is a Winding Road is pretty poor turning the song into a dance music/funk workout that doesn’t really hit the mark. The duet with Sheryl Crow on Baby Knows is pretty good and makes for an accessible guitar drive rock song.

So Far, So Pleased is also a good rock orientated song with (apparently) Gwen Stefani dueting with the former Prince. She is way down in the mix though so you would never be able to identify her voice. Tangerine is old-school Prince at his best and the song is way too short to do it justice. The acoustic guitar ballad I Don’t Trust U Anymore is a piece of Prince heaven. Vocally incredible and only an acoustic guitar played by Ani De Franco serving as the musical underscore. A heartbreaking song. Strange But True harks back to the new wave funk days and is driven hard by a funky drum and bass with only sparce synth filling in the gaps. Overall this album is pretty good. Somewhat over produced and it tries a bit too hard to be a hit, but it is a worthy closer to the decade in the year that Prince made famous – 1999. Prince is even credited as producer here so maybe we are seeing signs that the Symbol is becoming a somewhat tiresome name for the former Prince. This is where our 90s Prince albums review of new material ends. New to Prince? Yup, get this one. It won’t blow your socks off but it is solid enough for you to stick around and explore further. 7/10.

These CDs are becoming harder to find these days so you may want to try iTunes. You can also stream most Prince albums on Tidal if you are inclined to go down that route. Otherwise perhaps try your luck on Ebay

The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale (1999)
Recorded between 1985 and 1994, this is basically another one of those 90s Prince albums compilations – an album of outtakes that Prince submitted purely to fulfil contract obligations. This was Warner Bros. releasing the last of Prince’s contractually obligated albums. It has a jazzy vibe running all the way through it and despite its lack of any substantial sales, it is a lot stronger than what it was intended to be. When The Lights Go Down is a fantastic jazzy song with the first half simply consisting of Prince singing over a piano. Old Friends 4 Sale is a also a great song, rerecorded with different lyrics for this release. 5 Women was a song Prince wrote for Joe Cocker and tells the story of how it took five months to get over a relationship, each month being the name of a woman. Overall I like how this albums feels consistent throughout with live drums and solid horns. It may be contract filler and he may well have flown under the radar of pretty much everyone, but it is good without having anything outstanding on it. If anything, at the time it was a relief to hear live percussion and horns after the programmed, digital sounds of the past few years. New to Prince? No, don’t go here yet. Wait a while and fill yourself up with more required albums before you come back to this one. 5/10.

Whilst 90s Prince albums are far from perfect, they are much better than may be perceived. However, there is so much more to Prince. Want to know more? Have a read of what we think of the next decade or three.

  • Prince albums: The 80s
  • Prince albums: The 00s – COMING SOON
  • Prince albums: The Final Decade – COMING SOON

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