Album review: Prince moves ahead with the times with HitnRun Phase One ves ahead with the times
HitnRun Phase One (NPG)
Another day, another Prince record. Following a four-year recording hiatus, the past 12 months have delivered a wealth of audio goodies from the Purple One, with three albums arriving in quick succession – and the latest is clearly the best of the bunch.
Despite the onslaught of new material, HitnRun Phase One attracted as much hype as its immediate predecessors – although perhaps fewer listeners. Why? Because of Prince’s principled decision that the album would only be digitally available on Tidal – Jay Z’s streaming service.
However, the record was made available on iTunes a few days later – Prince probably realised he wanted people to hear its tunes, after all.
And, oh, what tunes they are: 11 tight tracks (only four break four minutes) of flavoursome funk and R&B which, like the best of Prince, sound both ultra-modern and utterly timeless.
Calling on a cast of collaborators – including 25-year-old co-producer and “muse” Joshua Welton – this is less Sign o’ the Times and more moving with the times. Following a brief, tantalising sample of vintage hit Let’s Go Crazy – a statement of intent, surely – opener Million $ Show is a storming disco-party track, driven by a bare, classic Prince guitar hook.
Hip-hop and dubstep battle amicably on the stomping club banger Shut This Down, while Rita Ora adds biting bravado to the dirty, trap-inspired electro dirge, Ain’t About to Stop.
Served straight up, complete with phat riffing horns, the retro-flavoured Like A Mack is the album’s funkiest moment. The tempo doesn’t abate until This Could B Us, a smouldering R&B workout that was originally featured on last year’s album, Art Official Age, and is recast here by juxtaposing an ominous bass warble with a childlike piano ostinato.
Prince has always been a master of the down and dirty, and it’s the one-two of the deep, churning groove X’s Face and the quiet-loud attack of Hardrocklover, where the funk rises to boiling point.
However, not everything is hit out of the park. The instrumental house-pop of Mr Nelson lacks focus, and the bawdy, minimalist R&B closer June – in which pasta clumsily boils over on the stove while who-knows-what goes on in the bedroom – is a disappointingly inconsequential way to close.
Then again, Prince has never been immune to the odd misstep – indeed, his artistry appears to depend on an uncensored, throw-in-the-kitchen-sink approach and complete commitment to the wanton muse.
Seen in this light, HitnRun’s eclectic, grab-bag ethos offers perhaps the strongest sign that his peerless gift for groove remains undiminished.
Updated: September 21, 2015 04:00 AM