How’s “The Family”? [and Sheila E’s 2nd album]

Yeah, that quote from Purple Rain was said in poor taste… but I couldn’t think of a better intro to this post.
So I spent almost another full week with ATWIAD because I had to test out the playlist I just put together the other week… and I might have overstayed my welcome. I have no idea.
With Prince, it’s hard to know when to stop. Especially when I think of walking away and I’m not quite ready.

Admittedly, with this particular album [which is another generous gift from someone from .org… someone I didn’t always get along with… it’s also because of that person I have For You… also in mp3 format], I haven’t listened to the whole thing all that much. Yesterday was the first time I had in a very long time… not since I got it.

This is mainly because a lot of this album is instrumentals. And I don’t like Prince instrumental tracks all that much. “Alexa de Paris” is one of those EXCEPTIONAL exceptions to that rule.
But hearing it again… only two songs are pure instrumentals. “Yes” (which I remembered almost immediately when I listened to it) and “Susannah’s Pajamas” (which I’ll get to later… after I listen again… my memory wasn’t all that great).

I had the whole album on my iPod for some time, but just never listened to the whole thing. So after a point, I just kept my three favorites: High Fashion, Mutiny and River Runs Dry.

I’d been in the mood to listen to “High Fashion” since the previous Friday, but I wanted to finish up with the other album first…

I have that song on my summer playlist that I made up a couple years ago- and I have “Take Me with U” immediately following… plus lots of 80’s songs and a bunch of Prince-related ones.

“High Fashion” tells an interesting story- about a guy who’s into this rich girl, who looks down on him until she finds out that he’s also rich. Ah, the superficiality of rich people. I love the main groove. It’s kinda repetitive and all the interesting stuff that differentiates the track are the various lyrics, call-outs and some added instruments.
But I just love that groove so much, I could listen to it for another 5 minutes easily. Very groovy.

“Mutiny”- I actually hadn’t listened closely to the lyrics until recently. It seems to be about a couple on the verge of a break-up.
The star, again, is the music. I do like St. Peter Peterson’s vocals, even if he’s just following Prince’s guide track [in “High Fashion”- I love that line where he says “I’m riding in the back of a Rolls Royce limo custom-painted plaid”… but that might be Prince actually saying that]. Very cool groove, great rhythm and percussion and the stops and starts really suits the live setting. I know Prince had brought it out a few times… I think once in a performance I actually got to see on TV. That was a cool little surprise. Wish I could remember which one it was… It was Arsenio in 2014. I think it was his last live performance on TV, unless he did SNL afterwards. I honestly can’t remember.

“Screams of Passion”- Clare Fischer’s strings really shine here and I hear bits of it that sounds like UTCM [Under the Cherry Moon] compositions. The percussion is great again.
I like the harmonies between St. Paul Peterson and Susannah Melvoin.
But it is CRINGE-WORTHY to me during the part hallway through where she does her version of Prince scream and he tells her “not so loud”… it took me a while to figure it was the Prince scream, but nobody else should do that. It’s just awkward and it kinda kills the song for me, honestly.

“Yes”- great guitar delivering the lead line [if it’s the guitar I think it is, according to the princevault notes- it’s Wendy playing] with Eric Leeds chiming in, a combination of live drums and Linn-drum claps, and keyboards in the background offering up a touch of atmosphere and makes it feel like it goes somewhere. Keeps it exciting and not as forgettable as a lot of Prince instrumentals are to me. It has a lot of personality… even if it’s just Prince, Eric Leeds and Wendy on the instruments.

“River Runs Dry” is the stand-out because it’s a Bobby Z’s composition.
I thought the drumming was interesting and different and that’s what set it apart for me. But Prince played the drums and all the instruments except for the strings, obviously. I asked him in a tweet if he had it fully fleshed out before Prince recorded. Just to see how much of those drum sounds and patterns were his or Prince’s.
The strings come over the vocals a little too much sometimes- which isn’t a complaint. Just an observation.
However, Princevault says it was the first tape Prince received from Clare Fischer and it was the reason that working relationship came to be as prolific as it did. Maybe they didn’t collaborate as much outside of the 80’s, but so many songs… well, Clare Fischer contributions are Prince fan-favorites for a reason.

Matt Thorne’s book discussed the relationship between these two kindred spirits of musicians. Lots of great detail, but some I also learned from Peach & Black’s Clare Fischer tribute show.
One of these days, I’ll have to check out this man’s other compositions outside of Prince world. Maybe after this is all done- the Prince album chronology, I mean.

It caught me off guard hearing “Nothing Compares 2 U” yesterday. Not because I forgot that the song was on here. But it was one of those big songs that people were playing and covering after Prince’s death.
This is a fairly sparse composition. Nearly acapella. Some synths to create atmosphere, maybe some strings and just vocals. Kinda spooky, but also kinda sad too. I don’t know if I was just thinking about that song’s significance a year ago or if I just really felt Prince’s presence in it but it just left me on the verge of crying.
And I still had over an hour left at work, so I couldn’t let myself break down.

“Susannah’s Pajamas”- just as a “glance,” it feels more like a jam session than an actual song. VERY funky, lots of funky bass and of course Eric Leeds is another star on this one. He’s really good for those jam session tracks, even though I’m not a big fan of those. To me, a song as an instrumental kinda needs to have a beginning, middle and end. It needs variation and it needs progression to make it feels like it goes somewhere.
or I just need to really love what the music sounds like. Sometimes, that’s the make or break for me.

I got to “Desire” and had no idea that it wasn’t a pure instrumental. I don’t think I’d heard it since the first time… phew, maybe 9 years ago.
It reminds me of being on a deserted paradise of an island. It’s very tropical.
It’s also very steamy… a bunch of innuendo… “cover my tower, the ecstasy is ours”… seriously, Prince, c’mon πŸ˜› I think this could have been so much better as a Prince solo performance. Wow… the possibilities of that. Maybe too steamy for my ears and I’ve heard lots of sexy music from Prince. As I’ve said a bunch of times, he was kind of my sexual education. In finding out what some things meant, yeah, lots of sexual acts.
It’s a place so many artists were afraid to go back in that time. And nowadays, it’s really not done tactfully, if at all.

Just… nobody should try to write like this unless they are Prince. Which they’ll never be.

The lyrics are a little too cheesy on this, but the music is a stand-out yet again. It creates such a great atmosphere.

Now I’m just giving Sheila E’s second album a spin. Trying out on YouTube. I watched 5 of her videos on a VH1 soul Prince protΓ©gΓ© block years ago and I really wasn’t into her music that much, so I’ll listen to it all once just so I have that continuity.
I think I heard on Peach & Black that one song reminded them of Sheila E’s “Toy Box”… so I’ll have to give that a listen in a bit and see if I can remember.

“Sister Fate” is giving me major 80’s and Gloria Estefan/Miami Sound Machine type vibes from an instrumental perspective.
“Dear Michaelango” starts out very dreamy- but then Prince’s Linn-drum programming comes in and changes it completely. Great vocals from Sheila, though. Listening to this one in particular, I feel like it’s closer to the ATWIAD sound than Parade era. Which is kinda strange, because The Family material was recorded first for the most part and it sounds closer to Parade to me.
“A Love Bizarre” is obviously the stand-out because it’s noted as a Prince and Sheila duet… it’s also 12 minutes long. Which to me is nuts… and I say the same about the Time tracks that run 9-10 minutes long. With some, it’s justified. But with Get It Up and The Stick, for me, it does get kinda old for a while.

I’m not big on long jams, like I said.

This one is debatable, I think. Some days, I’ll be into it and others, I’ll be like “next song, please”.

“Toy Box” sounds like something from Apollonia 6, maybe that’s what the guys said on that podcast… oh,… it’s “Blue Limousine”… the main hook sounds like the melody where Brenda says “still no sign of my baby’s blue limousine”.
This song is so lively and insane πŸ˜› some great back-up vocal moments by Prince. And she has this monologue where she sounds like she’s following Prince’s guide a little too closely πŸ˜› but it kinda works, actually.

“Yellow” is the fusion of so many different genres, it’s crazy. You have a jazz club, the MPLS in some synth work and horns and the Linn-drum, and it’s very bluesy 😎 it’s also very short… almost criminally short, actually.
“Romance 1600” sounds like the last of Prince’s rockabilly tracks from the 80’s. but it’s also very 80’s with the synths coming on blazing. Kinda funny how it’s the title track, but it really doesn’t feel like that at all. None of the other songs have much in common with it.
“Merci For The Speed Of A Mad Clown In Summer” is a purely Sheila instrumental composition. The start feels like it’s at the set of a carnival. Then it just became this crazy band session that sounds like “2 nigs united for west Compton” combined with Eddie M saxophone. Very frantic, kinda like “Life can be so nice” from Parade.
“Bed Time Story” was a pleading “please lover don’t go” type song. Something Prince is really good at (although off the top of my head I can’t think of any others right now), but Sheila owned it. Really good job on the vocals. The saxophone playing might have been a little too loud on it, drowning her out a bit. It felt like one of Prince’s bedroom ballads, but not as steamy or entrancing because it didn’t seem like anything good was going to come of it.

Overall, though, I really liked this album. A lot more than the first Sheila E album. I don’t know if it’s because Prince’s energy is a bit more present or Sheila is more confident as a singer or the songwriting just fits really well into one of my favorite periods of his music.
But if I see it, I just might buy it. I’ll have to keep that in mind.

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