This quote seemed appropriate to describe this release…
I’d been going through Prince’s Musicology album from 2004 over the past couple weeks. Been writing a lot of stuff and hopefully people will get to read what I wrote and think everything sounds ok (I kinda had trouble finding things to say about tracks 7-9).
In a weird sort of way, these two albums, for me, were very similar first listens. A little strange, a little different from what I was used to. But unlike Musicology, I didn’t quit on Piano & Mic halfway through.
No joke- with Musicology, I go through the first 6 songs and turned it off because I was so disappointed with it- my issue was that I expected one thing and got something entirely different.
Both albums are also firsts.
Musicology was the first Prince album I bought and Piano & Mic was the first album released by Prince’s people that wasn’t a compilation.
I’ll try to keep the history lessons about how I got it short. Basically, I ordered it on Amazon a month before its release date. I paid for release date shipping (nearly $9), so it wound up being over 20 bucks.
Fast-forward a month later- I am pissed to find out that people get to stream the album or buy it on iTunes midnight on the 21st so people are still going to listen to it before me. I’ve come to REALLY hate this new trend of streaming… but funny thing about that, Amazon sent me an email saying I could get the mp3s of the album while I wait for it to physically arrive. It had me thinking- next time I won’t worry about release date shipping and maybe I’ll take vacation days off work for when Prince albums come out. It was a slow work day and people were getting sent home early. I generally want to fulfill my 8 hours because making them up or dispensing paid time off complicates things.
But anyway- it was in my mailbox when I got home, which was a huge relief. And I was so happy to have it. Ever since it took 5 years for Prince to release albums to retailers (there was 20TEN, but I hadn’t seen a new album in stores by him since Lotusflow3r landed in Target in 2009) and he’d spoken on Twitter constantly about wanting a better business model for releasing his work where he was properly compensated financially in 2015-2016 AND so far his people not having a lot of plans to release his music from The Vault…
needless to say, I was nervous that I was getting my hopes about a new album up for nothing. I’ll preface in saying that I wouldn’t mind if his people never released any new music… but I didn’t want to be disappointed to learn they changed their minds about this release, or any release for that matter.
Remember- Prince pulled The Black Album from release literally the day it was being shipped to retailers back in 1987, so a last minute cancellation is not out of the question.
One more thing- Amazon told me I saved $2.90 cuz I preordered it and the price had dropped from 12.99 to 9.99 in the last month. And also I saw the album at Wal-Mart yesterday so retailers are getting it. But good luck finding retailers still selling CD’s (looking at you, Best Buy!)
Ok, history lesson over… sorry if that was a waste of your time, but here’s for the actual album.
I’d listened to it twice since I got it, Friday and Saturday night. Both times I was in my bedroom with the lights out, CD in my old CD player (I’ve had it since Christmas 1998 and despite being dropped twice and the opening spring broken, it still works), headphones on and my eyes closed.
I’d also blocked out social media entirely. Thanks to my iPhone, I was able to take a picture of the case and send it to Facebook and Twitter without having to open my feeds. But considering all of the skepticism about this release from other fans (the fact it’s not the 2016 Piano & Microphone shows we all wants, the fact these sessions had been circulating as bootlegs for decades and hardcore “collectors” already have them… I wasn’t pissed at the fact that these had already circulated, but I hated listening to fans bitch that this was something they already had… that really puts a damper on things for the rest of us who never even heard about these before they were announced)…
And quite honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if some criticism was still involved after us listening. But I don’t think I want to read other people’s thoughts for a while- I need a little more alone time with Prince before I rejoin the others and have illusions shattered.
I like enjoying the albums alone for the first couple listens simply because I want my opinions to be my own. I don’t want to be impacted by others, particularly those who are very negative. But I also didn’t want to get my expectations up on some tracks, only to be slightly disappointed.
After listening to it the first time, I’d say I was slightly disappointed with it as a whole. Slightly… it wasn’t enough for me to regret spending so much on it or regret buying it at all. I’m very happy to have it. But there were parts I really liked that didn’t last long enough and parts I grew a little tired of that overstayed their welcome.
Some other thoughts that immediately came to mind…
1) this is kind of a fitting release because of the piano & mic thing, saying that Prince had done this before. Just not as an album release. But also it coincides with the “Nothing compares 2 u” video they put out on April 21st. The video showed rehearsal footage in that famed warehouse. I think it’s called Flying Cloud and it’s in Eden Prairie, suburb in Minneapolis where Prince lived before Paisley Park was built. And you see him working out with The Revolution and him picking up choreography. This is very much the same thing, but you have an audio recording of it. The only thing that was kinda missing was having ‘Nothing Compares 2 u’ somewhere in the tracklisting to tie it all together. But that song wouldn’t be written until 1984 and this was 1983.
2) with the video and this album, there was also some drawback for me. I mean, the fans have bitched and moaned “Prince wouldn’t have wanted this ” over more things than I can even count. To the point where I just got so sick of the negativity. While I won’t bitch about this, I had some misgivings about these releases. Prince wasn’t exactly a perfectionist (he’ll leave mistakes in his songs because they fit the vibe somewhere), but he worked unbelievably hard to make everything he did appear so effortless. These releases kinda undo that a little bit, revealing that even he had to practice and we’d see and hear mistakes he made.
3) Generally I pick and choose what albums I can put in the car when we’re all driving to places… unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be able to share this one because I don’t think anyone in my family would appreciate it. I don’t know how many new fans would buy this and really get enjoyment out of it. It almost feels like it’s something meant for the hardcore fanbase because we’re used to seeing Prince in top form, but we hadn’t necessarily seen this side of him before.
Maybe it’s the fact I had my volume fixed at somewhat of a high volume, but Prince’s vocals were a little too loud at some points, it kinda drove shock waves through me. Not faulting him personally- he’s rehearsing and this is unbridled, uncensored enthusiasm. But I thought on my first listen that maybe the people mixing this or doing edits or whatever maybe should have done something with the volume. But that’s really a minor nitpick.
At the same time, I doubt this is an album I could put in my car while I’m driving to or from work. It seems more like a headphone listen and that’s completely fine. But I somehow get the feeling this album is never going to leave my room 😛 but that’s ok.
Now for some positives…
Wow, how do I put this into words…
it’s a really cool feeling getting this inside look into what Prince does when he’s left to his own devices, without any editing. The word “raw” will undoubtedly be used by countless people to describe this album and its contents. And I’ll be one of them.
I have some bootlegs, I’ll admit, of many periods of his career. Mostly individual songs, and alternate versions and remixes of album tracks. Sometimes I will prefer the unreleased versions of some songs because a) I heard them before getting the albums they’re on and b) the rawness they have.
In particular, I like “Tick Tick Bang” as he recorded it in the 80’s. The Graffiti Bridge version is borderline unlistenable because there’s too much production and he hams it up WAY too much.
I don’t know if I’ll ever prefer these versions of the songs to the album versions… but they have their charms.
One thing I noticed right away… Prince speaks once or twice in this whole thing and he’s giving suggestions to his engineer at the time. I’m assuming it’s Peggy Mac because Susan Rogers didn’t come along until 1984. He mentions something about turning down the vocal a few seconds in the first song. And then once or twice, he does his James Brown/Morris Day voice to say he’s pleased about how the acoustics sound. Made me think how Susan Rogers said he was like Morris Day in the studio when he was happy with something.
But in 17 days and every song before that, you actually hear his feet stomp on the floor to keep the beat. It’s the tiniest detail, but that’s so amazing to grasp and try to wrap your head around.
One last little gripe I had with this album… I have to understand now that it comes with the territory, but Prince repeated some of the same phrases in these songs over and over again. with “17 days,” I was forgetting what the other lyrics were because he kept repeating the second quatrain of the second verse.
“Why the Butterflies” was the last song… I doubt I’d ever be able to count how many times he said “Mama” and all the ways he’d say and scream it out aloud… it has its merits and some of it I can really get behind and enjoy, but it was so repetitive that I got so sick of it. And the song didn’t even have a proper end- meaning the album didn’t have a proper end. But really, I doubt any rehearsal has a proper end the way a true album would. I mean, I probably will listen to this album through several more times. But that’s the one song I’ll probably skip, if any. There was one line he said yesterday that kinda gave me chills- he says “Mama…[long pause] where am I?”… like he’d been left alone or was in a pit of misery or was so rapt in this relationship that he forgot where he was. That kinda falls in line with the rawness of this album. Only he knows what was going through his mind at the time, but it feels like a situation that had gotten away from him and felt sad or had regrets about.
Admittedly, going through the first time and coming to the songs I knew… I was reaching out with my feelings to find where the melody of the songs should be and all the instruments I’m used to hearing. It was like being a blind person reaching out expecting the Braille to read a certain way, but the raised dots weren’t in the places they were supposed to be. I was frustrated about that (and the fact Purple Rain and A Case of U were so short) but I got over that by the next day and I was listening to it again.
The craziest thing about listening to this had to be the piano playing. He was really pounding on those keys and he was playing so many things. During “17 days,” his hands were pounding the same way for a long time, but as the song progressed, the one hand was still pounding in the same place, but his right hand was going all over. I mean, that’s insane to me. I can barely play my keyboard with one hand and he’s doing two completely different parts with two. I couldn’t believe it was one person doing all this. It sounded like he had four hands at some points 😛
Purple Rain I had expected to sound more like it did in the movie where’s he in the basement. But you get that familiar melody after a point and the vocal is completely different- like he was having a somber moment for himself. Of course I wanted to hear more, like a complete idiot 😛 when I heard the song so many times and many different versions too.
I even thought the other day about the original First Avenue recording. He was so nervous when he was performing it live- you could see it in the rare video footage if you can find it… you can kinda figure that he wished he was a little more free with it instead of it being so calculated. But that’s still the best version of that song. He brought it out a few times in 2007, including the HalfTime show. That was the first time I’d heard that song and I wasn’t super wowed by it, admittedly. I just don’t like how the guitar playing sounded on the solo. I get it in my head and I don’t hear a lot of melody in it, I just hear wailing and moaning and it’s such a beautiful melody.
And A Case of U will be interesting to perceive at a later date- comparing this version to the One Night Alone version, which I had gotten to know pretty well over the past several months. He loved Joni Mitchell his whole life and that song had come out in his setlists a bunch of times. I think I read somewhere him saying he loves the song because you listen to one aspect of it and it sounds like she’s still in love with him and things are happy, but you listen to another aspect and it sounds like they’re breaking up. The double-sidedness of it.
Mary Don’t You Weep was the first big release off this album and it was put out when it was first announced. I never listened to it (Or 17 days for that matter) because I wanted to hear this as a whole without there being any perceived notions. I just knew this was a cover.
I immediately knew what it was within seconds. This got a little repetitive, of course, but this was one of the highlights of the album for vocals alone. There was one note he hit that shook me and I literally said “whoa…” out loud. The emotion on that one moment was just huge and I loved it so much.
Strange Relationship had me grinning ear to ear… but the way the song was going and how there was a downturn in emotion, it had me wondering if Prince had recorded this rehearsal around the time Vanity left. Because this was one of those songs he wrote about her- I found out recently from Duane Tudahl’s book. I think this was another recording I wish was longer because it was one of the bright spots on this album where he really seemed happy. A lot of the other songs were kinda somber or depressed and he was playing to soothe himself and feel better about things.
International Lover- when I recognized it, I laughed. That was just a random inclusion in all this 😛 also a little short and there wasn’t a lot to it. But it’s not a song he played that often, at least not beyond the 1999 tour.
Wednesday I recognized right away… the lyrics sounded like they fit and it kinda felt like it belonged with the Purple Rain material. After all, it was a song written for inclusion in the movie and it was meant to be for Jill Jones. But it was one of those holy grails from that era never released. I’m sure there are bootlegs circulating somewhere, because nearly everything he recorded circulated after a point.
I don’t remember how long this song was. I doubt the whole thing was on this album. But it was one of those pleasures I was happy to have because I knew it was a significant conclusion.
Cold Coffee & Cocaine… I have no idea what this song is about, but I really don’t care. This was another light moment and a highlight for me. He did this completely (or almost completely) in that Jamie Starr/Morris Day character voice. He was having so much fun with this and I could feel him smiling. Another really great inclusion I was happy to have and cherish having because that’s a side of him people loved and casual fans don’t really get to see that.
And for now, I think this is all I can really say with only two listens to go on. I’ll definitely be listening to it more, but I think I might be saving it for the weekends. Just because I won’t have time during the week and I kinda want to give it the alone time it needs.
Also it had me thinking I really should tinker around on my keyboard more… I want to be completely alone so nobody is asking me what I’m playing or what I’m doing… I just want to goof around on it, trying to do stuff with both of my hands…
And another goofy thing- Friday, I started the album at 10:14 and it ended at 10:49; last night, I started it at 11:07 (“if I say 11, you can say it’s 7”) and it ended at 11:42… I know the album is 37 minutes long, but it’s been kinda fun seeing all those 7’s coming out of this. Because Prince had a thing for the number 7.
I doubt I’ll get this to work on every other listen, but it was just a fun thing to notice.