Decades before Radiohead or Trent Reznor became the rebel darling of a new media age, Prince was raising a well-manicured middle finger toward anyone who'd tell him how to be a pop star. It was 1984 when "Purple Rain" forced the world to remember that "black music" and "rock" are not contradictory terms, and as he's moved through various phases, he's never given up on that mission. So it's not surprising that Thursday he premiered four songs on the Steve Jones-helmed "Jonesy's Jukebox" on Indie 103.1 -- a rock show, and the closest thing to anarchy on commercial radio today.
Prince wasn't there to play the songs; he'd handed them over in CD form to the station's music director, Mark Sovel (a.k.a. Mr. Shovel), after playing them for him on the "club-level" sound system in his mansion's home entertainment center. Sovel was, not surprisingly, enthused, and so his Purpleness agreed to let him take the songs to Jonesy.
On air, Sovel told Jones that Prince hasn't yet decided how to release the music. "He actually wants nothing to do with record labels," he said.
So how rocking was the new material?
Track 1: "Crimson and Clover/Wild Thing": The fact that the first sample was a well-worn cover wasn't too inspiring; did Prince really think he could best Joan Jett's definitive take on the Tommy James classic? But by going extremely Beatlesque, with a treated vocal evocative of John Lennon's on "I Am the Walrus" and a mix that moves from headphone to headphone in vintage stereophonic style, he claimed the chestnut for himself. The mash-up with the Troggs' greatest hit is probably a nod to Jimi Hendrix, who covered "Wild Thing" at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
Track 2: "Colonized Mind": A dark funk-rock groove underpins this ballad, blending the sound of "Hotel California"-era Eagles with late-period Sly Stone. The lyrics hark back to Prince's own "Sign of the Times." He uses cyberspace metaphors to describe how people use their illusions to enslave themselves; it's prophecy in purple, with Prince reflecting on the evils of the world and posing faith in God as a solution.
A couple of lines seem to advocate for the position that every child should have a mother and a father, reigniting the recent controversy about the singer's stance on Proposition 8. Musically, the coolest part is the song's end, which features a palimpsest of guitar and vocal effects similar to cuts on Axl Rose's misunderstood epic "Chinese Democracy."
Track 3, "Wall of Berlin": A spare, jazzy arrangement sets up Prince's lyric about a chance encounter with a German fraulein. After years of trying, he's got his singsong rapping style down, and he has a ton of fun spinning out the double-entendres: "It's so fresh, knockin' down the Wall of Berlin." The most immediately striking track, and probably the one that will get the most enthusiastic reception from fans.
Track 4, "4Ever": The most characteristically "Prince" of the tracks is a piano-based ballad that swells to accommodate strings and highly emotional vocals. It's uptempo, though, with Prince bemoaning his lover's lack of interest with a few of his patented eye-rolls: "I never get to hold your hand, I never get to be your man, but that's OK, because I've got other plans right now. . . . " As the lyrics about desire and resistance unfold, one can't help but wonder: Did Prince write this after he saw "Twilight"?
He'd make a great vampire, wouldn't he?