Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Purple Power Rankings #448-434: How U (Don't) Wanna Be Done

It's hard to question the methods and madness of genius. After all, theirs is a lane which most of us will never be capable of hitchhiking next to, never mind driving on.

Still, even Prince's most die-hard fans can point to the odd track that simply makes them ask, "Brother, what the hell were you thinkin'?" In a career that spanned almost 40 years and probably 1000 songs, released and unreleased by himself and others, there were bound to be several lapses of inspiration.

Even under the restrictive guidelines of this Project, there are quite a few royal missteps. With this inaugural edition of the Purple Power Rankings, we present the most egregious.

448. Tell Me How U Wanna Be Done (Crystal Ball, 1997)
--A pointless remix of the second half of Love Symbol's "The Continental." This was included on Crystal Ball while joints like "Electric Intercourse," "Neon Telephone" and "Wonderful Ass" were bypassed.

This was my most severe bone of contention with the Crystal Ball compilation, as "Dark" and "Pussy Control" also got retreaded with inferior remixes. But their originals rate near-classic status on my board, so they're more forgivable than this waste of time.

447. Wedding Feast (The Rainbow Children, 2001)
--This was aural Russian roulette, as Prince took the chance that his listeners wouldn't simply yank the CD and pitch it into the garbage once this operatic assault began. Points for the absurdist sense of humor ("Not just a vat of chitlins/Or turkey meat U C/We R what we eat/So we must eat a leaf"), but damn. Sticking around was a great reward ("Everlasting Now" and "Last December" are a tremendous closing pair), but how many survived Prince's channeling of Mel Brooks to get there? 

446. Orgasm (Come, 1993)
--"Private Joy"'s guitar line, crashing waves, and 10-year-old squeals from Vanity. Exhibit A for Come's cut-and-pasted reputation.

445. Arrogance (Love Symbol, 1992)
--It's a jarring attack butting in on the end of the sumptuous, jazzy "Damn U." It's a frantic jumble of wailing voices and horns. It's a plea for help, as it sounds like our hero is working through some self-loathing issues ("What make a man wanna play guitar?/A double A double arrogance/Same thing that make him wanna be a star/A double A double arrogance"). But, the samples from classic N.W.A. and Rakim tracks are the closest we got to seeing him collaborate with good rappers until Chuck D was largely wasted on "Undisputed." So points for that, I guess?

444. Solo (Come, 1993)
--The man had vocal range for days, and this song shows it off to absolutely absurd effect. Almost as absurd as some of the lyrics. "The curb looks like a skyscraper"? Oy.

But hey, nice mic drop, bro.
443. Had U (Chaos & Disorder, 1996)
--A series of two-word verb-subject couplets reads less like a final goodbye to a spurned lover (or a longtime record label) and more like an assignment I had in sophomore English class. The dark, brooding gloat is an appropriate bookend to a Warner Bros. career launched with the angelic harmony showcase "For You," but it's hard to sympathize with contract difficulties largely of his own making.

442. Tangerine (Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, 1999)
--Light and airy as a...well, as that tangerine-colored negligee that he sings about. This song slips by before it's able to make any kind of impression. It's not that it's bad, it just may be the single most forgettable song on any Prince album.

441. Animal Kingdom (The Truth, 1997)
--Prince never got as strident preaching about politics or religion as he did here, going HAM in espousing his newly adopted vegan lifestyle. (So, I guess HAM's not the proper term, then. Maybe TOFU: Totally Over-the-top and Fucking Unappreciated?) I share his stance on the "funky, funky blue cheese," but I'm not here for a guilt trip over my next pizza.

(Oh, plus my longtime favorite domestic terrorist organization, PETA, loooooooved this song. And if PETA digs it, I'm out.)

440. Get Loose! (Crystal Ball, 1997)
--Could have easily rubbed elbows with last place up there.

Work 4 U, Carmen?
As a rule, I'm not a huge fan of remixes unless they do something truly revolutionary with the source material. The additions made in "Gett Off (Houstyle)" or "The Good Life (Big City Mix)" damn near made them into completely new songs. This one is largely instrumental, most effective as a stripper anthem if the album liner notes are any indication.

439. Right the Wrong (Chaos & Disorder, 1996)
--Certain words just don't sound right coming out of certain people. Prince using the word "grandpa" is one of those moments, especially when he's affecting a cornpone country-singer drawl. Is this what a Minneapolis hootenanny sounds like?

438. Boytrouble (Plectrum Electrum, 2014)
--The 3rd Eye Girl girls are a killer rock band. As a pop-rap backing group, though? Meh. This sounds like Prince trying to produce a J.J. Fad comeback single. A little fun, but a very jarring contrast to the Zep-via-Runaways vibe on the album's highlights.

437. Da, Da, Da (Emancipation, 1996)
--There's an interesting concept here: Scrap D is a down-on-his-luck Minneapolis dude trying to find a job, being bitched at because he can't get out of Mama's house and getting fed up with it all, his "blunt and gin" being the only sources of comfort. Out of nowhere, Prince arrives to function as the voice of reason:
"Ask yourself your destination/What the source of your inspiration be
And you will find a spirit tryin' 2 get back 2 the mind
How you was in your mama's belly
Live and let live was the order of the day
What you say?/Love 4 one another is the only way"
 ...to which we can only assume Scrap mumbled, "da fuq?" and snuffed out his latest fattie, thinking it was laced or some shit, before he staggered outside to get some fresh air and ponder about this odd hallucination. As I said, interesting concept. Terrible execution. One of only a few joints on Emancipation that aid the listener's enjoyment by being skipped.

436. Jughead (Diamonds and Pearls, 1991)
--Aaaaaaaaand speaking of mediocre rappers:

"Jughead" is nowhere to be found on YouTube, for obvious (and perhaps fortunate) reasons, so try to endure as much of "Goldnigga" as you can to understand the Purple Army's disdain for Tony M. I don't think it's unreasonable to claim that Rosie Gaines is the best rapper showcased on "Jughead," as she's even an improvement over Prince, who saunters in like he's already bored of his own creation. The song's ostensibly about a dance of some sort, but I'm not too interested in seeing a demo.

435. Digital Garden (The Rainbow Children, 2001)
--A glorified segue in an already narrative-heavy album, but thankfully not too long to derail the promising momentum from the title track and "Muse 2 the Pharaoh." The only real fun to be had here comes from imagining a stoned Matthew McConaughey sitting in on bongos.
No points for guessing which one takes longer to do their hair.

434. 77 Beverly Park (LotusFlow3r, 2009)
--We get about 30 seconds of "Slave"-ish industrial stomp, then suddenly, we've downshifted to some airy Mediterranean guitar. I wouldn't have been terribly surprised to hear Kristen Scott Thomas reprising her Under the Cherry Moon role over the top of this. At the album's end, this feels like a cool-down before the thumping "Wall of Berlin"/"$"/"Dreamer" trio, but it damn sure don't start out that way.

NEXT TIME: Nos. 433-421 include our first few pre-'90s selections, including his warm-up for "1999"'s full-on nuclear anxiety. Oh, and teenage lesbians.

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