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Prince - HITNRUN album review (published in Metro, Sep 2015)

**** out of 5

The film director Kevin Smith, who was once hired by Prince for a project that never bore fruit, tells a very entertaining and enlightening anecdote about his visit to the Paisley Park compound. In it, he confirms the widespread rumours that the singer has an archive of literally thousands of songs, fully written and recorded and often accompanied by videos, which have never seen the light of day.

Every time Prince releases a new album, there's a fear that he's simply dipped into that archive and dusted off a dozen of those songs, almost at random and with little thought to quality control. That fear vanishes within the first few minutes of his latest release, available exclusively via Jay Z's new streaming platform Tidal.

HITNRUN, named after his guerilla-gigging tour, may begin with snatches of several 80s classics (“Darling Nikki”, “1999”, “Let's Go Crazy”), but Prince sounds more engaged with modern music than he's been since those tracks were fresh, from the crunk beats of “Ain't About To Stop” to the startling use of autotune on “Shut This Down” to the juddering electro-soul sound of “This Could B Us”. Indeed, the impressionistic, dreamy finale “June”, in which he namedrops Richie Havens and dreams of being old enough to have played Woodstock, is the only note of nostalgia.

The use of co-producer Joshua Welton, the presence of guest vocalists, from the relatively obscure (Jacko backing singer Judith Hill, Prince protegees Curly Fryz) to a couple of well-known Brits (Rita Ora, Lianne La Havas), suggests that this notorious control freak is opening up to outside influence.

His famous renunciation of sexual themes since becoming a Jehovah's Witness seems to be loosening: the deceptive soft soul jam “1000 Xs & 0s” imagines his lover “blindfold, gagged and bound”. He's in playful mood elsewhere: “X's Face”, reminiscent of the brutal “Bob George” from The Black Album, gleefully declaims “Black don't crack, beige don't age/Go and take that banana and get back in your cage”. And he hasn't lost the knack of a killer pop tune: the effortless, exuberant electro-disco number “Fallinlove2nite” is utterly sublime.

It's perhaps significant that all the tracks are seamlessly segued together, just like Lovesexy back in 1988. HITNRUN might just be Prince's finest new record since then.


Prince HITNRUN review

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