Originally scheduled to be the 10th studio album by Prince – The Black Album is an album of near folklore.
The NME featured an enticing article in 1987 about the album being pulled from release that just made you want to hear it. Apparently Prince had divine intervention after taking ecstasy and realised the album was evil – you really couldn’t make it up. A more cynical view could be that the material was not strong enough and Warner Brothers pulled the album instead?
The Black Album, if it had been released in’87 would have followed “Sign O’ The Times” – a tough album to follow-up for any artist. Sign O The Times is often referred to as his greatest album. It is a very strong album – I prefer Controversy and the straight up popfunk joy that is Purple Rain – but that’s just me being me.
The Black Album intrigued me so much I picked up a copy on bootleg cassette from a record fair back in late ’87. It is a fair album and an odd offering. Prince recalled all the pressed official albums. A record collectors dream in the making – not exactly God Save The Queen on A&M – but getting there.
The Black Album was official given a month-long release in 1994 by Warner Brothers (WEA). True to form it had just a black sleeve with the catalogue number on the spine in pink, it still looked tempting in ’94. Prince was releasing it to fulfill his contractual obligations. When the rep from Warners sold in the album (as in how many quantities did we want to order) my boss said “I’ve got the original version”. Both the rep and myself looked at him dumbstruck. It was widely rumoured that less than 100 copies of the album were in existence – it must have been worth thousands. The next day my boss brought the original in – I dared not even touch it.
Channel 4 ran a very late night advertisement campaign in ’94 for the album – there was no denying the album had mystique.
Le Grind kicks off The Black Album. It is funkier and dirtier than we’re used to hearing Prince sound like. That said, it’s hardly Crass (the band) or something. Funky and sexually suggestive – but then again wasn’t Prince always like this – where was the controversy?
Maybe on track 2 – then again maybe not. Cindy C is a straight up Prince funkpop jam. An ode to lusting after Cindy Crawford – it’s not exactly Reality Asylum by Crass is it. It is however a decent album track.
Dead On It is a weaker track. Again no real cause for concern. Of note that it is more rap heavy than usual Prince offerings. Then a ballad When 2 R In Love again nothing shocking. The track would feature in practically identical form on the artists next album proper “Lovesexy”.
Then we hear the track that must have been the reason Prince backtracked. Bob George is as far out there as you could imagine him getting. Prince plays a third party in his vocal – a machine gun toting pimp. Prince is referred to (by himself!) as “that skinny motherfucker with the high voice”. It is a great song. Slowed down vocal with a stripped down sound. This was before NWA desensitised our ears – it was fairly shocking back in ’87. The machine gun goes off as he instructs women to put on wigs, the suggestion is that he is gunning them down. Dry guitar streaks and Police sirens punctuate the jam. Odd and genial. Think of the controversy Madonna caused with Like A Prayer – this should never have been pulled. They should have not only have released the album, this should have been the SINGLE.
Supercalifragisexy follows. It does sound debauched. Flowing lyrics. Funk. Screaming straining vocals. The Black Album is getting better.
2 Nigs United 4 West Compton continues the bizarreness. At times echoes of Frank Zappa’s – We’re Only In It For The Money strain. It jams – it sounds 80’s – it sounds Prince-like and sounds jazzy all at the same time. A very good album track.
Rockhard In A Funky Place again sounds raunchy. It stutters and ambles with a great removed vocal delivery.
They should have put it out back in ’87. Not his best album but certainly one of his more entertaining and off the wall releases.