Album of the Week 17-2016: Prince – Hit n Run Phase Two

Not much more than a week after the sad, unexpected death of Prince, there’s the general release of his 39th studio album ‘Hit n Run Phase Two’. It’s not entirely new; it already appeared on several streaming media, but the CD is still pretty much my favored method of listening to music. And my favored side of Prince is strongly highlighted on this release. Where ‘Phase One’ was much too electronic for my tastes, this album is full of Jazzy Pop brilliance and light, shimmering Funk grooves. Though it misses the urgency of his best work, it’s a final testament to the genius of Prince’s musicianship.

Essentially, the album compiles a handful of tracks that were released in one form or another, but since The Purple One’s preference for musical media had the tendency to change faster than the weather, it’s good to finally have them all in one place. Especially considering the strong thematic nature of the record; though it doesn’t exactly shy away from modern production techniques, ‘Hit n Run Phase Two’ is strongly focused on performances and stripped down arrangements. Even the less Funky tracks are highly rhythmic and generally sparsely instrumentated, a couple of bombastic climaxes notwithstanding.

Personally, I had only heard ‘Stare’ before the release of the album and that track made me hopeful. It’s the bare bones Funk base of – I suspect, the credits aren’t very hepful – bassist Ida Nielsen and drummer John Blackwell that drives this track forward, while the horns and Prince’s guitar and vocals add some cool accents. ‘2 Y. 2 D.’ is equally Funky, but has more of a Motown-like arrangement. The rhythm is irresistible and the horns are explosive. ‘Black Muse’ and the upbeat, Stevie Wonder-esque closing track ‘Big City’ are less urgent, but still delightful Funk-Lite, and ‘Xtraloveable’ sounds so much like Chic, that it surprised me Nile Rodgers wasn’t involved.

A lot has been said about the socially conscious lyrics of opening track ‘Baltimore’, but I’d still like to highlight the musical side of it all, because the song is as close to Pop perfection as it gets. Despite the heavy lyrics, the song’s light, breezy feel and excellent string arrangement are goosebumps material. ‘RocknRoll LoveAffair’ is equally light and well arranged, though with a slightly more eighties light Rock feel. The actual Rock factor is turned up a notch for the cheesy, but highly enjoyable ‘Screwdriver’, while ‘Look At Me, Look At U’ and ‘Revelation’ are excellent, seductive Jazz exercises, both featuring some mindblowing saxophone work. ‘Groovy Potential’ deserves a special mention; it’s not necessarily the album’s best track, but its fusion of early Disco and contemporary R&B is unlike anything I have ever heard.

Opinions on ‘Hit n Run Phase Two’ are divided, but while I wouldn’t quite name it the best Prince record since ‘Musicology’ – ‘Lotusflow3r’ and ‘PlectrumElectrum’ are too close to my heart for that – it is definitely Prince as I like to hear him best: with a strong focus on rhythmically engaging musicianship. It wasn’t meant as such, but ultimately, the album is an excellent closing statement to a musical output that is practically unbeatable in ambition and scope. And in the end, that’s the only true downside to the album: knowing there won’t be any more like this.

Recommended tracks: ‘Baltimore’, ‘2 Y. 2 D.’, ‘Stare’

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