PRINCE, Welcome 2 America (NPG, 2021). Posthumous releases are tricky. While hardcore fans will clamor for any- and everything their favorite artists recorded after the artist’s passing, cynics will often sense little more than a money grab. The artist didn’t release this material for a reason, they say. Best it remain unreleased.
Still, the estates of Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and Miles Davis have done a respectable job of unearthing and releasing material that only adds to the artist’s lore and further solidifies their already rock-solid legacies.
It’s time to add Prince to that list.
No doubt millions of words have already been written about the superstar and his legendary vault containing dozens of albums worth of unreleased material. It’s possible Prince would’ve happily dug into this treasure trove and doled out gem after gem for years. But his sudden and unexpected passing in 2016 left us wondering what would become of this material. Lucky for us, the music appears to have fallen into the right hands.
Retro-deluxe releases for classic albums like 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign ‘O’ The Times have already been released. It’s relatively easy to add bonus material to a classic. But now we have an entirely new album, Welcome 2 America, which Prince recorded, assembled, completed, and then basically abandoned by the time it was ready to be played live.
While fans would’ve been thrilled to hear the album in “real time,” Prince was already on to other things. The man was not one to rest on his creative laurels. Like Miles, his need to keep driving forward was almost a curse. Change was not only inevitable, it was necessary. Lucky for us, the album was still in place, waiting for its moment in the sun.
Welcome 2 America was the next step in Prince’s evolution as both musician and world citizen. The world was changing — in many ways for the worse — and the seemingly self-sequestered hit-maker had taken notice. Already well-known for his hyper-sexuality and funk-driven hits, this album shows Prince trading titillation for trepidation as he looked at the world around him and pondered its present and future.
(Fans of the “old” Prince needn’t worry. He sneaks a couple of signature “wink and nod” moments in, too.)
With the ability to play more than two dozen instruments, Prince often recorded as a self-contained entity. But it can be argued that he did some of his best work as frontman and guitarist/keyboardist while allowing others to flesh out the rhythm and support parts. Bassist Tal Wilkenfeld and drummer Chris Coleman are the perfect case in point, as they provide the support needed to propel many of the album’s grooves forward. Meanwhile, Prince can focus on getting the song’s (often quite deep) meanings across.
There is nothing money grab-oriented about Welcome 2 America. It is deep and introspective, but not without moments of good fun and humor. The playing is very much up to Prince standards, which is to say relatively flawless. It would be a welcome addition to any fan’s collection.
Fans looking for THE concert video experience would benefit greatly from purchasing this album’s Deluxe edition box set. Not only do you get the album on CD and LP, a packet of charming trinkets, a poster, and a 32-page book loaded with awesome photos, there is also a Blu-ray Disc containing a fantastic concert recorded at the L.A. Forum on April 28, 2011.
The show truly captures what a Prince concert was all about. The hits are there — sometimes sandwiched and re-arranged — alongside some choice covers (many of which are Prince tunes recorded by other bands) and party anthems that no doubt made it impossible for the sold-out crowd to sit down.
Once again Prince puts a fantastic band onstage with him, and has no problem stepping aside periodically to allow each member to shine. Highlights are too numerous to list here, and are best experienced without some review telling listeners what to expect.
That being said, the concert alone is worth the price of admission. It is Prince at his finest, pouring another layer of cement on an already legendary foundation.
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