Prince surprises again in latest streaming exclusive

Pop icon Prince released his new album HITnRUN Phase Two over the weekend.
Pop icon Prince released his new album HITnRUN Phase Two over the weekend.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • Prince, the prolific and often unpredictable pop icon, has put out another album with no prior warning, as he rejoices in the possibilities of streaming.

He dropped HITnRUN Phase Two over the weekend as an exclusive on Tidal, the service led by rap mogul Jay Z.

The release came just as a younger star, Taylor Swift, on Sunday announced that she would put out a film of her world tour next week solely on Apple Music.

The moves show the increasingly fragmented landscape for streaming, a sector that has grown rapidly in recent years by offering unlimited, on-demand music online.

Spotify, the largest streaming service, has marketed itself as offering virtually any song at the touch of a button, but its rivals look destined to challenge its dominance by offering exclusive content.

Prince has long butted heads with the music industry, two decades ago etching "slave" on his cheek and changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol after his label tried to cap his copious output.

After meeting earlier this year with Jay Z, he hailed Tidal as the answer for artists who want greater control, even though he had declared in 2010: "The Internet is completely over," as he released an album as a CD insert to European newspapers.

He recently explained that his thinking was consistent.

"What I meant was that the Internet was over for anyone who wants to get paid, and I was right about that," he told The Guardian last month.

"Tell me a musician who's got rich off digital sales. Apple's doing pretty good, though, right?" he was quoted as saying.

HITnRUN Phase Two, Prince's fourth album in a little more than a year, demonstrates the still impressive artistic range of the now 57-year-old kid from Minneapolis, even if many of the songs have been previously unveiled in some form.

The album opens with Baltimore, a track that he debuted earlier this year after unrest in the city following the death in police custody of African-American civilian Freddie Gray.

Despite the loaded subject matter, Baltimore is arguably among Prince's most commercially accessible recent tracks, with subtle guitar and strings reinforcing an understated funk beat.

"We're tired of crying, and people dying/Let's take all the guns away," he sings.

He goes into heavier funk on tracks such as Stare - originally a Spotify exclusive - and Xtraloveable, a song that he has been playing with since 1982 without formally releasing it.

Xtraloveable, like much of classic Prince, is both instantly danceable and ultra-sexy, with a chorus that begins, "If ever, ever you need someone to take a shower with/Call me up - please!"

He sings When She Comes almost entirely in his falsetto and goes into classic R&B on Look At Me, Look At U, yet switches gears for Screwdriver, which is driven by a hard guitar reminiscent of classic rock.

While the release was a surprise, he had anticipated a second part to HITnRUN Phase One, which came out on Tidal in September.

The title is an allusion to his knack for announcing concerts at the last minute, in part to throw off ticket scalpers.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2015, with the headline 'Prince surprises again in latest streaming exclusive'. Print Edition | Subscribe