Prince surprises again in latest streaming exclusive on Jay Z's Tidal service

Prince speaks at the 2015 American Music Awards in Los Angeles on Nov 22.
Prince speaks at the 2015 American Music Awards in Los Angeles on Nov 22.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - 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.

Prince 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 next week of her blockbuster world tour 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, Prince hailed Tidal as the answer for artists who want greater control - even though the pop icon famously declared in 2010, "The Internet is completely over," as he released an album as a CD insert to European newspapers.

Prince 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.

Swift has been an outspoken opponent of Spotify, accusing it of paltry compensation, a charge that the Swedish company rejects.

But Swift agreed in June to stream 1989, last year's best-selling US album, on newly created Apple Music after the tech giant said it would improve its payout structure following her complaints.

Swift's announcement that the 1989 World Tour Live film will debut on Apple Music is sure to revive conspiracy theories that she planned a partnership with the company all along despite the attention-grabbing public feud just before the streaming service's launch.

1989 was the biggest album in the United States until British singer Adele's record-breaking 25, which came out last month and, in a rarity, is not available on any streaming service.

"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 a reborn political Prince 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," Prince sings.

Prince goes into heavier funk on tracks such as Stare - originally a Spotify exclusive - and Xtraloveable, a song that Prince 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!" Prince sings When She Comes almost entirely in his legendary falsetto. He 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, Prince had anticipated a second part to "HITnRUN phase one" which came out on Tidal in September.

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