Albums Of The Week

Prince unvarnished in posthumous release

Piano And A Microphone 1983 (left), the first posthumous release from Prince, and disco legends Chic's latest and ninth album, It's About Time.
Piano And A Microphone 1983 (left), the first posthumous release from Prince, and disco legends Chic's latest and ninth album, It's About Time. PHOTOS: NPG/WARNER BROS, VIRGIN/EMI

SOUL/JAZZ

PIANO AND A MICROPHONE 1983

Prince

NPG/Warner Bros

4 stars

DISCO/FUNK/POP

IT'S ABOUT TIME

Chic

Virgin EMI

3 stars

Piano And A Microphone 1983 is the first posthumous release from Prince and offers an intimate look into the mind of a pop genius.

Like the title suggests, it is the late music icon stripped down to his bare essence - just his voice, a piano and a microphone. One of the many unreleased gems in his vault, it was recorded at his Minnesota home studio in 1983.

It is a mixed bag - some are alternate versions of previously released songs, some are previously unreleased tracks, while others are mere snippets of recognisable tunes such as Purple Rain.

His singing, while at times raw, is highly expressive. Two previously unreleased gems, his version of 19th-century gospel Mary Don't You Weep and album closer Why The Butterflies, feature solid examples of his extensive vocal range.

His piano-playing is nimble - he excels so much on the electric guitar that we forget his proficiency on the keyboard as well.

The solo on Strange Relationship (originally from 1987's Sign O' The Times), for example, is divine, alternating between jazzy flourishes, bluesy bluster and light, delicate touches.

The album is compact - the nine tracks clock in at 34 minutes. The little bugs have not been edited out and you can hear Prince giving instructions to the sound engineer.

Devoid of clinical precision and over-production, the takes are raw, but the wonderful thing is that you feel like you are sitting in the same room with him, like he is putting on a private performance just for you.

Disco legends Chic, or rather band head honcho Nile Rodgers, take the opposite route with their latest and ninth album, It's About Time. It is their first album since 1992 and a record full of unabashed disco-funk songs.

Rodgers, successful producer to pop stars of recent decades, calls on his posse of marquee names. Lady Gaga, for example, lends her vibrancy to a remake of Chic's 1979 dance-floor banger, I Want Your Love, while Elton John and Emeli Sande sing on slow dance number, Queen. The track Do You Wanna Party has lesser-known names like American rapper LunchMoney Lewis, while he also calls on pop upstarts such as singer-actress Hailee Steinfeld on Dance With Me.

Rodger's trademark percussive guitar jangles blend seamlessly with buoyant rhythms and sprightly synthesizers.

As the song titles would attest, the album does not do more than present itself as a boogie record, and that is its weakness.

Its retro touch is charming in a few tracks, but having too much of a throwback feel is a liability and gives the songs a dated feel.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2018, with the headline 'Prince unvarnished in posthumous release'. Print Edition | Subscribe