April 21, 2016, wasn’t a very good day…that’s an understatement. It was the day that the beloved “Purple One,” Prince Rogers Nelson passed away at just 57 years old (1958 – 2016). Ask any number of musicians, and the influence of Prince as a musician and performer is widespread – he was “one of a kind.” The fact that we are even discussing the death of this iconic musician is shocking; Prince seemed immortal, like so many of the visionaries we’ve lost over the years. 2016 has been full of loss (Bowie, Frey among them), and now the untimely passing of Prince just adds to the sadness felt everywhere.
The most lucrative period of Prince’s career was clearly the 80s, with Purple Rain being the first album (and song) that comes to mind when his name is mentioned. Had Prince just been a force in the 80s and merely released “Purple Rain” itself, he would’ve solidified his legacy. But Prince gave us countless hits – provocative, unapologetic, and undoubtedly memorable. But this particular article isn’t about Prince’s most ‘lucrative’ period of his career – no “Little Red Corvette,” “Kiss” or “Adore” here. This is about his resurgence in the 00s, thanks to one fantastic album (Musicology) and an interesting promotional strategy accompanying it.
Prior to Musicology, Prince wasn’t selling albums as he once did. This happens to all artists, no matter how iconic or visionary they are. Musicology reopened doors that seemed to be closing. Face it, who mentions albums like Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (1999), The Rainbow Children (2001) or N-E-W-S (2003) when mentioning highlights of Prince’s career? Very few – no one really… Musicology was clearly the right album at the right time to remember the eccentric brilliantness of Prince. It debuted at no. 3 on the Billboard 200, selling a robust 191,000 copies.
What were some of the highlights from Musicology? Start with the funky title track “Musicology” which reflects back on music with that “it” factor from the past – musicology is the study of music history after all. It’s a quirky track in the most respectable way, but it suited Prince perfectly and showed his individualism and fearlessness. Even quirkier is “Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance,” definitely unlike anything that was ‘mainstream’ on radio in 2004. Even in a time where R&B was in much better shape than present day, this was a sound clearly distinct from everything else. In other words, even Prince who’d previously proved his self to be innovator extraordinaire continued to show his nonconformist musical attitudes and approach.
Continue listening to Musicology and its ‘return to form’ clearly shows why it renewed Prince’s success. “Cinnamon Girl” gave him another excellent rock song, contrasting the funk of “Musicology” and “Illusion, Coma, Pimp & Circumstance.” “Call My Name” was among the best ballads of 2004 and bested Usher’s ubiquitously “Burn” for the Grammy for Best Male R&B Performance. “On The Couch” was less heralded, but easily could’ve garnered a Grammy as well, as Prince puts his all into the slow jam, particularly towards the end.
Continue to examine Musicology (“A Million Days” “Life ‘O’ The Party,” and “If Eye Was The Man in Ur Life”) and looking back, it’s easy to see why beyond Prince’s ticket strategy why the album was certified double platinum. Musicology might be imperfect, particularly compared against Prince’s classics, but it also a clear “sign o’ the times” in regards to sales consistency and renewed cultural relevance eschewing past controversies and former label as merely a symbol. Look at the track record.
Prince’s 3121 (2006), arguably his best album of the new millennium, debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 and was eventually certified gold. Planet Earth (2007) debuted at no. 3; LotusFlow3r (2009) at no. 2; Art Official Age and PLECTUMELECTRUM (2014) at nos. 5 and nos. 8. The sole miscue since Musicology – HIT n Run Phase One (2015) at no. 70, but it wasn’t heavily promoted.
Essentially, everyone will gravitate towards the crème de la crème of Prince’s discography and career as they should, but it’s amazing that Prince assembled the comeback that he did with Musicology. Maybe it was the fact that it arrived prior to my high school graduation that it was so special, but honestly, Musicology shouldn’t be forgotten when examining the irreplaceably versatile musician. Rest in peace Prince.