Prince – Welcome 2 America
The idea of opening up Prince’s famed Purple Vault beneath his studio in Minneapolis to unleash the 8,000 unreleased tracks within has long threatened to be more Pandora’s box than Tutankhamun’s tomb. Having watched his imperial phase give way to a post-millennial period clogged with new-age jams and quasi-spiritual concept records, I can say the prospect of exploring this first complete excavated album – recorded and mothballed in 2010 – has all the appeal of a Parisian sewer tour.
For three tracks of low-slung ambient funk (the title track), lounge jazz (“Running Game [Son of a Slave Master]”) and tired orchestral soul (“Born 2 Die”), every low expectation of the funk-pop legend’s late-career cast-offs is lived down to. Their redeeming feature is a rich political and social seam. Racism, poverty, online misinformation, iPhone addiction, sex tapes, surveillance culture and politicians lying upwards; if backing singers are doing the heavy melodic lifting, Prince is laying down some weighty – and, a decade on, increasingly relevant – slabs of truth in the background.
Then he rediscovers his imaginative peak-era verve and Welcome 2 America becomes an unexpected blast. The bristling “1000 Light Years From Here” envisages a distant sci-fi utopia of “good life” and “liberty” in stark contrast to earthly injustices; “Same Page, Different Book” decries warfare in crisp funk raps cruising just a block or two away from his 1988 hit “Alphabet Street”. Power pop fuses with tropical ska (“Hot Summer”), funk metal melts into driving soul pop (“Yes”), and it closes with a sunny emancipation groove, “One Day We Will All B Free”, with just a glimmer of Great Reset about it: “makes you wonder who controls the nations if we never have peace”. The vault, it seems, really does contain diamonds and pearls. MB
LUMP – Animal
A second album from LUMP wasn’t on the cards. The duo – made up of Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay (of the folktronica group Tunng) – were initially billed as a one-off project that culminated in an acclaimed eponymous record in 2018. But now, three years later, we have Animal, a continuation of their off-kilter, cinematic and expansive sound – or as LUMP describe it, “half cute, half dark and creepy”.
The origin story of LUMP – that Lindsay and Marling met on the bowling lanes at a Neil Young aftershow, where he promised to provide her with “strange, wonky” instrumentals – feels suitably offbeat for an album that swerves and careens, walks then sprints away from protocol. Multiple tracks feature a midway breaking point where a solitary guitar solo, unidentifiable shriek or what sounds like someone hyperventilating signal a gearshift within the songs themselves. Between the piano-led dreamscape of “Red Snakes”, the shimmering electronica of “Bloom at Night” and the pop-leaning “We Cannot Resist”, Animal feels restless right up until its six-and-a-half-minute closer “Phantom Limb”, which concludes with Marling’s autotuned voice reading out the album’s credits.
“Paradise” is the stand-out. This eerie, pulsating track layers instrumentals one on top of another, weighing it down like a rock dropping to the seabed, before splintering off into a theatrical, eruptive finale like water shooting out of a geyser.
It’s rare for an artist to be able to operate in an entirely alternate universe, which is precisely what this part-time collaboration allows Marling to do. For that reason alone, LUMP will always be intriguing. It also helps that the music is actually quite good too. AN
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