Prince - Piano & a Microphone 1983

100

The Guardian

Rhino

The recordings on this posthumous Prince album weren’t originally intended for release. But they capture Prince Rogers Nelson at the peak of his powers, alone at his home studio piano, feeling his way into songs including future classic Purple Rain. It says everything about his prolific output – especially in this period – that this album is up there with many of his best releases. He certainly hits the ground running with an embryonic version of 17 Days, previously heard on the B-side of 1984’s When Doves Cry. There, the big, squeaky funky affair and joyous sound (possibly intentionally?) shrouded the pain and loneliness in the lyrics. But here, stripped down so far we hear him pleading “Turn the voice down a little” near the start, his words about a departed lover provide a raw and revelatory listening experience and a unique insight into his creative process.

Prince could play most instruments, but while his phenomenal talents as a guitarist are all over his catalogue (and currently an audible influence on St Vincent and Janelle Monáe), his skills as a pianist are under-recognised, even after his (sadly final) 2016 piano tour. But he is on fire here. Gospel, classical, funk and jazz ooze from his fingertips at will, so audaciously in the previously bootleg Cold Coffee and Cocaine you suspect the guy could have played Chopin on a watering can. Nine tracks form an unedited single take. He peels off a formative minute of Purple Rain, gets deep and bluesy on American civil war spiritual Mary Don’t You Weep, and draws a compelling skeletal embryo of Strange Relationship from Sign O’ the Times. International Lover, from 1982’s 1999, turns into a vocal masterclass. Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You offers a peek into another of his musical passions. The more hauntingly jazzy Why the Butterflies is glorious, by most standards, but obviously not glorious enough for Prince, so it stayed on the shelf. These wonderful recordings provide yet more evidence of his colossal talent, and, tantalisingly, it appears that there are still more to come.

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Fri Sep 21 10:30:21 CEST 2018

85

Pitchfork

This blessed collection of unreleased demos, recorded by Prince to cassette in a single take, is enthralling. It plays like both omen and artifact of his hit-making power.

Tue Sep 25 07:00:00 CEST 2018

80

The Guardian

(Warner Bros)

Beginning the excavation of Prince’s vault of unreleased music with this 1983 home cassette recording is a canny move. It can’t sound dated, and it provides a pleasing circularity, taking its name and solo piano format from Prince’s swansong tour. Of course, we all still hope there’s one last classic unheard album or song to be retrieved. And while this short, spare offering dampens those hopes somewhat, there’s no mistaking Prince’s incandescent, unquenchable brilliance, as he swoops from song to song, vamps and pirouettes up and down the scales. It’s a guilty pleasure, knowing he didn’t intend us to hear this, knowing he has no idea what comes next – the five-year peak of astonishing achievement, the fog of superstardom to descend within months. Or did he suspect? Is this the confidence of predestiny?

Either way, it’s an intensely intimate experience, appropriately voyeuristic and transgressive for a songwriter who wrote about both things so well. The versions of Prince’s better-known songs may disappoint some – Purple Rain is a meandering snippet – but what stays with you is the sense of talent, hardening to genius.

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Sun Sep 23 09:00:20 CEST 2018