Review Summary: The great Black Album took numbers and called everybody weak in the 1980s, but Prince cancelled it at the last minute. The music lives up to the legend, and it is a very enjoyable album to this day.2 of 2 thought this review was well written
The infamous album that Prince shunned himself, TBA is one heck of a listen. Rightfully the first to be called "The Black Album" (take that Jay-Z, and Metallica), this LP has no official title. It is also often referred to as "The Funk Bible". Whichever you decide to call it, it is recommended one gets their hands on it, as it is indeed funky and in your face. As if Prince wasn't a dirty, funky perv to begin with, this album drips with all things nasty. To fans, they love it. I read somewhere that Sir Paul McCartney (yeah, that guy) absolutely LOVED this record, and for good reason. The Black Album is a fun listening experience, and it comes with a story as legendary as the music itself.
As if you didn't know, Prince is highly prolific. At his most prolific peak, he had written and recorded an average of eighty to ninety songs a year, with some of them going to other artists, and some just going into Prince's legendary vault. After the divided opinions of both "Around The World in a Day", and "Parade", 1987's much-loved-and-barely-hated "Sign 'O' The Times" was a welcoming return to fans of old and new. However, some were still not convinced. Legend has it that this really bothered Prince, and for that he made his most nasty, angry record yet.
The Black Album arrived a mere six months after Sign 'O' The Times, in a rather bizarre, typical Prince way. A plain black slipcase with a tag that said "Something by somebody" was on the desk of the Executives of Prince's label at the time. It had no track listing, and no name whatsoever. Of course, once they played it, they knew who it was right away. The Black Album really has no pop accessibility that his earlier albums were filled with. Instead, this album is in favor of dark and dirty funk jams, with great results.
Right off the bat, the opening track "Le Grind" shows right away that this album has a point to prove. A straight up party anthem, Prince calls out the listener to "clap yo hands, double time", in which you do because it is so catchy and intoxicating. Running a bit long, it still is a great song, and an even greater way to start an album off with. Another good mention is the music itself, with some fantastic bass playing by Prince, and an even greater piano segment.
"Cindy C". Wow. The story goes that Prince sent a bodyguard over to Cindy Crawford at a club one night to see if she would like to chat with Prince, and she refused to meet him. So, he wrote a song. A filthy song. A GREAT song, though. This song has the always dependable Sheila E doing the drums, and Prince's back-up dancer CAT as a hype-woman (Think Flava Flav to Public Enemy). One verse in the song that really stands out is when Prince painfully pleads "I'm talkin' about a long crucial leg/ Girl if I have to beg/ I'm gonna see you in yo birthday suit tonight". This is where it gets very odd, as towards the end you faintly hear Prince screaming in the background to Cindy Crawford. Crazy, but since this IS the Black Album, all rules and standards are out of the window. It is still a great song, if only for the music. It leaves you feeling dirty, which is our buddy Prince's plan.
Next up is the highly humorous "Dead on It". Since Prince's African-American audience was highly critical of his past three records, one gets the feeling Prince is making fun. It has an old-school hip hop feel to it with Prince rapping about Rap music clichés. It is very funny; however it is a throw-away song in the long run, with no real depth to it.
"When 2 R in Love" is a fantastic Prince ballad, but it just doesn't fit to the overall musical mood of this album. Prince did the right thing, and took this song and put it on "Lovesexy" half a year later, with better results as Lovesexy's music better compliments "When 2..". This is still one of Prince's best and overlooked songs, so any time one hears it, it is always pleasurable.
"Bob George" is a story in its own right. The name came from Bob Cavallo, one of his managers, and Nelson George, a music critic over at Billboard magazine. Prince's voice has a very deep effect placed on top, and it tells a story of a woman cheating on him with a guy named "Prince", in which Bob George replies "Prince? That skinny mother****** with the high voice?". In the track, Bob George ends up shooting this woman, and he himself gets killed at the end as well. Have I lost you yet? It's a very interesting track, and you might like it, as many people do, due to its unconventional way of storytelling.
"Superfunkycalifragisexy" is a very high point to the album. A very hard and funky song, Prince keeps referring to "Squirrel Meat", an obvious metaphor for something that hasn’t been explained to this day. Regardless, the guitar stands out, as do the drums. A very highly recommended song, you'll be dancing once the music fully kicks in with its layered effects, and weirdness. Prince, at his best.
Now, this is when things get even funkier. "2 Nigs United 4 West Compton" is an instrumental with a very odd opening sequence of Prince talking to his women, and once again the "Squirrel Meat" reference is brought up. Before you scratch your head to even think upon what hes talking about, the heaviest (for Prince's standards) bang of music kicks in, and it's so over the top and awesome. As usual, Sheila E plays the drums on this track, and Prince shows off his fantastic bass abilities with a two minute long solo that both blows your mind, and bobs your head. One of the stronger tracks on this album, 2 Nigs is an undisputed fan-favorite.
The last track, and best song of the album "Rock Hard in a Funky Place" has his infamous Camille voice (another story on its own, but this time you might have to research Camille instead of a quick background check). Over a solid, simple rhythm, Prince tells a funny story of a man whose insecurities make him rock hard (you understand, right?). This is also the track where Prince shows off his undisputed and unfairly underrated guitar skills. It is a great guitar solo, and it sits as one his best put on any of his official albums. This is also the song where Prince famously says "I just hate to see an erection go to waste", with everyone in the song having a collective moan. It’s very humorous, as this album is itself.
While the album's overall negativity pushed Prince to pull the plug on its release in 1987 (see my review for "Lovesexy" for more of an explanation), it finally saw the light of day in 1994 when Prince gave the release a green light to get out of his contract with Warner Brothers. While highly bootlegged in 1987 and eventually being the highest bootlegged album of all-time (next to Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes), the public in 1994 saw no real interest in it.
Some of the album's lyrical content is very tame for today's standards, but one can only imagine how offensive this was in the 80s. Maybe Prince knew this, and he didn’t want his reputation on the line. Or, maybe he deliberately made the album and planned on canceling it at the last minute to spark everyone's interest. Regardless, The Black Album stands firmly along some of the better Prince albums, and is worth a listen just to say you actually heard it. With used copies going for about fifteen dollars to about one hundred and fifty dollars, it's no secret the legend is still very prominent.