Review Summary: What is the beginning of a great artist is only a footnote in the world of funk.
With the comfort of retrospective, it's easy to theorize For You
being a deliberate effort on Prince's part to establish himself in the popular music market, crafted wholly out of accessible funk tunes so as to not immediately be pigeonholed by contemporary critics as niche appeal. Despite the relatively modest nature of the music on display, the ambition is hidden behind the scenes, as every instrument on the album is played by Prince, from guitars to drums to the Moog synthesizer. The superb musicianship - still in his teenage years - and the heightened intimacy of the one-man-band give the album a unique charm that very few albums performed by a myriad of musicians could strive for.
The opening song and title track "For You" embodies the do-it-yourself ethic Prince had at the time, kicking the album off with meticulously layered a cappella harmonies all done by Prince's lonesome. It is almost too perfect in a sense, a bit self-indulgent, hinting at the idea that For You
itself is just the beginning and a means to gather a following before delving into more elaborate productions we all know and love Prince for today. The general feel of the album is extremely smooth and affected, to the point of being borderline contrived, at the same time the reasonably minimalist production often distracting you from the intricacy of the vocal and instrumental arrangements on display.
Of course, as praiseworthy as the performance in For You
is, the songs themselves aren't without their shortcomings. Regardless of the underlying ambition, by virtue of being a rather sonically safe record, the hooks aren't of utmost classic quality. "Soft and Wet" exemplifying one of the safest, if not the safest, radio single of cheesy lyrics, funky scales and soft falsetto singing Prince has ever put out. But even though the album is very clearly a product of its times - those times being '70s radio funk - the material retains a watermark unique to Prince. The soothing, mysterious melodies of "Crazy You", the lengthy instrumental jam in "Just As Long As We're Together" and one of Prince's best guitar performances in the form of the closing track "I'm Yours" provide the face for a debut worthy of being looked at as the humble beginnings of one of the greatest artists and musicians' musicians to grace popular music.
In its underlying concept, For You
is a project to aspire for, no matter the genre and no matter the artistry, the fact Prince performed the album all by himself being an extremely idealistic benchmark for every beginning musician. With that in mind, the record becomes a very different effort depending on how you look at it; just like it is easy to praise Prince's sheer initiative in creating the album, it is just as easy to criticize it as inoffensive and safe, by virtue of having heard many a funk album from the time period. While not a critically essential album for the development of funk, For You
knows what it wants to be and is at its most recommendable when it comes to curious fans with the motivation to discover the artist's origins. The behind-the-scenes facts of the album may also provide inspiration for novice musicians looking for encouragement, with the knowledge that even at his most modest, at his most minimalist, regardless of his resources Prince could still provide something to gawk at.