John Pareles of the New York Times Calls Prince’s New Album, “HitNRun”, ‘Skillful and Scattershot’


In 2010, Prince said “the Internet’s completely over” as a method for distributing his music. He has changed his mind.

At the start of Monday, he released his new album, “HitNRun Phase One,” as an exclusive on the paid streaming service Tidal. Like “Art Official Age,” released last September, “HitNRun” is a full-scale collaboration with Joshua A. M. Welton, who shares credit as a songwriter and producer. (Mr. Welton is married to Hannah Ford Welton, the drummer in Prince’s band 3rdeyegirl.) It is also, like that album, a proud display of quirks and an effort to come to terms with the possibilities of electronic dance music and all its gizmos.

Prince, who used to perform nearly every note on his albums, plays only lead, rhythm and bass guitars on “HitNRun.” Except for hired string and horn sections, and women who drop by to share some lead vocals, Mr. Welton does the rest, including keyboards and programmed beats. In some songs, Prince and Mr. Welton achieve a merger of Prince’s funk mastery and the surreal possibilities of the digital studio; other tracks feel like sorely mismatched remixes trying too hard to be trendy.

The successes tend to be love songs. “1000 X’s & O’s,” about awaiting an absent partner, surrounds Prince’s voice in wavery, analog-sounding synthesizers that hark back to Stevie Wonder, while “Fallinlove2nite” fortifies a perky disco revival with a more modern four-on-the-floor beat. “Hardrocklover,” a boast about the seductive powers of an electric guitar, teases through most of its verses with glassy keyboard tones before letting Prince’s distorted guitar lash out. There are more ambiguous stories, too: the quietly longing “June” and the cryptic “X’s Face,” which neatly places Prince’s voice amid stark, lurching electronics — sounds he might never have come up with on his own but that still fit him well.

But those songs arrive late in the album; first come oddities and overreaches. “This Could B Us” appeared on “Art Official Age” as a sweet-talking falsetto ballad. It’s rearranged on “HitNRun” using harsher, more disjointed electronics, with dubstep tricks that were already clichés over a year ago.

Two songs that would be throwaway boasts at best are not improved by electro blips and a loop of someone shouting “Bang! Bang! Bang!” in “Shut This Down,” or by Rita Ora joining Prince over a distorted electro-house synthesizer riff in “Ain’t About 2 Stop.” (Although she does get a good line: “We still got a little bit of dirt beneath these $100 nails.”) “Like a Mack” is mostly a funk vamp and a showcase for Curly Fryz, a female duo who sometimes sing and rap in quasi-unison. Another guest, Judith Hill (a contestant on “The Voice” whose debut album was produced by Prince), sings much of “Million $ Show,” which is mostly an excuse to segue through pop, rock, operetta, big-band swing and chamber music. All in all, the songs on “HitNRun” add up to an album typical of Prince’s last decade: skillful and scattershot.

More important than Prince’s latest method of distribution is that he’s willing to make music with others. This has been a prime year for audacious R&B songwriters like D’Angelo, the Weeknd, Miguel and FKA twigs, who all must know how much they owe Prince. Now that he seems determined to revitalize his music by collaborating, he could probably find plenty of qualified volunteers.

The New York Times

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