New Prince songs hint at what's hidden in his fabled musical vault
Though music icon Prince may have died last year, his deep legacy lives on. You can hear the Purple One's influence on many of today's top musicians, and his catalogue of more than 30 studio albums continues to showcase his innovative approach that knew no genre boundaries.
It's known that Prince, a tireless creator, left behind a vault of unreleased material. Notorious for extreme control over his art, Prince kept a tight rein over the music he made publicly available. But he didn't leave behind a will, opening the door to the potential release of his unheard tracks.
I love how fascinated Prince was by technology even from an early point in his career.- Maura Johnston
Just more than a year after his death, Warner Music has released a 30th anniversary deluxe edition of Prince's masterwork Purple Rain, which includes a bonus disc of 11 "new" songs that didn't make it onto the final soundtrack to the 1984 film of the same name.
Apparently Prince was at least somewhat involved in putting the reissue together, but given that it was announced more than two years ago, and that it didn't come out while he was alive, questions remain about whether he would have wanted the music released in this form.
Still, it's hard not to welcome anything new without open ears, especially material recorded when Prince was at the height of his creative powers.
A peek into Prince's process
Day 6 reconvened our music panel — music writer Maura Johnston, musicologist and co-host of the Switched On Pop podcast Nate Sloan, and CBC Music writer and Pop This! podcast co-host Andrea Warner — for their thoughts on the Purple Rain reissue and what it tells us about Prince's legacy.
"Nobody is like Prince," Johnston says, "but perhaps this will inspire more people to continue honouring his legacy and also introduce him to new audiences."
The three-disc, 35-song set marks the first time Purple Rain has been remastered and re-released since its 1984 debut. Billboard magazine noted that the re-release offers fans a more complete picture "of the mind of a genius as he worked on what most critics consider his magnum opus."
"I think if we really want to understand Prince's creative process, we need to hear everything he has ever done. And this is getting us a little step closer to it," Sloan says.
Celebration, or exploitation?
While music fans are naturally thrilled to hear anything new from Prince, given that we don't know whether he would have wanted any of his vault material out in the world, it's hard to know whether to fully embrace this new music or be a bit wary about its release.
I just really hope that whoever winds up being in charge of his catalogue is thoughtful about it.- Maura Johnston
"Two things make me feel kind of conflicted," Warner notes. "One is just the intersection of art and capitalism. So because someone has died and there's nothing 'new' that we can expect from them, the implicit economical value of their work goes up. The other thing ... is just how little contro,l historically, African-American artists had of their work. So it just adds another layer that makes me feel kind of complicit in some sort of exploitation."
Posthumous releases from beloved artists have become commonplace — rapper Tupac Shakur has had as many releases following his death as he did during his lifetime — and having left so much music behind means that we may hear far more from Prince yet.
"I just really hope that whoever winds up being in charge of his catalogue is thoughtful about it, because I've seen a lot of bands that have kind of been ... not diminished, but just kind of flooded marketplace-wise with reissues," Johnston says.
But is all the excitement over this new Prince release simply due to the fact that it's a reissue of one of his best and most commercially successful albums? After all, Prince has so much music out there that even dedicated fans likely haven't heard all of it.
"I think that it is such an iconic landmark album that these tracks' association with it might have a wider reach than another album that might only appeal to hardcore Prince fans," Sloan says.
We asked the panelists to choose their favourite song from the bonus tracks on the new edition of Purple Rain — here are their picks:
NATE: Our Destiny
"As soon as I heard it, I was just blown away by its intricacy, humour and emotion."
ANDREA: Wonderful Ass
"I think it offers this insight into ... the character that he's inhabiting. And I think when you can see how he slips inside and becomes the narrator, that point of view is so fascinating to me."
"I love how fascinated Prince was by technology even from an early point in his career. There's a monologue in the middle of this particular version of the song where there are times when they're essentially trying to teach a computer the difference between love and lust — which is a tension that I think animates all of pop music."
To hear the full segment with the Day 6 music panel, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.