Just when you least expected it, Prince, of all people, has reemerged on the music scene. First, it was announced that The Artist had signed a one album deal with Arista Records (a record rumored to feature a collaboration between The Artist and his Prince alter ego. Huh?) Then Warner Brothers (the label that “enslaved” Prince) rushes out a collection called The Vault Old Friends 4 Sale under the old Prince moniker. Suddenly it’s beginning to feel like 1984 instead of 1999.
The songs on The Vault were written between January 1985 and June 1994 and recorded in Minnesota, Los Angeles, Paris and Tokyo. The set contains an extended remix of “She Spoke 2 Me,” first heard in the movie and soundtrack Girl 6 (1996), and a few of the most bootlegged tracks from the Parade sessions. Surreptitious liner notes state that the material was originally intended for private use only which makes WB’s decision to release the tracks at this late date all the more questionable.
Musically the album is a mish-mash of styles veering from pure pop to funk to jazz. The apparent ease with which Prince dances from one style to the other, sometimes in mid-song, is astonishing but in the end nothing on the album compares with the music that he actually released during this period.
The best of the lot is probably “It’s About That Walk,” which sounds a little like a fusion of James Brown and Smokey Robinson. Its tightly orchestrated horn lines bounce off of the playful vocals to make for some pleasant and distracting ear candy. Another stand out track is “Extraordinary”—an eerily beautiful ballad in the “Most Beautiful Girl in the World” vein that demonstrates what a hopeless romantic Prince was during this period. The remainder are songs that thrash around with typical Prince energy without any real conviction or purpose.
The Vault suffers from the lack of a cohesive musical theme, something omnipresent on Prince’s best albums. The music is always interesting and sometimes arresting, but overall the album sounds like what it is, a series of songs that were forgotten or discarded long ago by their creator.