Jun 022010

The time has come for me to face the ultimate horror in our long-delayed, long-suspended second season of Hear Factor!

A worshipper of the Holy Trinity of Rock (ie, Prince, ELO, and ZZ Top) who will go unidentified submitted a collection for my consumption and gut responses consisting of 10 deep cutz by Prince. The thought of listening to this collection so disturbed me that I failed in my responsibilities of moderating a second, successful season of this nearly revolutionary music blog torture listening exercise. I did listen to it – once – but I nearly drove off the road and subsequently procrastinated on listening to it again…until today. I’m off the road and safely seated now, so fear not!

DeepCutz.zip (~72 mb)

There’s no point in holding out any longer. Tomorrow we will delight in reviewing the early demos of our fellow Townspeople. That stuff can’t be worse than what I’m about to hear. My real-time thoughts, feeling, and impressions follow the jump…

“Get on the Boat”
This one starts out with some polished horns, along the lines of Earth, Wind & Fire, aka “Black Chicago.” So far I’d say it’s not horrible, but man is it slick! Bet this would sound fantastic in a stereo store. A little timbale break doesn’t do anything for me. Oh, a call to “Maceo!” Now isn’t that cute? Here’s another timbale break. The “let’s come together/big tent” lyrics are wearing on me. Big time. Four minutes of this song have passed and there’s still “room for a hundred more.” Sounds like the story of my attempts at promoting shows. I’m ready for this boat to sink, but instead we get one more Maceo solo. I believe there are some sophisticated jazz chords being thrown beneath this final solo. Tasty, I suppose.

“Good Love”
This is the song that first caused me to steer off the road. The instruments and voices are so processed. Is that Prince singing or a 12-year-old girl? Ugh, he just went into a growling, soul man voice that sounded phonier than the digital backing track. I’m getting a serious “white side of Stevie Wonder” vibe from this collection. You know when Stevie tries extra hard to be “soulful” and he comes off sounding embarrassingly lightweight? I wish I could put my finger on some of the Stevie Wonder songs when he puts on this Fat Albert-character voice that Prince is doing. I will say that the melody and main musical riffs in this song are not bad. If Prince could have made these sounds with any instruments made from once-living materials it may have been interesting in a fascinating, thumbsucking kind of way, like a good song from XTC’s Oranges and Lemons.

Prince begins with some mysterious talking. I sense some kind of psychodrama in development, like the Purple One’s about to do his very own, funkified “Street Hassle.” Here’s a big, cheesy chorus, complete with Sam Ash Sound instrumentation. And then it ends.

Yet another Prince song based on big blocks of synth chords with Sam Ash Sound guitar fills and a cast of thousands singing tight harmonies on the choruses. This isn’t bad, but it’s not “Little Red Corvette.” Again, though, although the notes being played are interesting, they don’t sound like musical instruments. It might as well be that band in Jabba the Hut’s club playing. (Prince fans: do you sit around listening to that band in Jabba the Hut’s club?) Here’s one of his patented group talk-sing parts with a lot of phony, arranged “party hoots.” (Prince fans: how many times, on average, have you seen Cats?) Prince fans: do you typically experience difficulty taking a healthy dump? I’m choking from the lack of oxygen in this music.

The dry, funky “Thankyoufalettinmebemyself”-style riff that kicks off the song is promising, but quickly he’s getting into Cats-harmony territory. It sounds like the lyrics are supposed to be about street violence, or something like that. Prince doesn’t strike me as a guy who’s ever walked down a city street. Does anyone know anything about his childhood? I mean his real childhood, not that Purple Rain fantasy of standing doe-eyed in a doorway while some amazon chick parades across the room. The guitar licks at the song’s fade are cool. Gotta love the Southern Rock harmonies!

“When You Were Mine”
I’m surprised that the title of this song actually spells out the word “you,” or maybe even the collection’s compiler couldn’t bear to pass on that tired “Prince spelling.” I may know this song. Isn’t this one that rock guys sometimes cover to show they’re down with Prince? Damn that guitar sounds direct! What am I missing here? Why shouldn’t I listen to a poorly produced Squeeze song instead? Why shouldn’t I listen to George Michael instead? At least his production doesn’t suffocate me. This wouldn’t be terrible as a demo for an actual band to cover using instruments made of once-living materials.

“Sign O’ the Times”
Where’s my inhaler? It’s really hard to buy Prince as some street savant. Maybe I’m underestimating the guy, but he prances around like a china doll. Even when gazing doe-eyed at his worshipping flock of amazon women he doesn’t seem like he ever touches them. This guy and his music creep me out!

I sense from the title alone that this is going to be some “inspirational” song. At least it’s not a ballad but, rather, a song based around…big blocks of synth chords. And here comes the cast of thousands singing tight harmonies on the chorus! I have to respect how alien this guy is, but I can’t tune into music that sounds like this. If I’m going to listen to stuff this processed I don’t want to pretend it’s some kind of upbeat party music. It’s the same problem I have with a couple of the late-period Talking Heads albums. I can’t party down with robots! Get some real flesh playing wooden instruments, otherwise let me listen to something that uses technology to point out how cold and isolated we’ve become, like a Laurie Anderson album.

“Damned if I Do”
This would make an interesting deep cut by an underachieving artist, like Todd Rundgren or Jason Falkner – or Prince, I suppose. Totally Prock! Is it just because these are deep cutz, or are lyrics typically not a strong point of The Artist? UGH! What’s this little latin breakdown in the coda? Actually, it’s kind of growing on me the way some of Stevie Wonder’s least-necessary latin breakdowns can. In fact, I bet a couple of those instruments are made from once-living materials! Now, back to the Sam Ash Sound on the guitar. Too bad.

“Crystal Ball”
This one runs for 10:28 and starts off with white noise and some kind of pipes of pan toots. The title tells me this may be highly significant in the development of the Prince persona. Now…WTF?!?! Prince is singing in some kind of faux-stoned Sly Stone voice. The music is occasionally interesting. If a bass guitar would ever enter this song (or any song on the album – there’s a distinct lack of bass in Prince’s music, isn’t there?) it might go somewhere. Cool guitar riff with some “untuned” effect? I want to hear Prince shout out, “Bass player!” the way he did “Maceo!” on the first song in this mix. I don’t think that’s going to happen. Oh well, I dig stuff that adds up to about as little on my War albums, so why shouldn’t I enjoy this number for what it is?

Hey, did he just call in the bass player? Yes, listen to that ridiculous, processed bass solo. This is the best track in this collection. Prince sounds like he’s actually going to grab one of his amazon women as he plays a little solo. There’s a serious braniac instrumental arrangement going on – more of an ensemble piece than a “solo.” Pretty cool. Promising. Is this what all the musical fuss is about? Now there’s another interlude with silly drum solos that sounds like it belongs in a “rock” musical, but I’ll forgive him for moving back into Broadway territory. I’m 9 minutes into this song, and I don’t feel like opening an investigation on the life of the friend who made me this collection.

What’s Hear Factor?


  12 Responses to “Hear Factor, deux: Prince, Deep Cutz

  1. BigSteve

    I’m definitely onboard the Prince train, but when he pitch shifts his voice into female range it’s kind of icky. Polymorphous perversity is part of Prince’s appeal, but it can be a little (or a lot depending) creepy.

    What’s strange is that when Laurie Anderson pitch shifts her voice downward into the male range, it doesn’t seem as creepy, to me anyway. Androgyny affects us differently when it goes in different directions? Maybe I can test this theory, since she’s got a new album coming out imminently, and this is the cover:


  2. bostonhistorian

    Prince, ELO, and ZZ Top? I guess we now know where PEZ gets its name.

  3. hrrundivbakshi

    Oh, Mod. How can you be so wrong about music, and still be so funny about it?

    More later, just wanted to thank you for giving the old college try.

  4. I haven’t gone through these closely, but as you know, I’m also in the Prince camp, although I have certain reservations that are associted with his 80’s tendencies in terms of production. But the first song on this has bass,real bass; it’s right there at the center of the piece.

  5. Mr. Moderator

    Yes, the first one has bass. That was big of him. I’m telling you, when you (geo), HVB, and BigSteve pass can you donate your brains to RTH Labs for analysis? I have so much trouble hearing Prince as anything but a Sam Ash version of a number of much better artists from the ’60s and ’70s. He has a remarkable ability to take older forms of music that I like and make them sound like Kidz Bop and those other TV ad hit parade knockoffs.

  6. I too am on the Prince boat, during his heyday anyway. The pitched-shifted vocals don’t bother me too much, as long as he uses it for the occasional song, as on Sign o’ the Times. The idea of a whole album in that vein — the lost Camille — is intriguing, but also possibly unnerving.

    I don’t know all these songs. “Mountains” is great, but “Sign o’ the Times,” I think, is one of the more dated entries from the classic era.

  7. jeangray

    Whoever made you this mixx has done you a real disservice. This is NOT an acurate representation of the diminutive one’s true abilities. He really has many other / better deep cutz than this! For reals!

  8. hrrundivbakshi

    Hey, jeangray — what would you have included on this comp?

  9. hrrundivbakshi

    Summarizing Mod’s *feelings* about Prince:

    I can’t tune into music that sounds like this. This guy and his music creep me out!

  10. jeangray

    HVB & Mr. Mod:
    oKay — Well now that I’ve been called out, it’s time to put my $$$ where my mouth goes. Here yous go:

    1) “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”
    2) “Uptown”
    3) “Private Joy”
    4) “Lady Cab Driver”
    5) “America”
    6) “Life Can Be So Nice”
    8) “Play in the Sunshine”
    7) “I Could Never Take the Place of
    Your Man”
    9) “Anna Stesia”
    10)”Money Don’t Matter Tonight”

    I wish I could send a zip-file of this comp., but mos’ of this stuff I only have on vinyl.

    Thoughts: Does Mr. Mod jus’ not like any ’80’s Musiks?

    I do not get the whole Sam Ash Sound idea, even after re-reading the definition. Just too esoteric for me I guess. Makes me wonder what Mr. Mod’s fave guitar tone / sound is. One my favorite things about Prince is his guitar soloing / guitar sound.

    He makes a good point about the lack of low-end in a lot of Prince’s Musik. Seems ironic for an artist that is so rhythmically orientated. I included the song “Uptown” partially because of it’s prominent bass-popping part. Somehow, I don’ imagine Mr. Mod to be a fan of bass-popping.

    I will admit that mos’ of Prince’s Musik is engineered to death. I would love to hear him recorded live to 2-track playing in a power trio. Somehow, I don’ imagine power trios are big for Mr. Mod either.

    And the only songs Mr. Mod did seem to semi-like were more recent ones! And I didn’t include anything on my list past ’91. Funny!

    P.S. No disrespect to you HVB! Jus’ a little insomnia induced hyperbole on my part, please forgive my transgression.

    Wanna put this comp. into a zip-file for Mr. Mod & I?

    Doesn’t hurt to ask.

  11. Mr. Moderator

    It’s good to hear your thoughts on this, jeangray. A couple of the song titles you suggested are familiar to me, but I don’t recall liking them either. In fact, there are few Prince songs I like at all. The song “Controversy” and some other songs from that stripped-down (no pun intended) album are sonically cool. “Little Red Corvette” is pretty good despite a few incredibly cheesy passages. “1999” is very good, but I prefer the similar Madonna song, “Like a Virgin.” “When Doves Cry” is pretty great – and it’s complete lack of bass is aesthetically perfect. Although I haven’t heard it in years and may not remember the title correctly, my favorite Prince song is “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” It sounds like a classic soul ballad, and it sounds pure and heartfelt. Prince fans probably find it disappointing because its celebration of lovers, sistsers, and mothers does not intertwine their roles in salacious ways – and because Prince delivers the song with none of his ass-less chaps-wearing panache – but I welcome its absence of Prince-ness.

    The sounds of ’80s music was a GIANT stumbling block for me. I strongly dislike that sound – the pumped up drums, the DX7 punches, guitars leads that sound sprayed out of an aerosol can… There are even rock ‘n roll albums from later in the ’80s that aren’t bad but still bug me for their BIG DRUM SOUND and tight-ass bass playing (ie, a strict adherance to the belief that the bass needs to “lock in” with the kick drum – at a certain point, Why bother?).

    I can’t help but feel that rock ‘n roll, as I love it, pretty much died after 1983, when Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom marked one of the last albums made that had all the sonic characteristics of ’70s and ’60s music that I grew up loving in a somewhat non-retro way. (Really, the use of Geoff Emerick to produce a most-Beatlesque album is highly retro, so maybe Trust should mark this point, but whatever.) I like my share of post-1983 rock ‘n roll, but most of it sounds like it was made prior to the introduction of the ’80s aesthetic.

    Someday I need to write down my short list of truly ’80s songs that I truly like, you know, that induce goosebumps and all that jazz. I know the list would include “Don’t You Want Me Baby,” “Like a Virgin,” a half dozen Echo and the Bunnymen songs (although they’re very ’60s in terms of song structure), a few Cure songs, “Born in the USA” and “Dancing in the Dark,” one of those New Order hits (“…blue eyes, gray eyes…”)…

    You’re right, jeangray, I’m not a big fan of bass popping. It usually sounds like the bass equivalent of Eddie Van Halen’s showboating fretboard tapping to me.

    I’d be willing to hear another comp of Prince stuff. Perhaps I like the most recent stuff (I had no idea) because from what I’ve heard, in recent years Prince has finally begun to catch up with the times and started making more “natural”-sounding albums. The guy’s obviously got a ton of talent.

  12. I’ll come clean. As much as I like Prince, it sure ain’t for his guitar sound and I’ve conceded that a lot of his stuff lacks depth in the sound. But I think that lots of the stuff that he puts out melodically, and especially harmonically, is so cool that I can lsten past the Sam Ash sound. And he even made that sound work for him on “When Doves Cry”. Another weird thing, and I’m certain HVB will agree with this, is that in a live setting Prince somehow comes across as a very self-aware, down to earth fellow with a sense of humor about himself. Yes, I know there isn’t a hint of this person in any of the product he’s put out or anything you’ve ever seen in the press, but in a live setting, he’s actually personally engaging.

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