Album Review: Originals, Prince

4 out of 5 stars

What’s almost as impressive as Prince’s string of hits throughout the 1980s was the number of songs that he wrote for other artists. From Sheila E. and Sheena Easton to the Bangles and The Time, many hits of these groups can be traced back to His Royal Badness.

And that’s the topic of Prince’s latest posthumous work, Originals. They’re songs that Prince either gave away or were covered by other artists – only these versions are by Prince himself. Want to hear Prince sing “Manic Monday?” It’s on here.

Prince’s version of the hit song by the Bangles doesn’t stray too much from the original, although Susanna Hoffs’ voice is much more pleasant to listen to than Prince’s unenthusiastic drone sung one octave lower than it should have been. You can tell it’s a demo, but you can also hear the Bangles’ version, from the strings to the pleasant piano riffs that are featured throughout. It’s Prince at the height of his psychedelic, paisley underground phase.

Carbon Copies

But most of the time, we hear the songs almost exactly the way artists released them. Prince had many protege acts – Sheila E., Apollonia 6, Vanity 6, The Time – and he dictated almost everything about their careers, from what they should sing and how they should sing it, to their names and costumes. “Jungle Love” is almost a carbon copy of The Time’s hit single, without Morris Day’s humorous ad libs.

The same goes for Apollonia 6’s “Sex Shooter.” This time Prince delivers it in his usual falsetto, and it’s so much better than hearing Apollonia trying to sing. Sheila E.’s hit single, “The Glamorous Life,” is also similar to the cover, albeit without Sheila E.’s remarkable drumming. And “Baby, You’re a Trip” is much better with Prince’s vocals than with Jill Jones’ voice. It should have been a Prince single.

And I’ve raved about Prince’s version of Martika’s “Love…Thy Will Be Done” before. To get a clean copy of this is worth the price of the CD itself.

The time when Prince’s original pales in comparison to the cover, ironically, is “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Prince’s version has a refrain where the vocals match the guitar note for note; it’s kind of creepy, and it interrupts the flow of the song. Sinead O’Connor’s heartbreaking version features strings, more pleasant chord progressions and better production – although both sing it passionately.

This album is probably only for Prince fans; most people will have heard the cover versions and wonder what all the fuss is. But the fuss is over Prince’s sheer volume of songwriting talent; he threw away and gave away so many hits, and it makes you lick your chops at what else is in that big vault at Paisley Park Studios.