TRACK REVIEW: Prince - Don’t Let Him Fool Ya

TRACK REVIEW:

 

 

Prince

Don’t Let Him Fool Ya

 

9.4/10

 

The track, Don’t Let Him Fool Ya, is available from:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlBabpqIfXQ

GENRES:

Funk/R&B/Pop

ORIGIN:

Minnesota U.S.A.

RELEASE DATE:

7th November (YouTube)/8th November (Spotify), 2019

LABELS:

NPG Records Inc./Warner Records Inc.

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THIS time around…

I am taking a slightly different approach to the review, whereby I am assessing a song from an artist who is no longer with us. Prince died in 2016 and, since then, we have seen a few posthumous releases. I am one of those people who is interested in posthumous releases, but I do feel like estates will release anything to keep the fans happy. It can get a bit disrespectful and the quality does dip. In the case of Prince, there is this legendary vault that contains all the material he recorded; it is said that he has enough stored in there to keep people happy for many years to come. Whilst some artists who have died sort of recorded everything whilst they were alive and there might not be too much more left in the cupboard, in the case of Prince, there is this treasure trove of material. I will not do my usual review structure where I discuss various subjects and apply them to the wider musical world. As this is Prince, I wanted to concentrate on him and talk about various things specific to him. Before moving on, NME tell is about his latest track, Don’t Let Him Fool Ya:

 “Recorded in 1982 at the late icon’s home studio on Kiowa Trail in Chanhassen, Minnesota, the track will appear on a new reissue of ‘1999’, which is out on November 29.

The song is among 35 previously unreleased tracks on the forthcoming reissue.

Fans will be able to get their hands on a Super Deluxe Edition (comprised of 10 LPs and a DVD), a Deluxe Edition (2CD or 4LP 180g vinyl/download and streaming), or the standard remastered version (1CD or 2LP 180g Purple Vinyl/download and streaming).

The Super Deluxe Edition’s DVD is a full, previously unreleased concert film shot at Prince’s Houston Summit show in 1982. Also included in the top-tier package are 23 previously unissued studio tracks (recorded between November 1981 and January 1983), and a complete live audio performance of the ‘1999’ tour”.

I do love the fact that Prince spent so much time at his Paisley Park estate and crafted so much material. It might be sad to reflect on the notion of him alone and not really having anyone in his life. To Prince, music was his religion and real calling. He did get time to experience love, but one feels a more solitary life suited him; maybe he was not comfortable with the idea of being a family man and choosing that path. It is sad we will never get another interview from him or witness one of his blistering live performances. It will be four years next year since he departed, and we are still getting so much interesting stuff coming out. This latest track was mooted for an album that was released nearly forty years ago. I do wonder just how deep his archive is and whether we are going to get material that was recorded right at the start of his career. Prince released a lot of material in his lifetime and, whilst his later albums might not rank alongside classics like Purple Rain, one had to marvel at the sheer drive and work ethic of The Purple One. He was completely besotted by music and was, I think, trying to express himself through his art in a way he couldn’t do away from it. Many artists do that, but I think Prince did struggle and had a tough time of things. That might sound vague, but I can sort of identify with someone who could not navigate life and the usual social routes like everyone else; who might have felt a bit overwhelmed by things and had that one passion that consumed him. The hours he logged at Paisley Park means fans will get to hear his work for a very long time to come. Although one or two of the posthumous cuts have not been world-class, the overall quality is surprisingly sharp and it means we are all looking forward to seeing what comes next.   There is that ethical argument that asks whether it is right to release material by artists after they have died; they did not have say and the sense of control has been lost. That is true of many artists, yet Prince had this vault so that people could hear his work when he had passed. I do agree that many estates are trying to generate money from artists when they have departed, but Prince’s estate know that he would have wanted these songs out, and it would be a shame to see them locked away and ignored.

I want to move on and discuss a few other things about Prince. There has been talk for years about a biopic and documentary. I do wonder whether it will ever see the light of day, but a Prince biopic would be amazing. There is an ethical debate as to whether anyone can portray Prince and whether it would be right. I think a documentary would be great, but there are many networks and production companies who are trying to bring Prince to the screen. I am sure Prince’s diehard fans would be divided when it comes to a biopic, but there are many out there who would love to see it happen. This year has seen a lot of biopics coming to screens and it seems like Hollywood’s appetite has not dimmed. I can appreciate how a biopic keeps a musicians relevant or alive; it means they can reach new generations and we can see the music burst and be explored in a new way. Prince is a fascinating icon but, as he is gone, will we get a fair representation and will it do him proud? I think talk of a biopic has died down a bit but, back in December of last year, this article arrived that discussed a possible biopic and the best way to approach it:

Hollywood’s obsession with throwback aesthetics can really push boundaries, and right now, a movie based on Prince‘s music catalog is catching my eye. Variety dropped the news that Universal Pictures has finally acquired the rights to a number of musical classics by the late pop icon after the studio “aggressively” worked to get them. The word is that Prince’s estate has been shopping the film’s concept for a while, although we shouldn’t hope for a typical biopic to be put in the works.

Instead, a jukebox musical centered on Prince’s music will spawn from this deal. This is evidently preferable to any run-of-the-mill biographical drama, as the estate figures that the musician’s feature film debut Purple Rain already covers those bases. This in spite of the fact that Purple Rain is still a largely fictional take on the artist, even if it has helped to craft Prince’s elusive image over the years thanks to his memorable work as its protagonist, the Kid.

PHOTO CREDIT: Manuela Testolini 

The bottom line is that mining Prince’s songs for a movie that could potentially align with his values is the way to go. There are already a couple of Prince-centric ventures in development as it is. Ava DuVernay and Netflix are teaming up for an epic documentary about him. Elizabeth Banks wants to retell the story of a chambermaid who accompanied Prince to a film premiere in her hometown (becoming a “queen for a day”). Universal is avoiding the competition of fidelity in favor of something more creative and that makes their project noteworthy”.

Not to completely exploit his name, but I think a think a Prince musical could be a better step. Instead of having a usual biopic structure, you could bring something to film or the theatre that would do him proud. I think there was talk of a musical, but I have not seen that materialise. There might be a musical in the U.S., but we have not seen anything in the U.K. It is difficult to balance things and make a project that will please everyone. However Prince is represented on the screen or stage, it is impossible to encompass all sides of his work and not omit anything. A lot of biopics have been criticised for either holding back when it comes to sexuality and explicitness – that is true of the Queen and Elton John biopics -, or there are issues with timelines and facts. As this article from The Guardian explains; would filmmakers strike that golden note?

Prince’s evocative and lascivious songs could tell any number of stories, but it’s probably fair to say the film won’t centre on Darling Nikki, the sex fiend whom the singer meets “masturbating with a magazine” in a hotel lobby. At best we might be granted a montage scene set to Gett Off, although 23 positions could be a lot to get through in four minutes. The point is that Prince’s music is daring, spiky and kinky, and it might be hard to tease out a coherent narrative from songs as different as Raspberry Beret and I Would Die 4 U. It’s also likely that the queer edges of Prince’s music might get blunted by this type of endeavour – although if the film features a take on When You Were Mine with a male-male-female threesome in it I will be the first to doff my cap”.

Whilst we might have to wait a long time for a film or theatre production to arrive, there is a Prince memoir out in the world. The Beautiful Ones was originally designed to be the best book ever – that is what Prince had in mind. He was still working on it just before he died, so it is a case of the work being unfinished. It is out now and, if you want to grab a copy, there is a lot to enjoy:

Prince was a musical genius, one of the most beloved, accomplished, and acclaimed musicians of our time. He was a startlingly original visionary with an imagination deep enough to whip up whole worlds, from the sexy, gritty funk paradise of “Uptown” to the mythical landscape of Purple Rain to the psychedelia of “Paisley Park.” But his most ambitious creative act was turning Prince Rogers Nelson, born in Minnesota, into Prince, one of the greatest pop stars of any era.

The Beautiful Ones is the story of how Prince became Prince—a first-person account of a kid absorbing the world around him and then creating a persona, an artistic vision, and a life, before the hits and fame that would come to define him. The book is told in four parts. The first is the memoir Prince was writing before his tragic death, pages that bring us into his childhood world through his own lyrical prose. The second part takes us through Prince’s early years as a musician, before his first album was released, via an evocative scrapbook of writing and photos. The third section shows us Prince’s evolution through candid images that go up to the cusp of his greatest achievement, which we see in the book’s fourth section: his original handwritten treatment for Purple Rain—the final stage in Prince’s self-creation, where he retells the autobiography of the first three parts as a heroic journey.

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The book is framed by editor Dan Piepenbring’s riveting and moving introduction about his profound collaboration with Prince in his final months—a time when Prince was thinking deeply about how to reveal more of himself and his ideas to the world, while retaining the mystery and mystique he’d so carefully cultivated—and annotations that provide context to the book’s images”.

In the same way we might see a rather watered-down and edge-less biopic, there are those who have reviewed the biopic who say it lacks real surprise and passion. Perhaps it is because Prince died unexpectedly and he was not able to see the project through to completion. It is tragic that he never got to see the memoir hit the shelves. He did have high hopes for it but, sadly, he died in 2016 and there has been this long period where others have been involved and the final product is not quite as electric as it could have been. I want to bring in a couple of reviews that explain how, even though the memoir is pretty good, it is not quite as strong as it could have been. Here is a sample review:

This book is the shadow cast by one you will never read. On 29 January 2016, Prince chose Dan Piepenbring, a 29-year-old Paris Review editor, to help him write his life story. Less than three months later, he died, from an accidental fentanyl overdose, at the age of 57.

Prince’s original title remains, but instead of being the formally radical memoir that he hoped would be “the biggest music book of all time”, The Beautiful Ones is a curious collage of autobiography, marginalia and memorabilia, introduced by Piepenbring’s memories of the artist’s final months. The author credit is therefore a conundrum. Is this truly a book by Prince – or just one about him?

As a child, Prince used to scan the world with uncanny intensity, as if it were “coded for me”. In that spirit, perhaps the best way to approach The Beautiful Ones is as a dossier of evidence for the reader to decode.

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His idiosyncratic likes (Chaka Khan, Kung Fu Panda 3) and dislikes (Ed Sheeran, Ayn Rand), along with his thoughts on race, religion and music, help to make a star who was often regarded as an otherworldly enigma feel like he would have been fun to hang out with, his astronomical self-belief salted with a lively sense of humour. When Piepenbring praises his writing and adds, “I’m not just saying this to inflate your ego,” Prince laughs: “I don’t think you could if you tried”.

I do feel like Prince is a figure who had such a rich life that, like a biopic, a memoir cannot really do full justice. If Prince were to write it all himself and still be working on it now, maybe he would have put out the book that he always envisaged. Not to say The Beautiful Ones is a disappointment: instead, there are glimmers of brilliance and insight. That said, Slate remark how there is plenty on offer:

What follows are a couple hundred pages of previously unseen flotsam—photos, drafts of lyrics, notes on the Purple Rain screenplay, a storyboard for a video, etc.—salvaged posthumously from the somewhat disorganized archives at Prince’s Paisley Park compound, accompanied by some quotations from press interviews over the years. All of this material is charming, often hilarious (it includes Prince’s high school cartoons and his sarcastic captions to a photo album he made while recording his first album in 1977 and ’78), and occasionally fascinating. Perhaps most striking is the Purple Rain treatment, where we find a much younger Prince again writing at length about his upbringing, this time in the guise of the backstory for the movie’s fictionalized protagonist, who was at this stage called Prince instead of the Kid. While it’s obviously exaggerated—instead of a divorce, he has the parents’ relationship end in a murder-suicide—the way he writes there about the mother’s drinking, the father’s fits of domestic violence, and the emotional trauma they inflict on their child feels like it adds something, at least in feeling and likely in fact, that’s missing from the middle-aged Prince’s more guarded and perhaps sentimentalized account. How much so, I suppose now we’ll never know”.

Prince counts in Don’t Let Him Fool Ya and, when contemplating the introduction and the beats, there is a little element of Let’s Go Crazy (from 1984’s Purple Rain). You can sort of hear the direction Prince was moving in when he recorded Don’t Let Him Fool Ya in 1982. Whilst a lot of Prince’s best music was recorded at Paisley Park, this track was laid down at his home studio at Kiowa Trail in Chanhassen, Minnesota. The synths and electronics swoon and brood in a funky and sexy way; the beats are tight and driving whilst Prince’s vocals are typically striking and tasty. If you can hear Prince in modern artists like Jay Som and Childsih Gambino, there can only be one original. Here, on this unreleased track, The Purple One is seemingly talking to a girl who has been fooled by a sweet-talking man. Maybe she has been sucked in and charmed by someone who is going to leave her. “I know he got a big old Cadillac…” says Prince and, whilst that sounds decent, the man is going to have to take it back. Whether that means he is a liar or he does not have the money to afford it, it results in the same thing: heartache for the heroine. One can imagine Prince watching from afar as this woman is being taken in by this snake. The man has fancy clothes, sure, but he cannot afford them and he will soon be stripped of his assets. Considering the tone and sound of songs that made it onto 1999 in 1982, I wonder why Don’t Let Him Fool Ya was omitted. It is a song that, whilst not the best cut on the album, would have made a worthy addition! The song’s title is a mantra-cum-seduction that warns the girl off him but also, oddly, sort of brings her closer to Prince. I feel like Prince is talking about a man who was spinning lies and, with him being revealed and outed, he can now make his move and show he is stronger and better.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

There is always something sexual in Prince’s voice, so you never know whether he is looking to make a move or simply providing wisdom and warning to a woman who is being fooled. Prince went to City Hall to pay some bills and saw a picture of the man hanging on the wall – he is wanted and a deadbeat. The best Prince tracks are those that get you singing along instantly and stay in the head for days. Whilst Don’t Let Him Fool Ya does not sport a chorus as rapturous and memorable as 1999, there is more seduction and foreboding in Prince’s voice. Rather than provide a celebratory song, this is a moment that requires a measure of maturity and calm. That said, the sheer passion and energy that is provided pushes the song forward and rattles around the brain. There are wonderful growls and purrs from Prince; the hook is pretty epic and memorable. In fact, Don’t Let Him Fool Ya seems similar to I Would Die 4 U in terms of the composition – I can hear some similarities. It is clear that Prince had seeds of Purple Rain in his mind in 1982 and was moving in that direction. The more you play Don’t Let Him Fool Ya, the more you wonder why the song was not on the 1999 album. I think it could have fitted on the second side and offered a new angle. Maybe Prince felt the song was not quite finished; it is not as tight as other songs on the album and could have worked fine as a B-side. No matter, because we have this great song that is delighting people. Even the songs Prince didn’t release are stronger than most of what is out in the world right now – showing how far ahead of his time he was and what a genius he was.

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Usually, I would end the review by saying what an artist is up to and where they are going next. Sadly, with Prince, we do not have tour dates to look forward to. As I opened by mentioning his vault of unreleased material, it is not the case that Don’t Let Him Fool Ya is the last we will hear from Prince – far from it! There are different estimates out there regarding his vault and how many years of songs are in there. I do think there are decades worth left unreleased, so we can still hear the master do his thing long, long after he left us. There are question marks in the air regarding a Prince biopic or musical. I would like to see something that does him proud and ensures Prince’s incredible genius is fully displayed. Maybe we will get something in 2020; one cannot deny that we are feeling Prince’s loss hard. I will end by paying a tribute to an icon that is still thrilling us years after he died. It was a shock when he died in 2016, and I wonder what plans he had regarding new albums and projects. Prince was discovered at his Paisley Park estate, so he was going about his normal working day when he died. I feel like he would still be touring and would have released, maybe, four or five albums in the time since his death. There is nothing we can do to bring him back, but we are lucky that Prince was so prolific and gave so much material to us when he was alive; he has left this vault that will continue to bless the people for generations. Has there ever been anyone as alluring and captivating as Prince?!  In terms of musicianship, he was spellbinding; he remains one of the greatest singers ever and his musical palette was so diverse! I shall wrap things up in a minute, but I want to bring in an article that captures some beautiful words by poet Hanif Abdurraqib; he penned these for the introduction to the book, PRINCE: The Last Interview:

To call a musician ahead of their time is an oft-used phrase that — far too commonly — gets attached to some mundane or uneventful exercise: a suggestive lyric here, or a music video there. For Prince, to be ahead of one’s time meant to have an active hand in both shaping music — how it would be heard, how it would be interpreted, how it would be distributed — and how he would use it to shape himself for generations to come.

Though Prince could be a difficult interview subject, I can’t help but sympathize with his reasons for being so. Interviewing at its best is a match between what a speaker is willing to give of themselves, and what a listener is willing to take away. I’ve been on both sides of that table; I have sympathy for both speaker and listener. Interviews can fail when there is an expectation that something large must be revealed: some long-held truth, finally unraveled for a waiting public. I find the best interview — as both speaker and listener — is one of restraint, where the tools necessary to unearth something during the more silent moments — patience, a sharp ear, and a ready pen — are used to bring about some of the best moments of the conversation.

For a lifetime spent first trying to figure Prince out, only to end up attributing him with an over-imagined lore, it was easy for me to detach from the idea that Prince — as mystifying as he managed to be — was also very human. It was there in his music, his visuals, his passions and his curiosities — his humanity. And toward the end of his life, it seemed the being human was his biggest shift yet. During a 2014 interview for Rolling Stone, Prince tells Brian Hiatt that he is entirely uninterested in talking about the past, despite that his past had, by that point, held so many gems worth unearthing and unraveling. “there is no place else I’d rather be than right now,” Prince tells Hiatt. “I want to be talking to you, and I want you to get it”.

I can imagine it will not be long until we are treated to a new Prince song or album! There have been generous offerings through 2019, so I feel 2020 will be ripe with new stuff. It seems off saying ‘new’, knowing that Prince recorded this material years ago. His loss will be felt for decades, for there is nobody as enticing, regal and brilliant as Prince! Whilst Don’t Let Him Fool Ya is not the strongest posthumous cut I have heard from Prince, it is a fantastic song and one that could easily have fitted on an album like 1999. I shall wrap things up here to say that, whilst we miss the master every day, the fact he has this stuffed vault of fantastic music means that Prince will be with us…

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FOR a very long time to come.

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