Emancipation (1996)


  
Disc One 1. Jam of the Year 2. Right Back Here in My Arms 3. Somebody's Somebody 4. Get Yo Groove On 5. Courtin' Time 6. Betcha By Golly Wow 7. We Gets Up 8. White Mansion 9. Damned if I Do 10.I Can't Make U Love Me 11.Mr. Happy 12.In This Bed I Scream Disc Two 1. Sex in the Summer 2. One Kiss at a Time 3. Soul Sanctuary 4. Emale 5. Curious Child 6. Dreamin' About You 7. Joint 2 Joint 8. The Holy River 9. Let's Have a Baby 10.Saviour 11.The Plan 12.Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife Disc Three 1. Slave 2. New World 3. The Human Body 4. Face Down 5. La, La, La Means I Love U 6. Style 7. Sleep Around 8. Da, Da, Da 9. My Computer 10.One of Us 11.The Love We Make 12.Emancipation

 

After listening to this massive collection, my first instinct was to give this an extra half-star based solely on volume. Then, later, I thought about taking away a half-star for the very same reason. This was definitely a puzzler. How does one review a brand new triple cd of all new songs?

Plus, each one of these cds is (exactly) one hour in length (more on that oddity later), so we’re talking 180 minutes of music. Back in the day before compact discs, this translates into about five full length albums. Has any artist in the history of recorded music been able to churn out music at such a pace? We must also remember that, with Prince, this wasn’t a one-time deal. Oh no. His entire career featured double, triple, quadruple, and bonus cds that he would release every year. It’s enough to make your head spin. Whereas all of this sounds like a fan’s dream-come-true, when we’re actually exposed to such excess, you almost wish that you never wished for such a thing. Talk to someone who’s won the lottery – they’ll tell you that you can have too much money. The rest of us will never believe it until we (will probably never) experience it. With music, Prince shows us that it’s very possible to have “too much”.

Anyway, let’s talk about the music. It’s great. There. Simple enough. Surprisingly, it’s a bit toned down from a few of his recent releases. This was his first album where he was completely free of his Warner Brothers contract. Yes, he had been known on his last couple albums as that “unpronounceable symbol”, but he was now able to do exactly what he wanted. With a name like “Emancipation” chocked with 36 songs, you would almost expect this thing to be some sort of grandiose epic designed to propel the listener to untold galaxies of everything and every style related to Prince. But no, this is mostly a bunch of low key R&B numbers. He definitely throws in a bit of dance, a bit of pop, a bit of gospel, and a bit of rap, but even when he does, such elements are mostly a somewhat subdued affair. This isn’t a record that sets you on fire, but rather provides you with a warm fireplace on a cold day. So as good as all of these songs are, 36 is simply a tad too much. I can’t even listen to the whole thing from start to finish. My limit is one disc at a time, and at 60 minutes, even that can be a bit too much. Not surprisingly, the songs at the end of each disc are the ones the least memorable to me because, well, I simply get tired of listening at that point.

Which leads me to another minor gripe. In very Prince-like fashion, he decides to make each of these discs exactly 60 minutes in length. Although this is quite an accomplishment, it’s a bit of an unnecessary one. There are several songs here that sound as though they should be quite shorter than they are, but it’s obvious that Prince had to stretch the tracks to meet his time quota. It’s not a huge deterrent, but if he could have shaved 10-15 minutes off of a 180 minute collection, it probably would have improved things.

It also needs to be mentioned that this is the first time we hear Prince covering other people’s material. There are four covers here, and they all seem to be odd choices. He does the Stylistics, the Delfonics, Bonnie Raitt, and Joan Osbourne. It shouldn’t come as a shock that each one of these songs is doggone brilliant. You wouldn’t expect, for example, that he could cover Osbourne’s One of Us with such determination, but it actually sounds better than the original – which only came out about one year prior. He even manages to sound more like the Delfonics than the actual Delfonics on La, La, La Means I Love U. You almost wish that Prince would do more of other people’s material since he does it so well. But, well, let’s face it, he simply has too much material to worry about such a feat. This album exemplifies that fact quite well.

Should this thing have been whittled down to, say, a double disc? Quite frankly, no. There’s simply too much awesome material here. The upshot is, like having too much money, one tends to not quite appreciate these songs as much as they should. That, in itself, is a bit of a letdown, but it is the lesser of two evils.

Yes, it is possible to have too much good stuff.

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