Musicheads Essentials: Prince - Musicology

by

Musicology
Musicology (Courtesy NPG Records)

In his first of three albums put out in 2004, Prince struck a chord with Musicology.

Musicology — which released shortly after Prince was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility — was Prince's most commercially successful album since 1991's Diamonds and Pearls. Call it a coincidence, but Prince had a strategy. On top of being backed by a shiny new major label record deal, Prince was one of the first artists to boost album sales by including CDs with every concert ticket purchase for the 96-date Musicology tour — even promoting the then-novel idea in the title track's music video — which eventually lead to Musicology earning double-platinum certification, his seventh album to reach such success. Prince proved he was a forward-thinking artist at the turn of the 21st century. At a time when iTunes was picking up steam but folks hadn't traded their Walkmans for iPods just yet, Prince simultaneously introduced himself to an entirely new generation of music lovers and again intrigued his fans of albums past.

Musicology's title is misleading: It isn't all about pedagogy. Prince isn't teaching Musicology, he is its disciple. After a decade of experimenting with his identity inside and outside of music, Prince returns to a place where no other musician can meet him: the intersection of soul, jazz, pop, rock and most importantly, funk. And it wouldn't be a Prince album if the lyrics didn't weigh heavy on the heart. In "Dear Mr. Man" alone — one of the most under-appreciated protest songs of the new millennium — Prince covers the 9/11 attacks, big oil, poverty and pollution. Prince's history of hyper-sexualized lyrics were toned down with a stringing theme of marriage throughout Musicology, making love tunes like "Call My Name" and "What Do U Want Me 2 Do" absolute essentials. And contrasting party-centric tunes like "Life 'O the Party" and the unforgettable ballad "Illusion, Coma, Pimp and Circumstance" proved Prince was in his peak form.

Following Musicology's release, Rolling Stone readers awarded Prince as the artist with the "Most Welcome Comeback," but he hadn't gone anywhere. Musicology was indeed for the true funk soldiers.

Sign up for the Purple Current newsletter

Get the latest stories about Prince's musical legacy and updates on what's playing on Purple Current.
Purple Current