3121 – Prince

In early 2005, Prince received an award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colour People, which was immediately followed by him dazzling the crowd with live performances of “House Quake,” James Brown’s “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing,” Aretha Franklin’s “I’ll Never Love A Man the Way I Love You.” He was later joined by former proteges, Morris Day and Sheila E for their performances of “The Glamorous Life,” “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” respectively. When the performance was over and done, he turned his back towards the crowd and revealed four cryptic numbers: “3121,” which turned out to be the title of his next album, pronounced “Thirty One Twenty One.” Finally released a full year after he had made this particular appearance. After waiting with baited breath, the album was eventually purchased on its release day. This review was originally written back in 2009, but now it’s been cut down, slightly re-written… and finally on display…. for all to see:

3121: This absolutely electrifying title track saw The Purple One reuniting with two of his ex-band members: Bassist Sonny Thompson and monster Drummer Michael Bland. He’s distorting his vocals, therefore creating somewhat of a quirky vibe, the likes of which are quite typical of Prince. Most importantly, he’s being quite innovative. The lyrics directly refer to the house parties that Prince was hosting at his house in Los Angeles at the time, which he of course dubbed “3121.” It was later revealed by Prince during a live performance at the BET Awards in 2006 that “3121” was also a Bible verse: (Psalms 31:21) “Blessed be the Lord, for He hath showed me His marvellous kindness in a strong city.”

Lolita: Song number two on the “3121” album sees Prince reclaiming the Minneapolis Funk sound that he made ever-so-popular back in the early ‘80s with a band of his by the name of The Time, which was of course fronted by the aforementioned Morris Day. “Lolita” has it all: Funky synth lines, a tight beat and a chant of “Fellas! How bad is this girl?” Indeed, this was something that Morris Day did quite a bit of, especially on songs such as, ”Wild & Loose” and “Jerk Out.” Prince was no longer using profanity at this point in his career, yet he still had to stop himself from doing so in this particular song: “Long time ago, we’d be the shhhh…… uh-oh!” Humorously, an audience in Las Vegas decided to fill in the blanks for him when he performed this one live after its release.

Te Amo Corazón: The first single lifted from the album is nice & breezy. Almost Bossa Nova in its structure. Perhaps even a little George Benson influenced with the jazzy guitar riff and scatting. The song seems to be all about how Prince is constantly missing his woman, especially whenever he’s on long flights and that he’s generally afraid of losing her all together. While Prince was doing a press conference for the album, he was asked about a scene in this particular video in which he had to swim in a pool and he made a humorous reference to the “purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka” scene in “Purple Rain.”

Black Sweat: Prince debuted this song on acoustic guitar back in 2004 on the “Musicology” tour in the U.S. As you can imagine, many of the women in the audience were losing their minds when they first heard him singing the opening lyric: “I don’t wanna take my clothes off… but I do.” If “Lolita” was Prince reclaiming the Minneapolis Funk sound, then “Black Sweat” was a result of Prince doing exactly what he did best back in the good old eighties: Funking it up in a stripped-down style and getting nasty as hell, harking back to such iconic songs as “Kiss” and Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl.” The video was shot in black & white and it featured Prince making funny faces while drinking tea as a woman was trying to get his attention.

Incense And Candles: Once again, Prince mellows things out. This time he’s joined by a girl named Tamar, who was his protege at the time. It certainly sounds like there was some sexual tension going on between the two of them: Prince even flirts with her, telling her she’s “been sitting on every last one” of her dinners. Other words, he likes her booty. Yet, at the same time, Prince was having a complex, as he was married at the time. Tamar even tells him not to take off his clothes. Initially, this song was not very appealing, as the vocoder and rap verses about Prince’s car rims seemed a little annoying.

Love: Prince brings us another upbeat type of track, which is kinda funky in places and has a really great hook. He’s joined by Tamar once again, who provides backing vocals. Lyrically, he seems to be responding to someone or something that’s been bothering him for a while: “Stop telling me what you want me to hear, stop telling me what you want me to fear.” He sounds a little agitated when he sings those particular lyrics. The main message, though, seems to be that love will conquer all. Its chorus quotes The Bible: (Luke 6:45) “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Prince follows that Biblical quote with: “Love is whatever you want it to be.” This song certainly had potential to be a huge hit. Unfortunately it never worked out that way. Prince later recorded an acoustic version of this tune and had it streaming on his website at the time.

Satisfied: Prince brings forth another sexy, breathy ballad in which he uses his legendary falsetto. Possibly the first time he ever condemned the use of modern technology, commanding his partner to turn off her cell phone. Who could blame him? Seemed as though he was trying to go beyond just sex, as it features lines such as: “Foreplay starts in the mind.” He even goes so far to say that he’s not talking about anything physical… yet, we all know what he was suggesting. He played this song for the very first time at the NAACP Awards back in early 2005, along with the aforementioned classics.

Fury: Prince played this hard rockin’ Jimi Hendrix-styled tune on an episode of “Saturday Night Live” in 2006, prior to the album’s release. As usual, his performance blew everybody away. “Fury” seemed to suggest that it was all over for Prince and his second wife, Manuela Testolini. The studio version, however, was slightly different, as it featured him adding in some acoustic guitars along with a few licks from his Oberheim synthesiser. If you listen very carefully to this song, you’ll hear a very sly sample of a woman moaning right when he sings the line: “Y’all must have dug it, when you did your thing.” Two different video clips were filmed for this song: One with a straight performance from Prince and another one combined with a “storyline.”

The Word: Reminiscent of “Walk Don’t Walk” from the “Diamonds and Pearls” album. Only this time, Prince seems to be talking about something other than marching to the rhythm of your own walk. By this stage, Prince was a devout Jehovah’s Witness, so he was encouraging his listeners to read “The New World Translation” and to therefore get saved by Jehovah, so we’ll always be protected by him and together we will “safeguard against the forked tongue and the treachery of the wicked one.” Interestingly, the lyrics sheet says: “There’s no reason to feel uneasy,” yet he replaces it with, “No reason to feel such pain.”

Beautiful, Loved & Blessed: Originally the title track of Tamar’s debut album, which was scheduled for a release on NPG Records not too long after “3121,” but unfortunately never released. Prince most likely included this song in order to showcase Tamar’s talents, as she sings the whole first verse, while Prince takes somewhat of a back seat, until they both sing the chorus together. “Beautiful, Loved & Blessed” is certainly quite a spiritual tune, with references to creation, the blood of Calvary and eventually finding “the truth” after begging for it for so long. Perhaps it could be interpreted as a song of encouragement as well. Prince even does a guitar solo on this one, but it’s seemingly not as overpowering as usual.

The Dance: Now it’s time for Prince to get all sad, lonely, vulnerable and even a little heartbroken. He doesn’t want to give his woman any love and he certainly doesn’t just want to just be her friend. Prince even sounds a bit scared of falling in love all over again. Towards the end of this song, he tries to win her back, before capping it all off with a huge scream of: “It’s just not fair!,” which sounds very much like Mick Jagger. The hardcore fans would’ve recognised an earlier version of this song, allegedly recorded for the “Emancipation” album in the mid ‘90s and issued digitally in 2004 on Prince’s NPG Music Club website. It had a much more programmed feel, whereas the version on “3121” has an organic, Latin vibe with an acoustic piano.

Get On The Boat: James Brown was always a huge influence on Prince and this song more or less has James’ name written all over it. There’s even a sax solo by Maceo Parker. Lyrically it’s all about bringing folks together and just having one great big party. That’s what it may be saying if you’re not paying very close attention. If you are, however, you will notice that Prince is indeed singing about a whole bunch of people of all different races and creeds who are all “looking for the truth y’all.” Yet another reference to the Jehovah’s Witness faith. Sheila E plays percussion on this track, it’s a great closer for the set.

Verdict: Whether this album review was written back in 2009, or even today, the answer would still be the same: “3121” by Prince is a solid album from start to finish.