Saturday, April 30, 2011

Worth the Effort: The Gold Experience - Prince - 1995

Prince's massive discography is as full of gems as it is head-scratchers and, while most of it is still readily available, a few of each have fallen out of print and take some digging to add to your collection. Once someone has accumulated the established canon of the Purple One's classics that any reputable music seller should stock, The Gold Experience needs to be the next must-have on the list.
The Gold Experience
The first record to be credited solely to the artist's unpronounceable symbol alter-ego, The Gold Experience was first readied for release in 1994, envisioned as a coming out for the new Artist-Formerly-Known-As/Symbol, paired with Come, which would be credited to the Prince of old. Warner Brothers was reluctant to release too much Prince material simultaneously, Prince painted "slave" on his cheek and claimed he was permanently throwing The Gold Experience back into the vault.

Come came and went and, almost exactly a year later, Warner Brothers released The Gold Experience. The record hit #6 on the Billboard 200, reaching #2 for Billboard's R&B albums. Three singles charted ("The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," "I Hate You" and "Gold" hitting U.S #s 3, 12 and 88 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively). Why, then, its production ceased, is beyond me.

The Gold Experience succeeds for me as, with the best of Prince's recordings, it marries R&B, funk and straight-up rock via plenty of guitar. It is immediately dated by the narrative presence of the "NPG Operator" between tracks but this is easily remedied with selective CD or iTunes programming. Kicking off with two raging rockers, "Pussy Control" and "Endorphinmachine," The Gold Experience hooks the listener immediately. Prince's phrasing and vocal delivery are among the most assertive and authoritative he has ever delivered and his guitar leads are absolutely sizzling.

"Shhh" settles into a classic NPG groove and "We March " presents the record's one overtly socially conscious number which, frankly, doesn't work for me. I hate to be hit over the head with a message, even if it's one I agree with. "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," a monster ballad, was a hit and deservedly so. The album mix presents much more guitar and percussion than the single mix and is far superior.

A number of tracks; "Dolphin," "Shy" and "I Hate You" are more traditional R&B offerings from Prince and the New Power Generation and, while they balance the record well, they're overshadowed by uptempo danceable rockers like "Now," "319" and "Billy Jack Bitch."

"Gold" closes the album much as "Purple Rain" did for its namesake. A slowly building, colossal anthem, it gains critical momentum five minutes in and erupts into a searing guitar solo. The single release edited nearly three minutes out of this epic and really doesn't do the song justice.

Somehow The Gold Experience got lost amidst the drama of Prince's public battle with Warner Brothers and the many releases ('94-'96 saw five Prince records - one a triple-album - hit the shelves) that surrounded that feud. While record buyers may have reached their saturation point at the time, The Gold Experience deserves a second chance - or first if you've never heard it before. It's hard to find in stores, often demands a price higher than the average used album but it's worth the effort to find and, once found, you won't want to let it go.

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