Prince albums tend to come in one variety, a self-indulgent concept that produces some stand-out singles, although the balance between self-indulgence (“Purple Rain”) and greatness (“Sign O the Times”) isn’t always achieved. Lyrics were never his strong point but the quality of the music is. Even a weak Prince track is still very listenable and comparable in quality to a lot of chart singles.
Like “Planet Earth” was previously, “20TEN” is released as a freebie with certain newspapers. Prince has expressed a desire to find new ways of distributing his music and has banned You Tube and iTunes from using any of his tracks. His explanation: “I don’t see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won’t pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can’t get it.”
“20TEN” is back to basics sexy, soul funk. On first listen “Sticky Like Glue” qualifies as single material but “Compassion”, “Future Soul Song” and “Lavaux” quickly grow on you. In anyone else’s hands “Everybody Love Me” would have been very uncomfortable listening, but Prince is inclusive, “Tonight there’ something in the air/ music of celebration drowning out despair” and later, “ain’t nothing to it but to do it” and it’s a great ending anthem for a live show.
“Act of God” is the political song here and the point “Freedom isn’t free” underlines problems with bankers, the response to Hurricane Katrina and the problems with corporate America. It’s a point he repeats in “Lavaux”, “The cost of freedom isn’t free.”
“20TEN” is classic Prince, but not a classic.