Various Artists - Controversy: A Tribute to Prince
Tue 15th Apr, 2008 Music Reviewsin
‘Tribute’ albums consisting of cover versions of well-known artists’ backcatalogues are always something of a tricky proposition – particularly when the subject in question is someone as prodigious and inimitable as Prince. While there’s certainly do doubting the strength of his intimidating massive backcatalogue, most of the artists who’ve successfully ‘covered’ his hits have done so because they’ve been specifically given the song to perform by Prince himself – witness TLC’s success with the Prince-penned ‘Waterfalls.’
The history of previous Prince tribute albums is definitely a chequered one, but this latest compilation from !K7 offshoot Rapster ‘Controversy’ aims to remedy this, with a diverse range of artists stretching from Kode 9 and Peaches right through to D’Angelo contributing to the 13 tracks on offer here. Disappointingly, rather than containing any new exclusives, this compilation gathers together its tracklisting from previously-released material, and indeed, I think I originally encountered D’Angelo’s opening cover of ‘She’s Always In My Hair’ on one of the ‘Scream’ soundtracks (which could say more about my dodgy listening than anything else). In many senses, it’s one of the more ‘respectful’ re-interpretations assembled here, clinging fairly close to the original’s funk-rock template, but in doing so, it simply highlights the vast vocal (and instrumental) gap between even as gifted an artist as D’Angelo and Prince himself. Stina Nordenstam’s stripped-back, downbeat version of ‘Purple Rain’ unfortunately suffers a completely different fate entirely – by recasting the original in a morose, acoustic setting, it pretty much robs the original classic of all of its hooks and power.
Ditto, unfortunately for Blue States’s John Barry-esque recasting of the previously jaunty and upbeat ‘Alphabet St.’, which gets ground down into MOR mush, and Hefner’s trip-hop / indie take on ‘Controversy’ (a massive missed opportunity, if ever there was one). Despite these gripes however, there’s still the odd unexpected pleasure on offer here for the patient. 7 Hurtz’s inspired collaboration with Peaches on ‘Sexy Dancer’ results in streamlined electro retake that adeptly blends ad-libbed pre-club NYC conversation with samples of the original track, before Atom Heart/Senor Coconut’s Uwe Schmidt makes a cameo as LB, twisting ‘Batman’ soundtrack offering ‘The Future’ into a fantastic glitchy slice of leftfield electro-funk reminiscent of Modeselektor. Kode 9’s slo-motion dubstep retake on ‘Sign O’ The Times’ meanwhile manages to be the one successful radical stylistic departure here that manages to do the original justice, Space Ape’s spliffed-out drawl added to the sense of mounting paranoia generated by the ominous sub-bass pulses that thunder beneath.
In short, while there’s the odd treasure to be found amongst the tracklisting here, for the most part ‘Controversy’ simply adds to the patchy history already set down by previous attempts to cover the Prince songbook.
Check out www.rapsterrecords.com.