In 1995, it was announced on ‘s “The Gold Experience” CD that “Prince esta muerto.” Now that Prince really is muerto, re-listening to his vast catalog is a commitment many may give up on after hearing his biggest hits — if only because his discography is so vast. Yes, it’s well known that Prince was a prolific songwriter. So much so, the vault containing all the unreleased music he recorded is enough for an album release a year for the rest of the century. Being a songwriter with seemingly endless ideas was something that was both a gift and curse for Prince. The gift was that he often heard complete compositions in his head and had the wherewithal to record those songs in his studio in short order. The curse is that not all the songs are good — and he knew that. Indeed, he once compared himself to Woody Allen who, until recently, released a movie every year or so. But not everything Allen makes is good, but every few films are really good to great. That’s a similar track record for Prince. Some albums are pretty ho-hum, but can contain one or two good tracks.
With “Chaos and Disorder,” Prince recorded and released a contractual obligation album for Warner Bros. to fulfill his agreement with the label. With no tour, very little promotion, and a vow that he would never perform the songs on the record live (which turned out not to be true), it’s no surprise that the album stiffed. That may have been okay with Prince since this was the last album he made for Warner Bros. –a label he was fighting with. I bought “Chaos and Disorder” when it came out in 1996, listened to it a few times…and then kind of shelved it. At the time, I thought the title summed up the music contained on the CD. There was no overarching theme, the songs — as the liner notes revealed — were “a compilation…originally intended 4 private use only,” and very little stood out as innovative and new. Remember, this record came off a flurry of releases starting with “Come” and “The Black Album” in 1994, and then “The Gold Experience” in 1995. By 1996, Prince product had essentially flooded the market for two years that there was very little to be excited about because it seemed the guy never took a break. Even my colleague Dave Steed wasn’t too thrilled with the record in the Popdose Guide to Prince when he wrote: “Overall, the album isn’t very good but take a few of the ill conceived ballads out and you have a nice EP.”
Re-listening to the record after 20 years is an interesting time warp of sorts. The title brings to mind when the musical monoculturalism of the ‘80s fractured into more defined tribes. Even Prince seems a bit perplexed by the changes in the cultural lexicon in the title track. And if Prince — a guy who loved to confuse his audience — was confused by the culture in the mid-90s, you know he was feeling less-than-relevant in era that (musically) saw more rigid landscapes where hip-hop, country, and grunge were more or less isolated from one another. Musical cosmopolitanism was out, and a purity of genres was in. Was there room for Prince’s God and sex funk-rock? Not so much. How about now? Well, after spending a number of days listening to “Chaos and Disorder” over and over, the record is a rocker with moments of some Prince’s finest guitar playing. “Zannalee” and the title track have some flat out kick-ass shredding. And while the single “Dinner with Delores” has a kissing cousin resemblance to “Up the Neck” by The Pretenders with the bass line and rhythm guitar — albeit at a slower tempo — the song suggests that sex for Prince is, to quote Chrissie Hynde, all very run of the mill. “Da Bang” (which was left off the original release) is noted for alternating between blues and a kind of punk riff that’s both playful and adds the right amount of spice to a lyrically unimpressive song. “Hide The Bone” is another song omitted from the original release and has a retread quality that’s more of a jam with some good ideas, but lyrics that sound like place markers. “Right The Wrong” is a country flavored tune about social injustice of Native peoples and African Americans. The song feels half completed, but could have been a more powerful statement like the 2015 release, “Baltimore.” “Dig U Better Dead” has a nice groove, but is made more interesting with the mix of voices on the chorus.
Overall, there’s a more playful quality to these songs and Prince is clearly having more fun than the previous releases. The heavier themes of his relationship to God are there, but aren’t explored with the kind of seriousness displayed on earlier records. Sex, another theme that dominates his music, is weaved in ways that fail to shock. As I wrote earlier, even Prince seems bored with the topic and it shows throughout the record. So, lyrically, Prince doesn’t dazzle, but his guitar playing demonstrates he could really, um, rock hard in a funky place. “Chaos and Disorder” wasn’t anything revolutionary, but not everything has to be. Also, the album may have been a toss off, but it’s a toss off of songs that many bands would kill for.