Wednesday, May 7, 2008
An unjustly overlooked Prince "album" released in 2002, One Nite Alone was released by him in 2002, by special order and features The Purple One by himself, swooning listeners with just his voice and a piano.
It's pretty weird to hear Prince in this way, but fuck it is sexy.
An NPG Music Club exclusive release, One Nite Alone… features Prince mostly alone at the piano performing 10 songs. One Nite Alone… was the first album delivered to NPG Music Club members after the club changed its format from monthly downloads to actual album releases. The release date, May 14th, refers to when shpping to fans began (the first reports from fans having received the album occurred on May 15th). Five of the tracks had previously been released to members of the music club. “Pearls B4 The Swine” was included in the “Ahdio Show” released on September 18th 2001. “A Case Of U,” “One Nite Alone…,” “U’re Gonna C Me,” and “Here On Earth” were released in the last instalment, January 17th 2002. Thus, NPGMC members had already heard half of the album before receiving the CD.
Subtitled “Solo piano and voice by Prince,” One Nite Alone… was produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince. John Blackwell is credited as drummer on two tracks, “Here On Earth” and “A Case Of U.” While piano is the primary accompaniment, many tracks also include synth embellishments. “Here On Earth” and “A Case Of U” feature bass in addition to Blackwell’s drums. “Pearls B4 The Swine” has an even fuller arrangement, consisting of piano, synth, percussion, and semi-acoustic guitar and bass.
The album was recorded some time in the spring of 2001, apparently during the mastering of The Rainbow Children. It is clear that many of the songs were recorded in sequence, much like Prince has been known to do many times in the past. However, it is quite likely that Prince also added a couple of tracks from other sessions. “Pearls B4 The Swine” has a different sound and arrangement, indicating that it might have been tracked on another occasion. Possibly, “Here On Earth” and “A Case Of U,” both featuring Blackwell, were also part of a separate session. The remaining seven songs were recorded with Prince at the piano, with synth overdubs added afterwards. Despite some differences in the instrumentation, most of the songs seem to merge into each other, like movements in a classical suite.
Not unlike the primarily acoustic guitar-based The Truth, One Nite Alone… is a subdued and intimate-sounding album. In many ways, piano is Prince’s most personal “voice,” as indicated by piano-based songs of the past, including “The Beautiful Ones,” “Old Friends 4 Sale,” “Condition Of The Heart,” and “Anna Stesia” to name but a few. Many fans commented on the NPG Music Club website that the album was “extremely intimate and personal” and that Prince “speaks from the soul” and is “sharing intimate details of his life.” Certainly, one can hear every note and nuance, including when Prince lightly pounds his boots to keep the beat or is drawing a breath. Thus, the intimate atmosphere creates a feeling of actually experiencing one night along with Prince. Still, One Nite Alone… does not express more heartfelt emotion than an average Prince album. Indeed, most of the songs cover highly familiar Prince themes, dealing mostly with relationships.
The title track concerns a love affair, described as a “little secret.” Prince asks his lover, “Tell me now, what’s your name?”, indicating an anonymous one-night stand. Recalling “The Ride,” Prince wants to know, “Do you like it fast, or do you like it slow?” “U’re Gonna C Me” finds Prince longing desperately for an ex-lover. He admits, “There’s never a minute that I find that you don’t ever cross my mind.” He would stare into the sun if she were his, because “it’s not so great a leap since to all others [he is] blind,” a line which brings to mind “Adore” on Sign O’ The Times (“If God one day struck me blind, your beauty I’d still see”). “Young And Beautiful” offers moral advise to a young, carefree girl, the type that populated so many of the songs in the first half of Prince’s career. Acting as a guardian of morality, Prince tells her that she doesn’t “have to do what the other ones do,” and he warns her that “they only want your virginity.” Thus, the message is at the other end of the scale of a song like “One Nite Alone…,” revealing the dual nature of Prince’s personality.
Two songs express romantic bliss. “Here On Earth” depicts a “young woman running for her very life,” trying to escape from her partner. However, it turns out to be a dream and Prince leans over and kisses his woman, realising that “here on earth, with you, it’s not so bad.” Oddly enough, the chorus is written from a first person narrative, but the rest of the song is written from the point of view of Prince as an observer. In “Objects In The Mirror,” Prince reveals that his favourite time with his woman is the time they share in the bathroom, brushing their teeth and posing in the mirror, after making a movie, “The kind that requires the title ‘Parental Advisory.’” He sings of how much they can share since they are “the same height, weight, and body fluid.” The title of the song alludes to the closeness Prince feels with his partner, as “the objects” are closer than what they appear to be in the mirror.
“Pearls B4 The Swine” concerns an affair that is over. Prince asks why they had go their separate ways, hoping for a reconciliation. In the end, he realises that his hopes and words are futile, being “pearls before the swine.” Similarly, “Have A Heart” portrays a failed relationship, with Prince hearing from a mutual friend that he broke his ex-partner’s heart. Prince doesn’t take the blame, instead asking rhetorically, “Don’t you have to have a heart first before you get it broken?” He argues that “everybody has had a heartbreak” and implies that she was the reason for the break-up, mentioning the “things you put me through” without specifying what happened or why they broke up. Prince delivers the words in a soft, tender voice (not his falsetto), revealing little of the bitterness evident in the lyrics. One of the songs digresses thematically.
“Avalanche” is an angry protest against the poor treatment of Afro-American people in the US. The first verse accuses USA’s first President Abraham Lincoln of being a racist because “he was not or never had been in favour of setting our people free.” The second verse names John Hammond, one of the most venerated figures in the history of American popular music. He recorded Benny Goodman, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday. Later, he signed Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen to CBS. Prince’s disdain for music industry moguls and managers is well known and he depicts Hammond as someone lurking in the shadows where Afro-American musicians play, “With his pen in hand, sayin’, “Sign your kingdom over to me and be known throughout the land!’” The title of the song comes from Prince’s analogy of individual snowflakes, which cannot be blamed for an avalanche, and people who do not want to take responsibility for their actions. The song is far more serious than the other songs. Prince has been hesitant to include songs that take a stand on racial issues, possibly fearing that it will alienate some of his WASP audience.
The album includes a version of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of U” (originally titled “A Case Of You”), a song which Prince has performed many times over the years, beginning with the 1983 First Avenue concert where he premiered much of the Purple Rain material. This is his first known recording of the song. The song was originally released in 1971 on Mitchell’s highly acclaimed Blue album, which is also one of her best-selling albums (it sold over a million copies at a time when such feats were exceptional). Prince dedicates his rendition to the memory of his father, John L. Nelson. The topic of the song has been much debated. Brian Hinton speculates in his Mitchell biography Both Sides Now that the song could be about ex-lovers Graham Nash or Leonard Cohen. However, he also believes it could be a message to Mitchell’s abandoned daughter, who is being bid goodbye to. The lyrics imply that love is never lost, but can be recreated in memory, as if new born. Prince sings the first verse of the song, which portrays her as a “lonely painter,” something which Prince clearly could identify with. The allusion to his father is also obvious with the lyric, “Part of you pours out of me from time to time in these lines, you’re in my blood like holy wine.”
The piano medleys of Prince’s concerts, from the Lovesexy tour and onwards, have always been amongst the fans’ favourite part of the show, so an entire album of piano-based material seemed like an excellent idea. However, the One Nite Alone… material cannot be compared to such extraordinary songs as “Starfish And Coffee,” “Strange Relationship,” “Venus De Milo,” and “Raspberry Beret,” to name a few piano medley regulars. The songs on One Nite Alone… lack the distinctive, memorable melodies and assertive choruses of Prince’s pop/rock material, being more gentle and subdued, leaning more towards complex jazzy melodies and harmonies. The material is calm and relaxing. Prince sings most songs using his sensitive falsetto vocal, adding to the tranquil atmosphere.
Much of the songwriting of One Nite Alone… is sketchy and unfocused, with several of the songs sounding tentative, giving the impression that Prince didn’t spend much time on the songwriting. The obvious highlight of the album is “Avalanche,” a melancholy-tinged bluesy number which is deeply felt and touchingly sung by Prince. His falsetto voice cracks with emotion at times. In a clever musical illustration of the title of the song, the chorus comes rolling in over the end of the first verse, very much like an avalanche. Starting off with some Chinese-flavoured piano, “Young And Beautiful” is the album’s most lively, pop-oriented number, with a chorus that has a slight hint of “Little Red Corvette.” The tempo is faster than the other songs on the album and Prince’s piano playing is more chord-based and rhythmic. “Have A Heart” has a more defined melody than most of the other tracks, to the extent that Prince recycled the melody line in “Objects In The Mirror.”
One of the most fully developed songs on the album, “Pearls B4 The Swine” seems slightly out of place as it doesn’t feature piano as the main instrument, instead boasting a much fuller sound of piano, synth touches, light percussion, and semi-acoustic bass and guitar. In fact, the song has more in common with the primarily acoustic guitar-based The Truth. The song is a gentle number with jazz-tinged harmonies, although it is not particularly engaging. “Here On Earth” also has a fuller arrangement, featuring a bass line, light brush drumming by Blackwell, and a high-pitched synth line á la some of Prince’s “silky smooth” songs and remixes (including “18 And Over,” the “Mustang Mix” of “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World,” and the “Remix by Shock G.” of “Love Sign”).
The closing “Arboretum” is an instrumental. It starts off with an arpeggio piano part, sounding like a clichéd classical piece, but Prince changes gear after a few seconds, delivering a soothing, laidback piece that is more decorative ear-candy than engaging listening. The album ends with the sound of Prince getting up from the piano and walking to a door, which he closes behind him after having spent “one night alone” with his listeners.
Ultimately, One Nite Alone… wasn’t intended for mass consumption or to compete with Prince’s more mainstream-oriented pop, rock, funk and R&B music. Still, the album is a pleasant experience, showcasing another facet of Prince’s musical vocabulary.
One Nite Alone