Prince – ‘Welcome 2 America’ review: purple prophet’s message still sounds fresh on lost album

The first full album of unheard material from the late icon's legendary vault tackles race and injustice through joyful funk

“The world is fraught with misin4mation. George Orwell’s vision of the future is here. We need 2 remain steadfast in faith in the trying times ahead.”

No, this wasn’t a recent post from The 1975’s Matty Healy as he came out of Twitter retirement. These were the words of His Royal Badness Prince, who – way back in 2010 – was writing about the themes of his album ‘Welcome 2 America’. Maybe these ideas are eternal of modern life or are just symptomatic of the 21st Century, or maybe he was a portentous purple prophet? Either way, as the record finally sees the light of day, his words mean as much (or maybe more) now, 11 years later, in our era of doom-scrolling and newsfeed mistruths.

‘Welcome 2 America’ was recorded back in spring 2010, when Prince and his backing band The New Power Generation were preparing for a tour of the same name. The tour went ahead, to great acclaim, but the album was shelved. Much mystery remains as to why, but then again Prince was as much a perfectionist and as he was prolific. He released 39 albums while he was still on Earth, but also locked away at least 8,000 songs underground in his legendary vault at his Paisley Park home and studio in Minnesota. An entire career’s worth of material from one of the true architects of modern pop remains unheard – a secret history waiting to be discovered.

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That’s not to say we need it all, mind. After his imperial ‘80s era, Prince’s edgy and experimental ‘90s days often proved divisive while being littered with greatness. The middling reaction was interrupted by celebration with the psychedelic funk-pop of 2004’s ‘Musicology’ and the slick, riveting R&B of 2006’s ‘3121’, but before and after that the music was coming so thick and fast – and with varied results – that hunger for Prince’s studio output was not what it once was. Come 2010’s ‘20TEN’ (his third album to be given away with a newspaper), he was far more in demand for his prowess as one of the greatest touring showmen on the planet than he was for new material.

An uncharacteristically long four-year wait followed before a new album. The hunger returned with the fervour that surrounded his impromptu run of last-minute surprise London shows in 2014; the new material debuted there really captured the party vibes of those times. The albums ‘Plectrumelectrum’ and ‘Art Official Age’, released later that year with his live band 3rdEyeGirl, were boisterous and effervescent (and he tragically died in 2016).

Perhaps, then, if ‘Welcome 2 America’ had landed back when it was originally intended, it would have fallen on the deaf ears of a world that wasn’t ready. Judging it now, that would have been one hell of a shame.

The opening title track acts as a spoken-word sermon to rally against a country obsessed with celebrity, sex tapes, cheap thrills and easy wins. This was written in the infancy of Barack Obama’s Presidency, but still Prince laments how “hope and change, everything takes forever – the truth is a new minority”, painting the US as “Land of the Free, home of the slave”. The fluid funk of ‘Running Game (Son Of A Slave Master)’ tackles the exploitation of black culture while plunging the dagger once more into the music industry he so famously loathed: “How much do you want for that real dope beat? / Another A&R man lying through their teeth.”

This is music with an effortless groove and an open-eyed social conscience. There’s a sun-kissed ‘70s soul Curtis Mayfield glow to ‘Born 2 Die’, as Prince’s falsetto tells us of a woman doing all she can to keep her “free from the hustle of the streets”. ‘1000 Light Years From Here’ carries the summer-y pop feel of ‘Parade’ or ‘Lovesexy’, while Prince dreams of a new world order without borders or prejudice. Eyebrow raised, fist in the air, this is the same suave and sophisticated soapbox prowess that he gave us on ‘Sign O’ The Times’ and Hit N’ Run Phase Two’s ‘Baltimore’.

The record is also a joyous ride through the annals of music history and the genres Prince helped to shape. ‘Hot Summer’ should be filed next to ‘Guitar’ as an underrated Prince pop-rock belter, ‘Yes’ smashes glam with gospel, ‘Same Page, Different Book’ takes his funk chops on the freest of walks and there’s a gorgeous and aching cover of Soul Asylum’s ‘Stand Up And B Strong’ – all delivered with a zeal for a brighter day, whenever that may come. Prince didn’t know 11 years ago, but that doesn’t make this record any less powerful.

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‘Welcome 2 America’ is an album that speaks to today’s problems and demands to be heard. It’s better to have it now than never. His name was Prince and he was funky, and it seems he has so much more to tell us.

Details

Release date: July 30

Record label: Legacy Recordings

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