From the opening notes of Prince’s HITnRun Phase 2, it seems like a return to the days of the Purple One’s midcareer classics like “Cream,” “Most Beautiful Girl in the World” and even “Kiss.” “Baltimore” feels good—churning, sleek, a bouncing to a rubbery beat—and that vibe permeates his latest collaboration with the New Power Generation.
But even through the positive musical vibes, HnR2 shows Prince sowing seeds of social commentary. He sings in “Baltimore,” “Does anybody hear us pray for Michael Brown or Freddie Gray / Peace is more than the absence of war… We’re gonna see another bloody day / We’re tired of crying, and people dying / Let’s take all the guns away.” Like Stevie Wonder and Sly Stone, hard truths are best served in a way they’re actually heard.
The serious elements don’t overtake HnR2, though. It’s not steeped in decrying social injustice. Instead, the album is a call to the kind of funk that closes over your head like too much champagne. Undulating, fizzy, and almost light-headed, this is music to induce a euphoria that lifts skirts and spirits.
Songs like “Stare” hilariously harvest Prince’s past. It tumbles with horns, invoking references to “Sexy Dancer,” “KISS,” and more specifically, “playing onstage in our underwear.” Prince also returns to topics more carnal. If more romantic than raw, in a world of cheap and sleazy hook-ups, he reminds people putting a genuine connection into the collision adds satisfaction.
In fact, throughout the entirety of HnR2, Prince is seemingly on the prowl, seeking extended coital bliss. It shows in the cheerfully boho tale of “Rock & Roll Love Affair,” the tumbling bass note of “Black Muse” descending into Wurlitzer waves and horn curls, and the piano, chimes and finger pops of the slow jamming “Groovy Potential.” The propulsive “Screwdriver,” equal parts garage rock and lean funk, surges and sweeps the listener into its clutches. The hyper-tempo and the buzzy guitar turn circles, as Prince rushes through verses to get to the exhorting “I’m your driver, you’re my screw” chorus—a tumult of want, build, and release.
While the pace of “Screwdriver” is not so easily maintainable for Prince (an icon of a certain age), that flex adds ballast to even the slighter moments. “Xtralovable” sounds like his impression of Tom Jones fronting Earth Wind & Fire and the pleasant enough. Closer “Big City” offers a metaphor for his paramour’s ability to make everywhere the big city ultimately falls short.
Maybe that’s the point on HnR2: Sometimes what feels good plays to the place between the ears, but doesn’t require stopping the moment to parse the songs. Sometimes it’s as simple as drop the needle and surrender to wherever the music takes you.