Prince Rogers Nelson. The full name is familiar to most, but the legend was most likely simply referred to as “Prince” (even when his name was a symbol). The name Prince described him perfectly, not because of the indication of royalty that it implies but rather because no other descriptions truly covered what this one singular artist could do rather than his one-named moniker. His first few albums were recorded almost entirely by the man himself, which would be incredible enough if you didn’t include the oddly specific instruments he performed (including clarinet, chimes and water drums). Prince was also a master producer who took complete as much control of his releases as possible. When he would get tossed around, he would find loopholes to get things done his way. Warner Bros. held a grip on his 90’s releases, so Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. Prince created hotlines to call for a four disc release (a three disc album with one more album attached), and extremely private releases for his online fans. He had every song of his torn off of youtube so he could connect to his fans simply by his records. Sure, Prince reconnected with Warner Bros., but they allowed him to finally do things his way.
Prince was born in Minneapolis, and was an icon of Minnesota for his entire life. Paisley Park Records was set up in Minnesota, and Prince would ultimately pass away in this state as well. This location still didn’t quite pin down Prince (even excluding the fact that he resided in Ontario’s Richmond Hill as well). His music cycled through different dimensions, mind sets, and levels of love. As a personal figure, Prince seemed maybe inhuman in a bizarre way. Kevin Smith went on an hour long rant as to why he will never work with him. He’s had problems with many other celebrities. One thing is for certain: When that man stepped out onto a stage, or when his music began on a release, you were transfixed in such a way that most musicians cannot replicate. Prince was a performer; period. He was the only one, and one cannot come after him.
His music studied sexuality, spirituality and humanity. This exploration even developed into the origins of the Parental Advisory sticker (as Tipper Gore heard her child listening to Darling Nikki and decided to revolt). He felt every quality of what it means to be a person down to his core. He created alter egos, bordered on the line of androgyny, spoke to the listener directly, became alien lifeforms and even simply didn’t say a word at all on a couple of releases. He always knew how to melt into the infrastructures of the human body, with his music coursing through your veins and his words sending shocks through your nervous system. He even dabbled with the world of cinema, where his soundtracks could compliment a film he created new characters in or as their own unit. Some of this films didn’t quite make the cut. In fact, a lot of his albums didn’t. The point is Prince tried everything and he tried often. He always experimented, and you cannot fault his efforts when you see how he truly was one of the hardest working artists in history. This is especially true when you witness his successes: works that could not be replicated ever again.
Prince just knew how to get to you with song after song that can induce goose bumps and raised hairs. Even on the albums that would leave the least amount of impact on you, you would take away a few songs that moved you. You would be affected maybe for the duration of the song, the rest of the day as the melody stuck with you, or the rest of your life. Prince always found a way to connect with everyone (and not just his key audiences). With his extremely sudden death, the whole world stood still. His vault was pried open, and years of albums were found. However, the music he wanted us to hear will stand the test of time. With nearly forty studio releases, there are many places to start. I have avoided listing the countless other albums that could be featured (including his releases with his muses, his side projects and more) because those warrant their own attention. For now, to commemorate this unique gem of an artist, here is a list of every Prince studio album ranked and ending with his best release.
By far his most substandard album that he ever released. Ideas are tossed all over the place and not much sticks with you. Where he painted worlds before, here he is merely hanging up quick sketches without much to take away from it. Forgettable and occasionally a chore. It is evident that Warner Bros.’ control was in charge of this material, as Prince would soon release much better songs after this album.
- Chaos and Disorder-5/10
It’s a shame that this album is Incredibly cheesy, as Prince usually dispelled schmaltz with his work. This was meant to be a final straw to get out of his Warner Bros. contract, and it is obvious. It sounds like a watered down Lenny Kravitz at times, maybe as an attempt to remain marketable and sell an album he had no interest in making. A severe low after the wonderful The Gold Experience.
- Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic-5/10
Way too poppy in a cookie cutter blue print way, which usually is something you would never have to worry about with Prince. One or two songs I like on this release, and the rest are either doomed from the start or start off nicely and get overly cheesy. The sex appeal is sounding really awkward now, too, and is far more forced than it has ever sounded. Not great.
- Planet Earth-5/10
Another free album in Prince’s catalogue that feels just like that. Two songs caught my attention (Guitar and Chelsea Rodgers). Everything else is preachy about the environment (especially the opening and closing songs) or feel like half finished jingles. One of the more simplistic and basic albums in his discography. While a lovely gift to receive for free,
3rdeyegirl are incredibly talented and help bring some of the flashiest material Prince has had in a while, yet it all still sounds confined. The music sounds free when it is played, but the songs themselves have little room to breathe. The Prince that used to make worlds out of minimalism isn’t here. The most technicality heard on any album of his in years, but the songwriting isn’t nearly as flashy or inspiring.
- The Slaughterhouse-6/10
Similar to the companion album The Chocolate Invasion, The Slaughterhouse is also hard to describe. Unlike The Chocolate Invasion, there is less here that sticks out, and this album is unfortunately bland. One or two good songs, and some cool moments (the ending synths to 2045 Radical Man) do not save a mostly boring album.
- Hit n Run Phase One-6/10
Is this Prince’s attempt at house music? It oddly works at times, and at other moments, it’s pretty awkward. A bizarre album that feels guilty to like some parts and hard to like the rest. By far his most polarizing album to me. There is a little bit of great and awful of every aspect here. You will definitely find gold here no matter which aspects stick out to you.
Lovesexy was recorded in 7 weeks, and it sadly kind of shows. This was made to replace The Black Album and was quickly put together. As a result, this is the first Prince album to feel all over the place and unfocused. Some solid moments, especially considering the production. Otherwise, not too keen on this one, as it is the first release in Prince’s catalogue to not hold up.
Sadly not as explorative and psychedelic as it could have been. Something like 1999 does a better job at transporting you to another planet, even though this album tries to do just that and has more capability with the advanced recording equipment. The album is mostly stale even with its attempts. Lastly, the censorship that now appears on his work is extremely awkward; why mention expletives and censor it rather than not mention any at all?
- Crystal Ball-6/10
By far some of his most juvenile lyrics ever (what the hell is with all of the “boning” lyrics?). Unlike Emancipation, this triple disc is shorter and yet somehow appears to last much longer. This feels like a collection of b-sides and half completed songs. This triple disc set is much less successful than Emancipation. Most of the ideas just do not connect here. Crystal Ball remains mostly a collectors item for die-hard Prince fans.
Part 1: 7/10
Part 2: 6/10
Part 3: 6/10
In ways better and worse than Lotusflow3r. MPLSound seems more creative and of another universe (an attempt what he tried to achieve on the other album). However, the lows are not boring but are annoying instead. The auto tune, the over theatrics and more features on this album make the good moments stick out more like gems while the rest festers. Also the final song (No More Candy 4 U) is the worst Prince closer in his discography.
20Ten is inoffensive, but also way too safe in execution. One of the late career albums of Prince’s that does’t quite have an identity. It feels like a series of quickly put together songs and not a complete album. 20Ten has alright moments and nothing here is horrendous, but this release is just unimpressive. This album does not quite deserve the bashing it has received, nonetheless.
- For You-7/10
Prince’s first album has a few lacklustre moments, but it has some big thrills, too (I’m Yours, In Love). For You is a big showcasing of one man’s talent, for the most part. It’s insane that one person conceived this entire project. For You is worth the visit (or revisit) for new fans or old fans.
Aside from being a soundtrack, Batman is a pretty interesting pop album with interesting moments. There is the odd lull, but otherwise Batman is quite solid. This album is definitely more watered down than some of his other work from the 80’s, but this is certainly not a bad album. While cuts off of this album have outlived it, the whole album is worthy of being listened to.
- The Truth-7/10
The Truth is not bad. It is kind of mediocre at times, yet it is nice and refreshing to hear Prince take a different approach. With an all acoustic album, this is a new side of Prince that will get better later on in his career (with One Nite Only). The Truth, on the other hand, just feels too similar the entire time, and only a few tracks stand out well. This single record is, oddly, the biggest reason to pick up Crystal Ball.
- Graffiti Bridge-7/10
Graffiti Bridge is a bit overlong but almost always catchy the entire time. You can see the huge directional shift into the New Power Generation’s age here, with a focus on connecting with the band members. This feels less like a solo Prince effort and more like a Prince and Friends release (as did NPG). As a result, there are some special moments here. You may find more cohesive results elsewhere, but Graffiti Bridge is highly likeable.
- Hit n Run Phase Two-7/10
Despite the name, there is virtually NO correlation to Phase One aside from the odd referencing of his back catalogue. This is a really weird pairing of albums that do not match. Nevertheless, Phase Two is a much better album in terms of orchestration, and it has much more of a spirit to it. This works as a touching final album that may not wow, but it reminds you of the fun and heart Prince could have more than most of the latter albums in his discography.
This was Prince’s big breakthrough, and being a self titled effort makes it all the more appropriate. The upbeat tracks are spectacular and some of early Prince’s best. The slowdown moments (and there are many) seem a bit too empty, though. Still unbelievable that he did most of this album alone, and the great moments here are a clear indication of the promise Prince showed immediately right afterwards (with Dirty Mind).
- The Vault-Old Friends 4 Sale-7/10
The Vault experiences a slow start, but the album— after the jazzy She Spoke 2 Me— picks up and gets much better. There are some nice jazz pop, motown and funk flavours mixed into this release. This album, despite being barely promoted and an effort by Warner Bros. to regain the attention of Prince fans, is definitely far from his worst (especially considering his albums made during the 90’s).
- The Chocolate Invasion-7/10
The Chocolate Invasion is an effort that is pretty good, despite the weaker sister album (The Slaughterhouse). This is a good, poppy album with a mainstream sound that Prince struggled to find in the late 90’s. I do have to say that it is, some how, the hardest album of his to talk about. There isn’t anything here that particularly makes this release stand out more than the rest. Either way, this is still a good release.
Here is Prince’s hand at post rock/jazz, and it is soothing and chilling at times. Xpectation is a nice little experiment, especially considering that his vocals are not present. Even though this isn’t a masterpiece (something similar ends up being done beautifully with N.E.W.S.), this is the kind of branching out Prince is great at, and I’m glad he had moved away from his late 90’s questionable material. This is not just pleasant, it is refreshing.
One of the comeback albums of his latter career that have some noteworthy moments. An additional amount of unity would have benefitted 3121, but sometimes, this album is both chilling and infectious. This release is more of a continuation to Musicology than Chocolate/Slaughterhouse, and that is always a good thing. 3121 can be a good beginner album for Prince if one wishes to branch out of his acclaimed classics.
- The Rainbow Children-7/10
This album raises my biggest question on this list: What the hell is wrong with the critics on this one? No, The Rainbow Children isn’t a masterpiece, but this is way better and colourful than half the stuff that came out during the 90’s. Maybe parts of this album sound a bit similar to one another, but it’s all magical, passionate and heartfelt. The Rainbow Children is definitely one of Prince’s better albums in the ‘00s.
- Art Official Age-8/10
Art Official Age is easily the biggest surprise I had with this experiment. This is a gigantic improvement in quality, compared to his albums released since 3121. This is the exploration Lotusflow3r and MPLSound should have had, the self reflection 20Ten attempted, and the bite Plectumelectrum desired. It is a shame that Art Official Age is the last great Prince release, because it is the biggest sign of what the great artist still had left in him.
Musicology contains some high highs throughout its runtime. Some songs are the best and most signature sounding Prince has been in years, hence why Musicology remains a beloved album even to this day. The remaining songs are nice and a classy return to form, so you won’t be experiencing any bad (or even mediocre) songs on here. This album was meant to teach people about music and melody, and it carries that very drive.
- Love Symbol-8/10
Love Symbol is extremely theatrical (almost too much so at times), and can be considered one of Prince’s most elaborate efforts. However, some of the best work the New Power Generation did together can be found on this lengthy project. The operatic aesthetics make sense, because of Prince’s ambitions here. A true capsule of his early 90’s music, and a great statement made against Warner Bros.’ control over him.
- One Nite Alone-8/10
Now this is an acoustic Prince album that stays with you! One Nite Alone boasts a great Joni Mitchell cover, pure grace and power, and is overall just exquisite. The controversial line in Avalanche (about Abraham Lincoln being a racist) could have been done without (as it sticks out like a sore thumb), but otherwise this release a triumph. Considering this is a gift to hardcore Prince fans, this is quite the blessing for them and remains one of the most overlooked treasures in his catalogue.
- The Black Album-8/10
The Black Album is the real companion piece to Sign O’ the Times, not Lovesexy. This hidden gem carries a lot of hip hop and funk influence with the gang vocals, satirizing and humour, and grooves. This is a cohesive blend from start to finish. The Black Album got taken away from being released at the wrong time, but it then got brought out to make up for Come, so that works wonderfully.
- Diamonds and Pearls-8/10
This album is like Graffiti Bridge, but way more put together and complete. As well, Diamonds and Pearls is sultry and dream-like at times, and Prince’s cerebral magic works so damn well. There are are few awkward moments only because of how dated they are (the new jack swing moments are hit or miss), but this is only the result of the album’s age. Diamonds and Pearls is mostly a great release, and one of his most nostalgic sounding efforts.
Astoundingly, there are almost no flaws on this three hour epic. You can see the actual creativity that was being restrained during his time at Warner Bros. exploding here. Emancipation contains, by far, some of Prince’s best 90’s material. There are only a couple of duds (including a weird and out of place cover of One Of Us), but this is mostly a jam packed beautiful three hours. Emancipation is a definite must for any devoted Prince fan.
Part 1: 9/10
Part 2: 9/10
Part 3: 8/10
I’m going to put up my shields for this one: I don’t get why Parade is lauded as being a better album than the formerly panned Around the World in a Day. Despite my confession, this is still an excellent and solid pop release, and it functions as a great hub for some of Prince’s greatest mainstream tracks. It’s nicely polished and full of charm even during its final ballad (Sometimes it Snows in April) Parade is a release that is much better than the film it was attached to (Under the Cherry Moon), and it remains one of Prince’s most appreciated records.
Just. Wow. I wish I could leave the review on those two words alone, but an explanation is needed for Prince’s most underrated album. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but this jazz-funk instrumental release is a beautiful madness. N.E.W.S. is easily the greatest experiment Prince had accomplished since the 80’s (all things considered). So textured and nuanced you can cut it with a whole series of knives again and again. Do yourself a favour, and discover N.E.W.S., as it is a different side of Prince you’ll be glad to know. If loving this album is wrong, I don’t want to be right!
- The Gold Experience-8/10
The Gold Experience is the most together Prince had been since his ’80’s material. The unifying theme is well structured, and it pays off with a gorgeous finale Gold (a stunning closer that will never leave you even if you only ever hear it once: his most emotional song since Adore. This is his best album under his unpronounceable moniker, his greatest album in the ‘90s, and his most focused in years.
Controversy is almost a perfect album until the last quarter, which is still a good section of the album (but not quite as good as the rest of the release, which is flawless). The majority of this record is Prince at his prime, and is just irresistibly funky. Like Dirty Mind but more lush and fuller sounding. The themes expand more than Prince had done so before, and he would continue to stretch how far his concepts go from here. Controversy is very catchy, and one of Prince’s best straightforward releases.
- Around the World in a Day-9/10
I am so glad that Around the World in a Day is getting the love it deserves now, because it was maligned at the time of its release as being a massive step down. This album is super funky, and the scope of the imagination here is surreal. Nothing but gorgeous and soulful music. Around the World in a Day was quite underrated, but is gaining steam as of late due to its eclectic styles, global sounds and waves of the future.
- Dirty Mind-10/10
Concise, minimalistic and full of punch. Dirty Mind is one of Prince’s less flamboyant albums (musically, anyways), but it’s a major turning point in where he’d be heading. A prime example of less doing more, as it is short in length, lacking in instrumentation, and simplistic in terms of themes and lyrics. However, Dirty Mind is a miraculous album that shows that a great artist can make gold out of anything. It says a lot that this release broke Prince into the mainstream, and not one of the highly ambitious albums that were soon to come. This is one of the new wave greats.
While Prince has other masterpieces, none quite tap into what 1999 did with the majority of its slow burning, inner collapsing tracks that exist with very little change. This is a lengthy psychedelic trip that sounds more extraterrestrial and other-worldly than he has ever sounded. The sexuality here is at its strongest as well. Essentially, anything Prince does on 1999 put us at his mercy through a hypnotic trance through its entire duration. An incredible feat in funk, disco and synth pop.
- Purple Rain-10/10
Here is Prince’s most iconic album, and it deservedly has remained as such for decades. A wall of sound accompanies the first full band recording of Prince’s, as he is accompanied by The Revolution. His most pop and rock oriented album, Purple Rain contains arena anthems at their finest, as far as I’m concerned. Every song here is worthy of being a single, and it is the kind of album where you will find people who will champion any of its songs as being some of their favourites (and not just specific tracks). This remains the best soundtrack of all time, as it can be the most detached from its source without losing any strength. Definitely the best album to start with if you have never heard a Prince record in full before.
- Sign O’ the Times-10/10
This is it. After nearly forty albums, the appropriately named SIgn O’ the Times is the masterpiece that tops this list of Prince’s releases. This is just so varied and majestic in every avenue it explores, and yet not a single song is weaker or less focussed on than another. So much goes on and yet it is all grounded in one hyper reality created by Prince. There is nothing but flawless execution with every story crafted so strongly. It’s insane how he’s back to a one man show, and yet this sounds even more full than the last two Revolution albums (and more accomplished than anything to come after this). This album is a staple of the ‘80s, of Prince’s canon, double-albums, and the entirety of contemporary music. If you have not heard this exceptional album, make it a priority because it is unlike any music experience you will ever have.