Happy 25th Anniversary to Prince’s fifteenth studio album Come, originally released August 16, 1994.
For a period in the early ‘90s a wall of confusion surrounded Prince as he battled with his record company at the time, Warner Bros., and oscillated between releasing albums under both the Prince and O(+> (Love Symbol) moniker. As a way of fulfilling what he claimed was a restrictive contract, Prince decreed that he would open up the vaults and release previous material under his old identity and new material under his unpronounceable name.
Adding fuel to the funk fire, Prince released the made-for-chart-domination single “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” in February of 1994 under the Love Symbol, proving that he was able to write hits no matter what name he chose.
So when 1994’s Come album arrived it was seen as a calculated closing of the Prince chapter declaring in bold type on the cover the death of Prince (as artist) with the dates “1959 – 1993” emblazoned upon it.
So was this the last new album from Prince? The first of old material?
The answer was “yes” to both questions, as the album would feature music predominately pulled from his 1993 recording sessions (which would also yield the Love Symbol release The Gold Experience) as well as one track pulled from 1991 and orgasmic vocals pulled from ’83—but more on that later. Regardless of when or under which guise the album was recorded, as fans, all we cared about was whether it was any good.
Personally, Come was a bittersweet listening experience as it was the first Prince release since the passing of one my closest friends, a major Prince fan who I would spend hours with listening to albums and dissecting tracks. Not having that opportunity with Come cast a dark shadow over the appreciation for the album, especially when I knew there were songs contained within that he would have loved to hear.
As an album opener, the title track “Come” is as daring and explicit a classic Prince track as they, well, come. Whether out to express or to shock, the track is overtly, sexually graphic, set against a mellow phrasing and arrangement that manages to toe the line this side of seduction. With beautiful soaring horns punctuating the song’s major melody and a bass line that just slivers along the fret board, “Come” sets up the mellower feel of the album. And while one of Prince’s more epic album openers timing in at eleven minutes and thirteen seconds, it never seems to overstay its welcome, slinking and sliding into another phase of seduction and deliverance. Many would try to post-rationalize the lyrical content as being a spiritual arrival, but just one listen will have you thinking otherwise.
The seduction continues with “Space,” a song less concerned with the outer reaches and more with inner desires. With ethereal elements mixed in with subtle, yet passionate moans, “Space” floats over a slow rolling beat and laid back synth runs that swell and carry you with them.
If the first two tracks were seductive in tone, the aptly named “Pheromone” reduces the act down to its primal elements. With a driving beat that seems to increase the tension with each passing hit of the snare, we get a dark and voyeuristic view of the kinkier side of lust as Prince spies on his lover and delivers vocals in a deeper register as if not wanting to be exposed, only breaking free with a supercharged chorus. Intriguing for sure, but the song seems to suffer from a lack of, dare I say, climax and thus feels unsatisfying.
There’s no doubt that Prince had a knack for staying ahead of the musical curve and usually could fashion emerging styles and influences into his own way of working. More of an innovator of musical trends than a chaser of them, it was disappointing when a song would feel like a calculated catch-up. Which is sadly the best than can be said for the Hardcore House inspired “Loose!,” a song that misses the mark and leaves you scratching your head more than moving your feet.
Thankfully, in the next breath, Prince redeems himself with the haunting (re)telling of childhood neglect and abuse he first hinted at in “The Sacrifice of Victor” on the Love Symbol album (1992). With storms brewing and a murky treatment to the bass and guitars, “Papa” is a dark glimpse into the purple psyche. With the same kind of intensity as songs off Purple Rain, “Papa” finds Prince really showing his vocal ability to deliver lyrics with passion and angst as he recounts childhood horrors and leaves us with a warning, “Don’t abuse children, or else they turn out like me.” Whether or not the track is inspired by his own childhood is up for debate and Prince reveled in the private and never truly resolved question the song paints. Perhaps most telling though is the final line that resolves the darkness painted by the song by declaring “there’s always a rainbow, at the end of every rain.”
As if parting the darker clouds that rolled in as the album plays on, “Race” arrives as the undisputed party jam of the affair. Reminiscent of the Diamonds and Pearls (1991) era, the song sees Prince really working those backing vocals against a funky house jam, with a pointed social commentary that aims to unify us all under one race rather than segregate.
With a return to form on the ballad side of things, “Dark” pays homage to the blues that all songs of heartbreak owe a credit to. A beautifully composed song, “Dark” draws strength in its stark and simple composition.
Stripping things back even further, “Solo” presents Prince accompanied only by a harp, as he uses layers of vocals to elicit a mood. Playing off the interplay between the words “solo” and “so low,” this moody piece is a call back to the pure vocal arrangements of songs like “God” and remains one of Prince’s most haunting (albeit a little confusing) moments on record.
Just when you think the best of the album has already been heard, Prince unveils “Letitgo.” Pushing the boundary on one word titles the album’s tracks adhere to, “Letitgo” had hit written all over it. And maybe under a different set of circumstances, say where he wasn’t battling his record company and actually wanted to support the single releases, it could have been one of the more popular songs of the post-Purple Rain era.
One of Prince’s most personal and honest lyrics, “Letitgo” sees him taking stock of his life. Recounting the mistreatment of lovers and others, this is a musical Mea culpa where he laments that there “never was a good seat at any of this man’s shows.” As with the cover art, this is a song about leaving your past behind. A moment of reflection before an artistic rebirth. With a beautiful guitar and organ solo towards the end of the track, “Letitgo” is one of the hidden gems in Prince’s catalogue that deserves to shine brighter than it did.
Closing an album called Come with a track called “Orgasm” is either the fulfilment of a promise or just plain bad. Originally entitled “Poem,” this initially lengthy spoken word piece was cut up and sprinkled over the album as segues and refashioned in this final form. Pulling a guitar solo from his Controversy track “Private Joy,” Prince doubles down on the title by lacing the song with the moans and groans of Vanity lifted from an unreleased track called “Vibrator.” Thankfully the song is short lived. And instead of leaving the album on a fulfilling high (which “Letitgo” does) it leaves you feeling icky and in need of a shower.
As one of his lesser known releases, and arguably not one of his strongest, Come still has moments worth returning to. Quarrels with Warner Bros. aside, it deserved greater support than it received and definitely deserved a greater airing. With standouts like “Come,” “Space,” “Letitgo” and “Dark” contained within its grooves, it is worth rediscovering or, as is more likely the case for many, discovering for the first time.