NEW YORK: Prolific pop icon Prince is out with a new album of dance-friendly funk and, in the latest twist to his tortured relationship with the music industry, he is exclusively streaming it.
Called “HitNRun Phase One,” a reference to the famously eccentric singer’s recent tours where he announces concerts hours before taking the stage, the album out Monday recaptures the vigorous feel of live Prince who remains sprightly at 57.
Prince released the album only on Tidal, in a coup for the streaming service led by rap mogul Jay Z that has struggled to make its mark since a star-studded debut in March.
The immediacy and artistic control of Tidal appealed to Prince, who in the early 1990s wrote “slave” on his cheek and changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol to protest label Warner Brothers’ control over his copious output.
But his latest move is especially striking as it comes little more than a year after Prince reconciled with Warner, which put out two of his albums simultaneously in September 2014 and agreed to release remastered editions of his earlier work including seminal 1984 album “Purple Rain.”
Not a ‘slave,’ again
Prince, whose latest is his 34th studio album and third in less than a year, rejoiced that he was able to put out “HitNRun Phase One” just 90 days after a single meeting with Jay Z.
Prince, echoing an argument made by Jay Z after he bought Tidal from Swedish-Norwegian company Aspiro for $56 million, said that the growing streaming industry — which lets subscribers listen to unlimited music on-demand online — could transform the industry by letting artists bypass corporate structures.
“Record contracts are just like — I’m gonna say the word — slavery,” Prince last month told a small group of reporters he invited to his Paisley Park estate outside Minneapolis, according to National Public Radio.
Prince, expanding on his views in an interview with the African American-oriented magazine Ebony, said that the Internet age meant there should not be a “one size fits all” model for music.
“LeBron James, his deal is a completely designer deal, completely different than any other basketball player. So that’s what we need for the future,” Prince said, referring to the Cleveland Cavaliers star.
As he reached his deal with Tidal, Prince pulled his catalog from rival streaming services but suddenly in July put out a single song — “Stare,” which does not appear on his album — on industry leader Spotify.
Prince’s views on the Internet have swayed widely throughout his career. He was an early enthusiast but in 2010 declared the Internet “completely over” and released an album as a free CD bundled in European newspapers.
Hitting the dance floor
“HitNRun Phase One” takes on the feel of a live concert from its first moments, which open with a snippet from classic track “Let’s Go Crazy” before transitioning to the uptempo funk of “Million $ Show” with vocals from his protegee Judith Hill.
Prince, fond of offering fresh takes on his songs, sums up the idea of “HitNRun Phase One” on “This Could Be Us,” which also appeared on one of his 2014 albums.
In its first incarnation, “This Could Be Us” harked back to the age of Prince’s intense ballads, his voice showcasing its still spellbinding falsetto.
For “HitNRun Phase One,” “This Could Be Us” turns into a steamy dance track, with a beat that complements the song’s most memorable line, “Sex with me ain’t enough / That’s why we gotta to do it metaphysically.”
On “Fallinlovetonight,” Prince brings out synthpop keyboards whose club energy but minor-key undertones are reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys.
Notably absent from “HitNRun Phase One” is Prince’s renewed political side. It does not include “Baltimore,” an indictment of police brutality he debuted before a benefit concert in the violence-scarred city in May.
But Prince gets introspective in album-closer “June,” an apparent allusion to his birth month, as the spirited artist questions whether he belongs to an earlier era.
“I should have been born on the Woodstock stage,” Prince sings. “But I’m just here, waiting.”