The artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known As Prince has now entered the third stage of his pop career, where his status is now bigger than the actual number of records he sells (the fourth being death and posthumous critical acclaim and record sales). After the heady peaks of Purple Rain twenty years ago, nowadays his ability to shift units is somewhere between The Kaiser Chiefs and the Cheeky Girls. But unlike fellow Third Stagers, such as Michael Jackson or Paul McCartney - or The Kaiser Chiefs, for that matter - he still retains the potential to be interesting.
Today he has tried to boost a fifteen year decline by giving away his record free with copies of a UK national newspaper, rather than selling it in record shops or available to download online. This could be necessity acting as the mother of invention - an acknowledgement of his recent selling power; maybe he was tired of people telling him his recent work was so terrible that you couldn't give it away. Whatever his motivation, it was amusing to hear music retailers whining about this betrayal after the years of "support" they had given Prince - presumably in the same way that crack dealers feel let down every time the Colombian government impounds a shipment of cocaine.
Perhaps the most lamentable part of the story was the fact that Prince fans would have had to buy a copy of the Mail on Sunday to get the album - possibly the nastiest, splenetic, small-minded, vindictive, peevish, curtain-twitching publisher of bile of all British newspapers. The sort of organ that has been reviled by every challenging piece of art and popular culture in the last 100 years. For those of you unfamiliar with Prince's oeuvre, here's the first verse of a song called "Nikki" from the above-mentioned Purple Rain (with apologies to the easily offended):
'I knew a girl named Nikki
I guess u could say she was a sex fiend
I met her in a hotel lobby
Masturbating with a magazine
She said "how'd u like 2 waste some time?"
And I could not resist when I saw little Nikki grind'
Not sure how that would go down behind the lace curtains of Middle England. When the day comes when your work is so ordinary that you're forced to give it away with the Mail on Sunday, I think it's time to throw in the towel. Either Prince has now become so mainstream as to be utterly irrelevant or he must really hate his fans.
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