Prince: Hit N Run: Phase One

Prince breathes new life into his vintage sound with occasionally brilliant results

Prince's new album opens with allusions to "1999" and "Let's Go Crazy." But it's less a re-creation of those Eighties classics than an attempt by the more restless-minded Prince of today to reimagine the funky precision and effortless mastery of his glory days in new ways. It might be the most collaborative album he's ever made, with a bevy of guest musicians and vocalists — most prominently co-writer/co-producer Joshua Welton and, on one song, the backing band 3rdeyegirl, who worked with Prince on 2014's willfully eclectic Art Official Age and Plectrumelectrum.

Hit N Run (which is being released exclusively through Jay Z's streaming service, Tidal) is similarly hit-or-miss. Dance jams like "Fallinlove2nite" and "Ain't About 2 Stop" thump authoritatively enough, but experimental swerves like the EDM-tinged "X's Face" feel forced. In one odd choice, "This Could B Us," a sparkling ballad from Art Official Age, is transformed into drab electro-gauze. "Sade and Babyface/R&B ain't got no place," he sings on "Hardrocklover," a slow-mo guitar blowout. But the soft-and-wet sensuality of R&B often provides the warmth and give of Prince's music. That comes through here (see the spaciously reflective Sign 'O' the Times callback "June" and the elegant love note "1000 X's & O's"). If only he'd really relax and let it flow a little more.