Prince put out two back-to-basics LPs in 2014, but ultimately he was outdone by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk,” which rode his classic Minneapolis sound all the way to Number One. Late in 2015, he came back with another one-two punch – the second half of which is a well-timed reminder that nobody knows how to funk you up better. HitnRun Phase One seemed to focus on where Prince wanted to go – EDM-inflected bangers, poppy dance cuts – but Phase Two, with its brassy, buoyant arrangements and cheeky lyrics, embodies the artist in his natural state as a soul-funk master.
It adds up to his most consistently engaging album in years, blending in echoes of the ghosts of Prince past (à la “Sexy MF” and “Come”) while still sounding refreshingly modern. The Freddie Gray tribute “Baltimore” is among his catchiest latter-day singles, and he never loses sight of hooks on “Stare,” “Black Muse,” and “Screwdriver.” Better yet, he seems like he’s having fun: On “Look at Me, Look at U,” Prince jokes that “even Ray Charles can see” the chemistry he has with a woman (“Stevie Wonder can too”), and deep into the elastic “Stare,” he says, “Can I get a kiss?” before playing his iconic guitar scratch from “Kiss.” Elsewhere, he goes all-the-way horndog. “Whenever you need someone to take a shower with, call me up,” he proposes on “Xtraloveable.” The chorus to the James Brown-ish “2 Y 2 D” goes, “She’s old enough to do you/But too young to dare.” Hey, he told us years ago that he had a dirty mind. But it never gets in the way of his musicianship; Prince’s crisp, bluesy guitar solos shine throughout (see “Baltimore” and “Revelation”). As eclectic as he can be, Phase Two is what he does best.