Prince Offers New And Rare Tracks Via Online Club

In forums all over the Internet, Prince fans have been discussing His Royal Badness' latest foray into cutting out the middleman — the NPG Music Club. For $7.77 per month (or a yearly $100 premium membership), you get access to a Web site (, which offers new and previously unreleased songs and videos. "Premium" members get a couple extra tunes, a remix CD of Prince's last album, pre-sale access to concerts and first admittance to his legendary after-shows. At Prince's latest stop in Oakland, Calif., NPGMC members got to watch a sound check and then participated in a Q&A session.

So is a NPGMC membership worth the money? The first incarnation of the club made use of an exclusive player that was difficult to download and use. These days Prince is offering songs and video clips in MP3 and QuickTime formats, respectively, which is fine as long as you've got a fast connection to the Internet — thus far there is no concession to those who would like to join but have no Internet access.

The songs offered are a mixed bag. I could have done without live versions of "We March," "Vikki Waiting" and "Letitgo" clogging up my hard drive. Prince does add a little spin to these weak tunes — pumping up the bass here, extending a keyboard solo there — but it isn't enough to redeem the source material. Some NPGMC members complained at this month's fare: slamming funk tracks by longtime Prince collaborators Rosie Gaines and the Fonky Baldheads, along with "Props N Pounds," a new Prince tune that incorporates popping-bass, praise-the-Lord lyrics, a Purple Rain-era drum machine track and a long sample of Kurt Loder drooling over Prince's genius.

On the other hand — and it's a big other hand — the devoted are very glad to get their hands on some wonderful performances Prince has let loose via the NPGMC. The eerily erotic "When Eye Lay My Hands On U" and a soaring gospel-flavored duet with soul singer Angie Stone entitled "U Make My Sun Shine" easily rank among his best work. Fans who have stuck with his spotty "slave"-period stuff will recognize the funky "Peace" and the quasi-rap "Funky Design" as good for the era, but not representative of Prince's musical genius. Archivists and completists have been happy to hear unreleased Revolution-era jams such as "Splash," and vintage live versions of "Christopher Tracy's Parade" and "Girls and Boys." Meanwhile, the greasy funk of "The Work Pt. 1" and "Daisy Chain" is a good sign of reason to celebrate when his next album, The Rainbow Children, is released.

Overall, I think the material available through the NPGMC has been worth the price of admission. In days of yore — like, up until a month ago — this is the kind of material Prince geeks would've scoured Napster to get their hands on, and Prince wouldn't have seen a dime for his hard work. What Prince has done is level the playing field: his followers are getting the rarities and close access they crave, while he makes a little more money than he would've otherwise. The industry may scoff at Prince's sales these days (which is funny when you consider he can still drag his band anywhere in the world and sell out arenas), but it's Prince who's having the last laugh. He knows his audience and is giving them what they want — which is a lot more than you can say for the industry of late. — Randy Reiss [Tuesday, May 29, 2001]

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