Prince Lays Down Some Grumpy Funk in ‘All the Critics Love U …': 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
The list of things Prince enjoyed in his lifetime could go on and on — it would likely have included beautiful women, God, sex, making music, purple things, dancing, pancakes, Joni Mitchell records. But so, too, could a list of that which he disliked — probably Satan, MP3s and record labels. Evidence also proves he didn't care much for fakes, either—poseurs, phonies, shams, counterfeits—in the ranks of musicians or the press. That evidence comes to us in the form of 1982's "All the Critics Love U in New York," in which Prince groused and grumbled in front of a robot rhythm section while contributing mind-splintering guitar work, when the mood suited him.
That rhythm sounds familiar, in retrospect—it's the funk of "Baby I'm a Star," from two years in the future, only this time it's in its skeletal stage, played by a shiny, mechanical beat-keeping device that also maintains control of the synthy bass (or bassy synth; 35 years later, it's still hard to tell). Mr. Nelson comes to the mic and in his most detached, talky fashion, makes a proclamation: "U can dance if U want to—all the critics love U in New York / U don't have to keep the beat—they'll still think it's neat in New York / U can wear what U want to—it doesn't matter, in New York / U could cut off all Ur hair—I don't think they'd care, in New York."
Zing! Prince "sings" like a zombie New Wave talk-singer, against a cold, rigid New-Wavy beat, and he's very likely complaining about New Wave, or the vacuous nature of critics who would praise anything Nouveaux Wayvian, regardless of value. Who knew he could foster such grumpiness at such a young age? He was 24 at the time; it would take Dylan at least until he was 29 to achieve that get-off-my-lawn attitude.
Then, in the next verse, he does something of an about-face: "Why U can play what U want to—all the critics love U in New York / They won't say that U're naive if U play what U believe in New York …/ The reason that U're cool / Is 'cause U're from the old school and they know it".
He seems to say that the same critics who love you for your rhythm-less dancing and bald head will also love you for being good, for playing "what U believe," "cause U're from the old school." If that's the case, then the critics will like just about anything, which is very likely his point, mechanical tempo appliance and all.
Sparks fly after the third chorus (about two minutes in, for those following along digitally) when Prince starts laying down the abstract feedback from his guitar and amp, throwing flame between and atop the vocal asides and goofy verses (jazz dies in one; hippies are implored to shower in another). Some of it is noise for noise's sake; other passages feature showy shredding, real fleet-fingered runs up the fret board. All of it provides a welcome counterpoint to the more austere (but still funky) environment he constructs in the song.
And, yes, in case you were wondering, critics did tend to like the song, and to love the album (1999) from whence it came. Which, one might suppose, proved Prince right in the end.
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