Prince at 55: Career-revitalizing lessons from other icons
Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate Prince's 55th birthday. And while the Purple One's prodigious back catalog and outsized persona will always be one of the charismatic beacons for the Twin Cities music scene (and the world), there is no question that as of late, his output has been slipping. Prince's recent songs have been substandard, especially when you compare them to the inventive anthems of his past.
Here at Gimme Noise we've examined the late-period revivals of some other iconic musicians to see if Prince can perhaps learn a thing or two from how these artists resuscitated their careers and revitalized their sounds, despite growing a bit long in the tooth.
There are some Dylan purists who believe the old bard has never taken any career downturns, but the unfocused creative direction he was heading in following the release of the uninspired Under the Red Sky in 1990 (at the age of 49) gave even longtime fans a reason to pause -- even after the success of Oh Mercy just a year prior. And while Good As I Been to You and World Gone Wrong represented a wistful return to Dylan's folk roots and the songs and artists who inspired him, both of those records were mostly devoid of any original music, so it was hard to know if Bob still had the muse at his ear at that late point in his career.
But Time Out of Mind, released in 1997 when Dylan was 56, removed all of those doubts, and launched a late-period revival for the legendary songwriter that continues to this day. The songs on that album featured a warm, intimate sound due to the consummate production of Daniel Lanois, with Dylan brazenly refusing to hide the weathered rasp in his voice -- which gave the already brilliant material a rugged depth and a genuine vulnerability.
Dylan had obviously been saving up some of his best work for Time Out of Mind, and each track bristles with his poetic insight and well-earned creative acuity. After releasing nearly an album every year since the late '70s, Dylan spent four years crafting and fine-tuning this record, and it clearly shows -- both in the strength of the material itself, and in the intimate way those songs were recorded, with Dylan assembling a crack band behind him to help him realize his artistic vision.
Lessons Learned: In this modern era when artists can record something and release it to the world with just a few clicks of a mouse, Prince can learn from Dylan's example that not every creative idea need be released, and that you can retreat into the studio for a few years and people will still remember who you are when you reemerge. Prince should reach out to the musicians and producers that he's worked with in the past, as well as continuing his collaborations with new artists that catch his ear, and work with all of them and just see what happens.
And use his vast life experiences to craft lyrics that reflect his age, as Dylan did so poignantly with Time Out of Mind, rather than trying to identify with the youth of today by using their slang and catchphrases. But mostly, Prince should spend some serious time poring over his musical ideas in the studio, and if something isn't hitting, abandon it and start over -- rather than releasing "Fixurlifeup" and other dreck that he's been producing as of late.