1999 the New Master (NPG 1999)
The Artist returns to his past and "the future" with a somewhat slammin' EP of remakes/remixes of "1999." Partly as a political act against Warner Brothers' continued ownership and promotion of the Prince back catalog, and partly as a legitimate demonstration of his vitality, he released this as the inevitable celebration of one of his great party songs I mean, come on, you can't have expected him to not do something like this for New Year's 1999.
I was a bit skeptical at first, thinking that the result could only be a lamer rehash of the his glory days, but as he is wont to do, he proves once again that his glory days never really ended. The EP features six new mixes of "1999," retaining elements of the original master and adding fresh production values and new musical elements and vocals from the Artist, Larry Graham, Rosie Gaines, Doug E. Fresh, and Rosario Dawson, who adds an additional spoken-word track over the synth part from "Little Red Corvette." The EP has a really good flow, with the mixes programmed so you don't get sick of the song, as with many maxi-singles.
"The New Master" itself is a fresh version of the original that sounds very 90s without losing the essence of the original; it's too bad this got released six weeks into the new year, because if NPG had gotten it out before New Year's it would undoubtedly have been a huge hit. Most of the original music is retained, as well as most of the original vocals by the Revolution, with additional rapping by Doug E. Fresh and an overall phatter sound.
Rosario's spoken word track is a somber rumination on social issues, over the "Little Red Corvette" synth part which is a nice counterpart to the words. This track is programmed twice on the EP, the CD player tracking it to repeat automatically at the end of the disc. Perfectly accomplished the Artist's current crusade to funk up your mind as well as yo booty.
"The Inevitable Mix" strips away the original music and vocals to present the current line-up with Gaines, Graham, Fresh, and the Artist singing the song over a house/samba kind of beat. "Keepsteppin'" drops the beats per minute down for a totally new investigation of the song that bears no resemblance to the original. The "deep house" mix is very cool, followed by a single edit of the New Master mix and an acapella take that shows off the harmonies of the song.
I was sort of hoping the Artist might give us a wild remix of the original that would reveal some of the alternate vocal parts (apparently he had everyone in the Revolution sing the song in its entirety, then mixed the lines in and out as he saw fit), but the New Master is nevertheless a fresh approach that doesn't disappoint. It definitely falls into the late-90s "Come on, let's party!" vibe that the Artist has been exploring recently, and if it's not as groundbreaking as his early 80s work, it's still not evidence of the sad decline that most critics erroneously declare in the wake of the Artist's increasingly prolific and hard-to-pinpoint output of late.
They call him the Artist for a reason not everything will be a masterpiece, but almost everything will be interesting.
Review by Nelson Rogers