The Black Album (1994)
The Legendary Black Album it’s often called, but fans didn’t even have to wait seven years. Legends usually take a little longer to marinate. Still, in pop terms, seven years is a lifetime. When The Black Album was originally slated for release, Nirvana’s drummer was Aaron Burckhard; when it finally came out, Kurt Cobain was seven months gone. Between 1987 and 1994 was “Da Butt,” As Nasty As They Wanna Be, Fear Of A Black Planet, “Unfinished Sympathy,” The Chronic and Kill My Landlord. The Time reformed and broke up again. Alexander O’Neal had stopped charting. The ascendant American pop producers were people like Teddy Riley and the team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis — both former members of the Time — splicing R&B with hip-hop DNA, invigorating the former and further popularizing the latter.
All this to say that while The Black Album may not have started many fires in ’87, it was a damp cloud in ’94. The forays into rapping are tin-eared, the funk flat and devoid of frills, and the ballad (“When 2 R In Love”) already issued on Lovesexy, and in a much more forgiving context. This would have been his first major misstep, and despite all the reasons given for the record’s shelving, it’s likely that he (and Warner Bros.) knew it. Sign O’ The Times was still spawning singles; there was no need to flood the market. (It’s worth noting that Prince was never really on board with issuing this record; it was a contractual move on Warner’s part.) It wasn’t an issue of his losing the touch — the replacement, Lovesexy, is one of his best — but of losing his vision.