`1999' repeats in your ear

Review: The artist occasionally named Prince releases new versions of his classic song. Nah, it can't be just so he can pocket all the royalties.

February 02, 1999|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

If the Artist Formerly Known as Prince really wanted to be honest about why he's releasing a "New Master" version of his 1982 hit, "1999," he wouldn't just change the song's backing track. He'd also change the chorus:

Two-thousand-zero-zero, party over, oops, out of time

So this year I'm gonna profit off of "1999."

As has been widely reported, the Artist is peeved by the fact that his original recording of "1999" is owned by Warner Bros. Records. That means that every time a fan buys a copy of the oldie, Warner gets the majority of the money. The same goes for radio play, soundtrack use and other potential licensing deals.

That's not to say the Artist gets nothing from these deals. As the, um, artist and songwriter, he's entitled to royalties from the original recording. But that's a much smaller percentage of the profit than what he'd see if he owned the entire recording.

Hence "1999: The New Master" (NPG 1999, arriving in stores today). Less an album than a glorified single, it offers seven versions of "1999," including "The New Master," a "single edit" of the new master and an a capella version of the new master.

(It's also credited to Prince and the Revolution, as opposed to The Artist or that unpronounceable glyph thing he uses, because "Prince" is who he was when he originally recorded the song. It's confusing, sure, but let's count our blessings: He could be insisting we call him Prince, the Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.)

Why a "new master" and not just a new version? Because the heart of the single remains the vocal chemistry between Prince (as he was known then) and the Revolution. Hearing Lisa Coleman and Dez Dickerson sing the opening lines, and harmonize with Prince on the chorus, is essential to the single's charm. Take them away, and "1999" loses a lot of its magic.

So instead of taking things away from the original recording, the Artist adds stuff. Lots of stuff, in fact. Where the original version of the single clocked in at six minutes, 22 seconds (3: 38 for the single edit), the new master is over seven minutes long (4: 30 for the single edit).

Besides beefing up the basic instrumental track, cranking the synths and changing the bassline to a thumping quarter-note pulse, he's added whole new sections to the song. We get a new intro, a new catch-phrase -- "This is the party of the century!" -- a rap segment (featuring Doug E. Fresh), even a salsa interlude. Trouble is, the only thing those extras add is length.

As if his everything-and-the-kitchen-sink "New Master" weren't enough, the Artist also includes hip-hop, deep house and Latin club-style remixes of the song. Unlike "The New Master," these versions take nothing from the original.

Although "1999: The Inevitable Mix" retains the original song's verse and chorus, it substitutes Rosie Gaines and former Sly & the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham for Coleman and Dickerson. Still, at least it sounds like the "1999" we all know.

By contrast, the other remixes might as well be new songs altogether. "1999: Keep Steppin"' is an ominous, end-of-the-world rap built around the chorus, "Armageddon is headin', lethal rap weapon/1-9-9-9 people keep steppin'," while "1999: Rosie & Doug E. In a Deep House" exists mainly so Gaines can trot out her Martha Wash impression.

There's also something called "Rosario 1999," in which Rosario Dawson mutters weird apocalyptic ramblings as the chords to "Little Red Corvette" play in the background. What it has to do with the rest of "1999: The New Master" is hard to say, but hey -- at least it's not another version of the same song.

A yearly event

Who: Prince and the Revolution

What: "1999: The New Master" (NPG 1999)

Sun score * *1/2

Sundial To hear an excerpt from Prince and the Revolution's "1999: The New Master," call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and enter the code 6104. For other local Sundial numbers, see the directory on Page 2B.

Pub Date: 2/02/99

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