For an entire generation of young music listeners, Prince is an afterthought. One of the most influential, innovative musicians of his time, Prince's stubbornness has made him a relic of a bygone era, alienated fans, and rendered his own music obsolete.
Even worse, Prince's legacy - more than a decade of classic albums - continues to fade into the annals of history. This year marked the 25th anniversary of his landmark double album Sign O' The Times, hailed by many fans and music critics alike as his best body of work, but the event came and went without fanfare or, most disappointingly, a remastered anniversary edition.
Dig if you will the picture: Prince's entire back catalog remastered with pristine sound quality. The hollow, tinny, and fuzzy CDs that have sat upon fans' shelves for decades replaced with gorgeous, full-bodied versions that capture all the intricacies of his music, complete with bonus discs filled with b-sides, remixes, and maybe even a few previously unreleased tracks recorded during the era.
Sadly, this is a dream that will most likely never come to fruition for numerous reasons, all of which can be directly attributed to the artist himself. Though he'd have you believe his former record label, Warner Bros., are the villains, preventing him from remastering his back catalog and releasing it unto fans, it seems obvious when examining the facts that Prince is the one responsible.
Nearly thirty years ago, Warner Bros. released Prince's Purple Rain, the album that made him a superstar. Both the film and the album sat at the top of the charts - a feat not accomplished since The Beatles - and the album earned Prince several Grammys and even an Oscar. I'm sure Warner Bros. would like nothing more than to reissue a 30th anniversary remastered edition in 2014. Hardcore and casual fans who've been starved for remasters would flock to stores to purchase the seminal classic, and it would help pave the way for further reissues with improved sound.
Instead, the day will pass without fanfare while fans lament the travesty on message boards because such a release would only be possible with Prince's input and support. After a long and much-publicized feud with his former label, it's apparent that neither side is particularly interested in repairing the damage. Prince would rather villify Warners, and they're content to continue selling the subpar releases currently on store shelves.
Once a champion of digital music distribution with the NPG Music Club, one of the first services of its kind, his more recent ascertation that "the internet is dead" has made Prince look like the old man unable to set the clock on his VCR - confused, frustrated, and paranoid about technology. His team of watchdogs scours YouTube for videos they deem copyright violations, threatening users who post them and reporting them to the service for removal, most infamously a mother who posted a video of her toddler son dancing to a tinny recording of "Let's Go Crazy" played on a stereo in the background.
This is the type of thing that only serves to render a legendary artist more irrelevant to the modern age of the music industry, where kids discover music primarily through the internet, and specifically YouTube. Despite the relative absence of music video channels, many artists use the far-reaching and easily accessible internet to post promo clips. Fan-shot concert videos, professional, and even fan-made music videos help introduce artists to people who might never have heard of them, but rather than embrace this, Prince sees it as a threat to his bottom line. For all his claims that he doesn't care about money, the fact that he cannot control content on the internet, and thusly cannot profit from it, means he views it all as an evil. It's a narrow-minded, black-and-white point of view of a man living in a bubble.
This same greed extends to his remasters. Not only would he have to play nice with Warner Bros., who own the master tapes to all of his albums prior to 1997's Emancipation, his first release after fulfilling the rather lucrative contract he'd signed in 1992 before he began scrawling "slave" on his face, he would have to share the profits of any re-releases with them. If Prince is a slave to anything, it's the almighty dollar, and this is clearly an unacceptable proposition for him. I don't agree with the outdated principle that a record company should own an artist's master recordings, however, that was the standard practice at the time and it's no one but Prince's fault for reading only the numbers that followed the dollar sign and not the fine print on his own contract.
Prince has claimed publicly that he has already remastered his early works. If you've heard any of his more recent albums, perhaps it's a good thing these aren't being released. I enjoy 2004's Musicology, easily his best full album since The Gold Experience in a decade earlier, but the production on it is stunningly bad. Drums sound hollow, and vocals and basslines are both too loud and often distort. It's apparent Prince is under the mistaken belief that loud sound is the same as good sound, so if all he did on his remasters was turn the volume up, they will sound equally bad as the current releases, but for different reasons.
Unfortunately, proper remasters would require him to work with another producer and engineer, and the control freak in him simply won't allow anyone else to have control over his music. He had no problem letting his friend and bandmember Kirk Johnson produce large portions of Emancipation and numerous songs in the ensuing years, all of which sound horribly dated today, but he would never relent to letting an outsider touch his work, no matter how reverant they are.
It all adds up to a sad and infinitely frustrating situation for his fans who are tired of turning their stereos up and down to account for the sound level variances on the atrocious master of 1999 that they own. We want the bass and hand claps in "Head" to pop and thump our speakers. We want the brilliant fuzztone guitar solo in "When Doves Cry" to be more tone than fuzz. We want to hear crisp, beautiful multitracked vocal harmonies, not muddy, muted ones. It's a travesty that we're being denied these things because one stubborn millionaire refuses to get along with a bunch of other stubborn millionaires.
The worst part of all is Prince's stance is ultimately pointless. In the grand scheme of things, the only things that will suffer are his legacy and his fans.