Not only have I heard three different DJs (electro, house, and techno) drop “Controversy” in the past few months, recent albums by Basement Jaxx, Playgroup, Bilal, and Kelis all make clear that Prince’s sonic DNA continues to breed like crazy. In this climate, you’d figure If I Was Prince—10 new covers by Euro-identified electro-identified artists—to be even more irrelevant than that horrid Rainbow Children thing the real guy foisted on the faithful last fall. But If I Was Prince picks up on one of the great overlooked aspects of Prince’s appeal: a guy sitting alone in his room, singing to himself, and who sounded like it a lot of the time, however libidinal or itchy-footed or world-conqueringhis constructs may have been.
This doesn’t make If I Was Prince any better than your average tribute disc, but it does make it more interesting; just compare the all-star karaoke of the I Am Sam soundtrack’s Beatles remakes. Misty Dixon or Bronze Age Fox might ruin “The Beautiful Ones” or “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” by equating whispering with intimacy, but there are moments when the artists sound like they’ve almost figured out, if not how to be Prince, what it must be like to be him: the echoed guitar and vocal on Capitol K’s otherwise useless “Dance On,” Jeb Loy Nichols murmuring “Dorothy Parker was cool” on Broadway Project’s Tricky-esque “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker.” Hefner turns “Controversy” into a great lost Morcheeba single—if you think Prince sounded solipsistic singing “Some people want to die/So they can be free,” wait’ll you hear Josee Hurlock croon it over downtempo lounge-funk. And 7 Hurts with Peaches and Bitch Lap Lap improve “Sexy Dancer” by turning it into—what else?—a Prince tribute. The lyrics become a telegram from the man himself, inviting the singers to his club to get a closer look at their moves, over one of the shamefully few nu-electro tracks worthy of, well, Prince himself.