In the past few days came news that a deluxe version of Prince’s Purple Rain would be appearing on shelves in early 2017, closely followed by a second record of “previously unreleased material.” Given that Prince’s vault could keep ravenous followers of the Purple One satiated for a century, it’s no shock that such news would be coming. Shiny “special edition” reissues of benchmark albums, B-side compilations, career retrospectives and cover albums will likely become the new normal. Prince’s backlog is big business and someone was bound to cash in.
None of that is a surprise. None of that is any kind of upsetting either because, again, it’s all so predictable. It isn’t odious because of the blatant transactional transparency. Or because his estate, and particularly labels such as Warner Bros., waited no time at all to make their land grab. That’s capitalism folks. You strike while the iron is still hot and the body isn’t even cold in the ground. If you’re a record store, you push whatever Prince albums you have to the front of the store. People are looking to spend their sympathy dollars somewhere. And that sympathy/nostalgia dollar is a powerful dollar.
That’s the part of it that’s so roiling. There was never an abiding sense of wistful nostalgia with Prince. Dude could’ve shut up and just played the hits years ago, but he instead he kept workshopping new records. He only put out four compilation albums in his 39 years as a recording artist. (Number five is coming November 20, 2016.) Prince was never someone we pegged as looking back. But now that’s all that’s going to happen. Collectively we’re going to keep looking back. We’ll comb through each parcel of Prince’s work and just stare at it. That doesn’t improve upon his legacy though. His legacy has long since been established. And not a single part of it was founded on longing for a simpler time.