5 Prince albums we (supposedly) underrated

We all agree that 'Purple Rain" is still better than these albums though, right?

We all agree that 'Purple Rain" is still better than these albums though, right? AP

After all the work that went into this week's Prince album guide, some people had the nerve to suggest that their favorite albums were underrated.

OK, so almost everybody thought at least one of their favorite albums was underrated. (They can't all be classics, folks.)

Each Prince record seems to have its knot of diehard defenders, but some fan favorites came up more frequently than others. So in the spirit of fairness, five smart, passionate writers were invited to champion albums from throughout Prince's career that they thought deserved a second opinion.

Prince (1979)

Even if Prince's career had ended here, he'd still be remembered for opening doors through which other musicians would soon vault. Prince has almost everything listeners would come to expect from the guy: a disco-inflected hit ("I Wanna Be Your Lover"), tortured homoerotica ("Bambi"), a bit of squishy, mid-tempo, synth-dependent fun ("I Feel For You"), and a ballad so intimate it's like God is eavesdropping ("When We're Dancing Close and Slow"). All that's missing are songs not sung in a falsetto. --Alfred Soto

Around the World in a Day (1985)

I’ve never understood why we praise Prince for being such a wild-ass visionary but ding him every time he does something weird. Following his #1 blockbuster album and film with a record of '60s-influenced psych was an odd move, sure, but he front-loaded it with his very best songs: "Paisley Park," the title track, "Raspberry Beret," and the super-cool "Pop Life." Critics tend to object to either the uber-dramatic "Condition of the Heart" or the end of "Temptation" where Prince has a conversation with a vengeful God ready to send him to Hell for his lust. ("Now die!") If Prince's sacred/profane dualism freaks you out, I dunno what to say -- that's the man in a nutshell. A bright, bold, colorful album, Around The World In A Day is the absolute apex of Prince’s prime-era creativity. --Jon Hunt

Come (1994)

Come can seem monochromatic and cold, like the shadow of its more vivid and expansive successor, The Gold Experience. Each record drew from the same sessions: The rock-oriented songs that foreground the fizzy gleam of Prince’s guitar were exported to Gold, and Come is mostly the smoothly embossed R&B that remained. It’s home to some of Prince’s strangest compositions: “Loose!” is an inorganic, industrial shudder, and Prince’s falsetto never more resembles light flowing over a steel surface than on “Pheremone.” On “Solo,” his voice is isolated and almost operatic, accompanied only by shimmers from an artificial harp. Then there’s the album’s framing device, a seductive, nearly whispered monologue directed initially at the listener and eventually at Vanity, who… comes in on the final track, “Orgasm.” (Her “performance” was originally recorded in 1983; “Orgasm” also samples the convulsive guitar feedback of “Private Joy” from 1981, aligning Come with Prince’s increased tendency in the ‘90s to consume and warp his own past.) Come feels unfinished, scaffolding for a grander project never fully constructed. But the scaffolding on its own is a curious, alien object, disconnected from its true, unknowable context but still giving off its own bizarre aura. --Brad Nelson

The Rainbow Children (2001)

OK, this is hardly one of Prince’s greatest works, and the recent Jehovah’s Witness convert is at his most obnoxiously evangelistic here. But if you can get past the lyrics, there’s some great music. In fact, even some of the lyrics are pretty dope: 

I rather have a glass of you that's fine
Come on over baby 'round seven
Chill in you're favorite chair

You can watch a tape of this mellow after party
Macy and Common were there
Besides, you know, it takes, awhile, for me, to do, my, hair

Um, yes, please.

And though "1+1+1 is 3" is about a woman who can’t get with Prince if she can’t get with God, shit is funky. If someone wants to preach gospel to me, a good place to start would be: “Let me c u shake ur pants.”

There’s a lot of theatre in this album, perhaps an overload, but Prince was a theatrical guy. Plus, the cover is beautiful, and inside, he’s succumbed to artwork that makes him look like a cross between a superhero and an elf. As one does.--Mecca Bos

HITnRUN Phase Two (2012)

The strengths here are subtle -- Prince's legendary Grammys side-eye applied to horn-enveloped cabaret funk (the circa-1982 track "Xtralovable"), red-hot jazz revues ("2 Y. 2 D."), stomping rockers ("Screwdriver"), and glittering slow jams ("Groovy Potential"). While at times HITNRUN Phase Two can be too slight -- mainly on the Kenny G-caliber, smooth jazz moments -- Prince's dry, mischievous wit adds delightful dimensions. The self-referential "Stare" samples "Kiss" after some vintage sass ("Stare, can I get a kiss?"). And on the sublime, romantic "Big City," Prince slips easily into an elder statesman role, wielding familiar imagery (fast cars, people as stars) as he describes a sophisticated, worldly rendezvous: "The night is young/Much younger than we are." --Annie Zaleski