Artist: Prince

Album: The Rainbow Children

Released: 2001

This past weekend marked two years since Prince’s passing into another world. If I needed an excuse for a throwback to his 2001 concept album, The Rainbow Children, this is a convenient one. In all honesty, though, I’ve just been playing it a lot lately and feel it warrants a shout out. If I had a penny for every midweight Prince fan who’s never heard of it, I’d have a small fortune.

It’s merely not a question of obscurity, though. Of the Prince albums I’ve given significant listening time to, this one scores the highest with me on creativity, timelessness and giving the finger to a behemoth of a record label (but let’s not get into that – that’s another post for another time).

Obscurity, however, does affect the accessibility of this album in a very real sense. A quick search of Amazon finds used copies of the CD going for around $40, with new copies reaching up to $200 and rare vinyls (I’ve never seen one) starting at over $3000. You won’t find it on iTunes or Spotify. The only place I’ve managed to track it down is on Tidal, which boasts the most complete collection of streamable Prince recordings I’ve come across to date.

So, what’s the big deal with The Rainbow Children? Well, it’s something to do with its deliciously organic, funky flavour. It’s at once laidback and wildly theatrical, never unconsciously derivative and played to perfection. There’s hardly a moment that’s not as compelling as the last, resulting in a jazz-like journey of unexpected musical twists and turns. This deeply eccentric trip tracks consistently with an overarching narrative that holds the whole thing together in a tightly conceived bundle.

The narrative in question is a retelling of the Biblical fall, which places the album firmly in the category of gospel music. Not religious? Neither am I. Don’t let it put you off – just take the damn ride. At the end of the day, Prince isn’t a preacher; he’s an artist, and he articulates his religion through a thoroughly unconventional and artistic lens. If you don’t believe me, start with the track ‘Mellow’ (either that or go and listen to some Parliament/Funkadelic). Just be sure to track back to the start of the album and hear the whole thing chronologically – it’s a concept album, after all.

It’s no surprise that this album never became massively well-known. It makes virtually no effort to submit itself in that direction, and that’s what makes it so good. It shows off to great effect the extent of Prince’s spirituality, musical artistry and uniqueness.