A difficult moral conundrum has emerged for many Prince fans lately. In life, the artist was almost obsessed with having full control over his releases. He took his own fans to court for illegally posting his work and, despite making some odd choices when it came to the precise means of release—the 2007 release of Planet Earth came via a free CD in a fiercely right-wing British tabloid, for one—he was an artist who made sure that his image remained his own.
But the temptation to drill into the fabled Paisley Park vault and dig up what could turn out to be very literally tons of songs, videos, albums, and documentaries is understandably overwhelming. The man was prolific and now he’s gone and so demand is likely to skyrocket. The question is, when there’s no evidence that the man left a will, how can his catalog be mined with any sort of ethical decency? Can it happen at all?
Hot Chip singer Alexis Taylor—whose recent turn towards sparse piano-and-vocal solo work has been a charming surprise—was one of those Prince fans who clung on to the bootlegs and dug down into the artist’s work a long way back. Today a new video platform called Low Four released a video of him covering a rare Prince cut, “Old Friends 4 Sale,” and it works wonderfully. Taylor’s voice isn’t naturally soulful—shit, there are maybe a dozen people in the world who could match Prince for that and none of them grew up in Putney—but he pours everything into it and comes out with a perfect, odd chunk of melancholy.
Prince did record a version of the track and put it out on 1999’s The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale, but as Taylor himself says, the lyrics were toned down on that version. Here, in its original form, it’s devastating. “But life is no fun, life ain't no fun without fantasy / Some things are better left unsaid / And some people are better left untrusted / Maybe, maybe, maybe it'll all make sense when I'm dead / When I'm dead,” he sings. As tributes go, it’s one of the more thoughtful, moving, and unexpected out there.
Check it out below.
Alex Robert Ross is on Twitter. Follow him there.