Old/New Albums: Sheila E.’s “Romance 1600”

sheilae“Yellow is a happenin’ color, if you’re a banana.”

This line should tell you all you need to know about every single side project of Prince. One could argue that his solo work is pretty weird and out there, but one could argue that even moreso for his side projects.

And I’m not giving proper schrift to Sheila E. Technically, Romance 1600 is her solo album, but Prince’s presence is absolutely felt. He wrote or cowrote every song on the album, and the sound is unmistakably Prince. But unlike another one of his side projects, Vanity 6Romance 1600 feels more distinct because of Sheila E. herself. Vanity was a much weaker of a character, while Sheila E. is a true personality that is able to stand out from Prince’s weirdness and make it her own.

But as I said, you can’t listen to this album without hearing The Purple One’s fingerprints all over it. While Vanity 6 sounded very analogous to The Time, Sheila E.’s record skews more towards the instrumental Madhouse project that Prince did. Sheila E. played drums on the Madhouse record 16, so it makes sense Romance 1600 retains some of that “out there” arranging (“Merci For The Speed Of A Mad Clown In Summer” features a horn doing the circus theme song riff like it’s not the weirdest thing ever to hear in a pop song).

The only song that explicitly credits Prince is “A Love Bizarre,” but it’s a 12 minute dance pop number so that makes sense. A lot of this tune could’ve been cut in editing (coincidentally, a shortened version was this album’s most successful single), but Prince stretches this out and explores every weird instrumental adlib and flourish he can.

If you remember from my review of Vanity 6 last year, I was kind of surprised how much I enjoyed it. Conversely, I was kind of surprised that I didn’t enjoy this album more. It has all the elements in place, but it might be almost too serious for its own good. Sheila E. is too much of an artist herself to only play muse for Prince, and her record is far less fluff than Vanity’s. But I think I enjoy the fluff a little more, and as Vanity fit the muse role perfectly for Prince, her record was just wall to wall weird and fun Prince pop tunes. Romance 1600 has moments of sheer fun, like “Yellow,” but for as off the wall as Prince can get with tunes like this (again, referring back to the lyric I opened with), I was hoping for more songs I just couldn’t help but enjoy. Prince’s ’80s work is so awesomely weird, it’s like kids music for adults. This album feels just a little more mature than that.

Top 3 Tunes:

  1. Yellow
  2. Romance 1600
  3. Sister Fate
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