Prince Gets Weird on the Terrifying ‘Bob George’
One seldom discussed risk of cultivating a musical canon as vast as Prince's fabled "vault" is the increased likelihood of compromising one's hit-to-miss ratio. On the other hand, with an artist as tirelessly eclectic as Prince, a sizable portion of the alleged "misses" are bound to be as critical a piece to the story of its creator's artistic evolution at a given career point.
That's a generous assessment of Prince's "Bob George." This utterly unwieldy track manages to far outpace the rivaling ferocity channeled on much of The Black Album, emerging as a manic digression into confrontational booty-bass schizophrenia. It's quite a feat for an album harboring the song "Superfunkycalifragisexy."
"Bob George" is kept sentient by a sputtering bass rattletrap, over which Prince delivers a confused spoken-word tangent, pitched to a fiendish low, that wanders drowsily between veiled threats ("Mr. George? This is your conscience, motherf---er."), threats not-quite-as-veiled ("Don't you know I will kill you now? You're f---ing right I gotta gun") and interrogative outbursts ("Since when did you have a job? You seeing that rich motherf---er again What's his name? Bob?")
And there enters Mr. George. The subject of this ostensibly stream-of-consciousness tirade was said to be cast as a composite representation of Prince's former manager Bob Cavallo (with whom his relationship had soured) and Nelson George, a music critic who had once championed Prince but then struck less admiring tones toward his more recent work.
Hear Prince Perform "Bob George"
Bizarrely recorded alongside the funkier "2 Nigs United 4 West Compton" and "Le Grind" for drummer Sheila E.'s birthday, "Bob George" plays like an impromptu airing of bottled-up grievances – but one that we weren't supposed to walk in on. One easily imagines an incensed Prince casting piercing glares and coolly delivered taunts at the bathroom mirror. (Poor Sheila).
It is a mess, to be sure. But it'd be a lie to pretend that "Bob George" wasn't riotously entertaining. Maybe this track would have been better served within a rare outtakes bootleg, but it's also worth acknowledging that Prince's album sequencing is torturously precise, and that a small taste of unhinged madness is precisely what Prince plotted for this five-and-a-half-minute segment of The Black Album. In fact, he may have been too good at it, considering that on the heels of its release date, Prince chose to pull the project – citing a demonic presence. (The Black Album was eventually released in 1994).
"Bob George" also lived a longer stage life than one would think. It was played every night on Prince's Lovesexy tour, which seems almost as ill-suited a platform as a birthday celebration. But performances were split between two halves: the first, "dark," half of the set and the remaining half – devoted the ornate pop jubilance exhibited by the Lovesexy album.
Inexplicably, Prince's U.K. representation volunteered the song by name in a press release for The Black Album, highlighting it as "brutally funny" – noticeably eschewing any specification as to whether its funniness derives from its brutality or the brutality from its funniness. A tip of the hat to that exquisite British politeness.