By Blocking ‘Deliverance,’ the Prince Estate Lets the Dove Die in the Gold Mine
So far, the only light to come out of Prince’s untimely death is the prospect that, perhaps, his greatest songs have yet to be heard. In 2014, he told Rolling Stone, “I've never said this before, but I didn't always give the record companies the best song. There are songs in the vault that no one's ever heard. There are several vaults; it's not just one vault.”
However, the success of the release could have helped the estate gain invaluable information about the very value of the vault’s holdings. Just like how a canary in a coalmine helped miners detect the presence of carbon dioxide, the Deliverance EP could have signaled the market value of Prince’s gold mine before a single vault track officially came out.
Despite the surge of Prince’s past works on the Billboard 200 right after his death, that response is no indication of future sales activity. Prince’s fan base is divided into two camps, those who just want to hear the hits, and those who will buy EVERYTHING he releases. The first camp was quick to snap up compilations like The Very Best of Prince in the weeks following his death. But then, they were satiated, and therefore ignored 4ever, which peaked at No. 33 in the U.S. and was only really a hit in the U.K. with 100,000 units sold. 4ever wasn’t a good enough barometer for Prince’s hardcore fan base; one new track among 40 uninteresting “radio edits” was not a compelling deal for just about everyone. A suite of unheard songs, however, would have indicated the loudness of cash registers yet to ring.
For those lucky enough to get it, “Deliverance” was quite the treat. Fusing a gospel choir and some of Prince’s most electrifying guitar this century, the song is a great precursor to “Baltimore” from his final album, Hitnrun Volume Two. Whereas “Baltimore” was a reaction to the shooting death of Freddie Gray, “Deliverance” evokes the then-recent tragedy in New Orleans. Prince sings in anguish: “Ain’t nothing man can do, ‘cept cause each other injury / Can somebody say Katrina levees?” The title itself evokes Psalm 34:17 in the Bible, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.”
The rest of the EP was briefly online in streaming form before being pulled. “I Am” was a fast and furious rock jam that sounded like Prince’s Camille persona turning in a track for Chaos and Disorder. It stands on its own, but also kicks off a song suite that ties together the rest of the EP. Selling these tracks as individual units would be like breaking up Green Day’s epic “Jesus of Suburbia." “Touch Me," “Sunrise/Sunset” and “No One Else” have a whimsical, cabaret structure and sound like castoffs from a Broadway or film project – in a way like the music Prince submitted to James L. Brooks’ musical I’ll Do Anything. A second “extended version” of “I Am” was included on the original Deliverance EP configuration, but one would need a forensics expert to pick apart the differences, save for Prince counting off the song. It is still unknown how much of the music that surfaced was Prince’s original vision, or a re-working by Boxhill.
“Deliverance” was originally earmarked for the LotusFlow3r album, its fate today remains unseen as the estate struggles to sort out its Universal deal and other legal issues. Perhaps it will surface again once Boxhill and the estate can share the love and the royalties. As for the permanent and irreparable harm the release would have caused the estate, it’s not like a hardcore Prince fan ever said, “Well, I just bought one Prince release this year, I guess I won’t buy any more Prince for a while.”
Prince Albums Ranked in Order of Awesomeness