20 Years Ago: Prince Leaves Warner Bros with ‘The Vault’
Prince was fed up with Warner Bros., his record label home since his debut LP in 1978. Almost two decades later, the singer wanted to break free from any restraints placed upon him by executives and company policy.
Among the many disagreements he had with the label was the speed at which they released his material. “Warner wanted a record only every 18 months. I could release a record every seven months,” Prince would later explain of his frustration. “I could not record when I wanted to.”
Anxious to get out from under the label’s control, but still owing Warner material, Prince pieced together a series of songs to create The Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale. The LP was delivered to Warner in 1996, the same time he gave them his Chaos and Disorder album. While the label quickly released the latter, they sat on The Vault for three years.
Overall, the The Vault had a more jazz-oriented focus than music icon’s previous efforts. “5 Women,” a song he’d originally given to Joe Cocker, found an extra level of swagger in Prince’s hand, while "She Spoke 2 Me," a breezy, horn-filled groove that had been featured on the soundtrack to Girl 6, received an extended remix. “Sarah,” arguably The Vault’s strongest track, combined Prince’s funky prowess with soulful grooves reminiscent of Earth, Wind and Fire and Sly and the Family Stone.
Three tracks on the LP -- “The Rest Of My Life,” “My Little Pill” and “There Is Lonely” -- were originally planned for the soundtrack to I’ll Do Anything, the 1994 romantic comedy starring Albert Brooks, Nick Nolte and Julie Kavner. When test screenings yielded overwhelmingly negative responses, all of Prince’s songs were scrapped from the film. The changes didn’t help as I’ll Do Anything became a box office dud.
Warner chose to eventually release The Vault on Aug. 24, 1999. Coincidentally or not, the timing aligned with Prince’s promotion of Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, his first LP with new label, Artista. The slow jam “Extraordinary” was the only official single from The Vault. Much like the album itself, the track received little fanfare.
Prince never spoke of The Vault, only referring to the LP as a “contractual obligation” to his former label. While the album will never be hailed among the musician's finest work, it contains several underrated gems, long forgotten by the casual fan. In that way, The Vault serves as its own small monument to Prince's unrivaled talent; even an LP compiled of his leftovers delivered flashes of musical mastery.