I had a conversation with my brother, Andy, last week about how music continues to progress and how complicated that process can be as a fan. The conversation started when he recommended a Brazilian jazz album to me called Casa by Tiago Frugoli Ensemble. When I say “Brazilian jazz” don’t get it twisted and believe that this album has a South American flavor. It’s super chill Fender Rhodes jazz that happens to be played by Brazilians. That’s beside the point. I love the album. My response to Andy was something about how it felt familiar and wasn’t doing anything new, but I still really enjoyed it. The best music often comes from people pushing boundaries and experimenting, but it’s also possible to make great music without being groundbreaking. You can improve upon a sound that already exists. That’s how I feel about Casa. It’s not trying to be new or different, but it’s damn good anyway. Is it possible to say that something isn’t groundbreaking without it sounding like an insult? People are always rightfully rewarded for risk-taking and being the one to find the next great sound. Prince was one of those people. It’s also possible, and often welcomed, to just make a damn good record that’s not breaking the mold.
Today’s song is a strong case for that. “Whitecaps” is not doing anything we haven’t heard from Prince hundreds of times. It’s just a great song, especially if it’s a rainy day and you’re looking for a melancholy song to lean in to that vibe. I’m probably taking the word “whitecaps” too literally, but that’s the kind of day this song personifies. I had to drive to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, this past spring and the weather was unseasonably cool, windy, and rainy. I was driving along the shore of Lake Winnebago, a lake that’s large enough to have literal whitecaps, and the waves were crashing against the shore. It reminded me of this song, so I just put it on repeat and went with it.
What makes this song unique is that Prince’s involvement is barely noticeable. Aside from the some background vocals, it’s difficult to know what Prince’s role was in the performance. “Whitecaps” is a song from the 2014 album PlectrumElectrum by Prince and 3rdEyeGirl. Drummer Hannah Welton (then Hannah Ford) takes lead vocal duties on this song along with drumming. Donna Grantis is credited with guitar. Ida Nielsen plays bass. Prince is credited with “background vocals and all other instruments.” I’m not sure what those instruments are on this track. He did, of course, write and produce the track, so there’s that.
My point is, this is a 3rdEyeGirl song, and it brings up a question that I’ve had for a while: Why don’t they make music together anymore? I’ve done some digging on the internet and can’t really find a definitive answer. It was a topic on Prince.org but everything there is every bit as speculative as anything I could contribute here. I saw one user make the comment that nobody is looking for a 3rdEyeGirl album without Prince involved. I disagree. Has anyone listened to Lianna LaHavas recently? People probably weren’t clamoring for more music from the person who sang with Prince on Art Official Age either, but her last two albums have been as good as anything I’ve ever heard from a Prince protegee, if not better. 3rdEyeGirl has skills. Of course having the GOAT around helps, but I’d gladly continue purchasing 3rdEyeGirl music. They’re badass musicians. As Prince said, real musicians playing real music. PlectrumElectrum wasn’t exactly a critical success. Many people were left unimpressed by their album. I don’t think it was a fair representation of the band because I’ve watched hours of video of them playing live and they were mind blowing. I enjoy the album, but it didn’t do justice to their immense talent. I’d love to hear what 3rdEyeGirl is capable of on their own. I fear we’ll never get that opportunity.
All of that said, “Whitecaps” might not be groundbreaking material, but I love it. The perfect song for a rainy day, or when you’re trying to find a rainy day vibe. It’s a walk on the beach on a windy October afternoon. Sweatshirt weather music. Put “Whitecaps” on repeat and let it take you there. I will continue to hope for more music from 3rdEyeGirl.