The Best Music Boxed Sets of 2023

The Best Music Boxed Sets of 2023

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Hard as it may be to imagine, at the dawn of the ‘90s, Prince was at a make-or-break point in his career as a chart-busting superstar. It had been several years since he’d had a real hit, and his image and public statements had been confusing, to say the least. So for the first time in years, he took a strategic look at the pop landscape — a dire place in 1990 — and dramatically overhauled his look and sound with “Diamonds and Pearls,” bringing a harder-hitting, more pop-oriented sound — and, surprisingly, rapping, a genre he’d previously disparaged. It was a glossier form of R&B than anything he’d done since his first two albums, and significantly more radio-friendly.

Be all of that as it may, it worked: The resulting album, “Diamonds and Pearls,” sold millions of copies and spawned five hit singles, including the chart-topping “Cream.” So how does “Diamonds and Pearls” sound, with 30 years of hindsight and the latest in his estate’s series of massive boxed sets, filled with dozens of unreleased songs from Prince’s vaunted Vault — some of which have long been available on bootlegs, but a lot that haven’t — and an explosive full concert from 1992? Well, fresh in some cases and painfully dated in others. The singles remain classic, but the rapping was sub-par even for the era, and certain effects and synthesizer and drums sounds carbon-date the songs to 1991. In retrospect, the most innovative song here is the lead single, “Gett Off,” which suffers from some dated elements but is actually an imaginative fusion of hip-hop and house music. But at the end of the day, it’s Prince in all his glory, if nearing the tail end of the fireball of creativity that began with “Dirty Mind” and pretty much began fading here. —Jem Aswad

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