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Songs We Love: Republican Hair, 'Miss Prince'

Within the fractured landscape of popular music in 2017, few universal experiences remain. But there is one: We all miss Prince. The genius' death in April 2016 devastated so many music lovers and revealed that his fan base ranges from hardcore funk enthusiasts to partying bachelorettes to indie auteurs and even country stars. In a recent conversation over tequila in an East Nashville bar, songwriter Luke Dick said that the chart-toppers with whom he regularly works — they include Dierks Bentley, Eric Church and Miranda Lambert — deeply feel the loss of the Purple One.

"Miss Prince," the latest single from Dick's unique and highly enjoyable band Republican Hair, expresses that grief via a funky beat that serves as a great coping mechanism. Written with fellow top songwriters Natalie Hemby and Trent Dabbs, "Miss Prince" takes to task an unnamed rising pop star who has all the right moves, but is missing that special Gold Experience-level essence. (It's a little unclear whether the song's narrator is an ex-lover of said ingénue, or just an avid fan.) The song's chorus gets to the universals: "I miss you like 'Let's Go Crazy' / I miss you like 'Kiss,' " Dick sings in a psychedelic falsetto, naming some of the late Mr. Nelson's greatest hits. "But I don't miss ya like I miss Prince."

With its infectious synth lines, Southern drawl and sly message, "Miss Prince" shows what's special about Republican Hair, a band unlike any other in Nashville today. Dick, who's also released some fine, atmospheric indie-pop under his own name, formed the band as a conduit back to the new-wave music he loved as a kid in tiny Cogar, Okla. He was able to gather some of the finest session-men in Nashville, who prove themselves more than able to conjure the spirits of Bowie and Prince — the titular spirits behind Republican Hair's new EP, The Prince & The Duke — as well as bands like Talking Heads and Was (Not Was). Like his good friend Hemby, whose excellent album Puxico was released this year, Dick has a strong voice and vision in his own right, and it manifests in stories more creative — and funnier — than what Music Row usually offers.

Republican Hair is also a multimedia project. The band's shows are revival-like audiovisual experiences that have Dick jumping into the crowd to get its spirit moving. And an ongoing partnership with the artist Casey Pierce, who's made some dazzling videos for Nashville-connected indie favorites Tristen and Torres, has resulted in visuals as mind-expanding as they are fun. The "Miss Prince" video centers on a Sphinx-like oracle figure clad in the famous studded jacket from Purple Rain, surrounded by cloned silhouettes of dancer Jay Conn (known locally for the Code Jay Twerkouts exercise classes he offers in the Nashville-adjacent town of Madison). It's equal parts dreamy and flashy, nostalgic and futuristic — like Republican Hair itself.

The Prince & The Duke comes out Sept. 8 (pre-order).

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Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.