Alternative funk

However much he tried to spread the wealth, Prince could not help but suck the oxygen out of any recording studio he was in.

Being a Prince “protegé” in the 1980s instantly relegated you to “also-ran”. He may have intended well trying to launch the careers of Sheila E., Apollonia 6 and even Carmen Electra.

But he’s far too eccentric a figure for anyone to escape his shadow. When Sinéad O’Connor scored a hit with “Nothing Compares 2 U” in 1990, it was called a “Prince song”, not a “song recorded by The Family”.

All that to say Wendy and Lisa had the cards stacked against them after Prince dissolved the Revolution in 1987.

The two women of Prince’s seminal backing band were its most visible members, being placed prominently in videos and on stage.

And while all the members of the Revolution released records in the wake of its dissolution, Wendy and Lisa, by comparrison, had the longest stretch, recording three albums from 1987-1990, and another in 1998.

At first, critics dismissed Wendy and Lisa for sounding too much like Prince, which rings hollow since their playing style had as much to do with Prince’s sound as his mercurial writing.

In hindsight, Wendy and Lisa were more akin to that era’s “serious” women rockers — O’Connor, Tracy Chapman, Kate Bush, Natalie Merchant — than with their former boss.

The title of the duo’s third album, Eroica, was meant to be a confident gesture. Because, really — it takes balls to name your album after a Beethoven masterpiece.

On the surface, the funk that marked their immediate post-Revolution work permeates the 11 tracks on the album. But lurking beneath was an early alternative rock sensibility.

If anything, “Mother of Pearl” is downright blatant about being rock. A singer-songwriter ballad co-written with Michael Penn, the track features cryptic lyrics uncharacteristic of the more mainstream pop of the time.

“Cool day for a tidal wave/Drowned impressions falsely made/Cold stare makes light of this/Size me up make sure that it fits,” Wendy sings. It’s a couplet that sounds more New Romantic than Purple Rain.

The Middle Eastern-style guitar riff and thump-whack beat of “Strung Out” would never have fit next to Paula Abdul or Milli Vanili on a radio playlist.

And the grimy, wah-wah guitars of “Why Wait for Heaven” anticipated the advent of grunge’s crossover. (Back then, Nirvana and Soundgarden were still a regional phenomenom.)

But there are a lot of complex, funky rhythms on Eroica as well — “Skeleton Key” owes a lot to James Brown, while “Don’t Try to Tell Me” indulges in some heavy gospel influences.

But even a seemingly funky track such as “Cracks in the Pavement” has a rock grit — Wendy’s distorted voice in the chorus sounds like something an indie band would do today.

For all the maturity Eroica possessed — in a way, living up to its title — it lacked any real hooks. “Strung Out” and “Rainbow Lake” come close to the tunefulness found on the pair’s self-titled debut, but a song such as “Staring at the Sun” is more remarkable for its mix of influences than for its catchiness.

Eroica was definitely ahead of its time. Before the likes of Res, Eryka Badu and India.Arie blurred the lines between literate rock songwriting and R&B pop, Wendy and Lisa were already exploring the singer-songwriter potential of funk.

Eroica is out of print in the United States but may still be available as a European import.