By: Dennis Cook
There's a quaintly reassuring quality to Prince. For such an undeniable musical genius, he's grown pretty predictable, where each new album for more than a decade is a mix of blood warm funk saunters, Up With People style anthems (about God, environment, peace, hole-y unions), mushy ballads and a few wrongheaded, skip-worthy puzzlers. All this is said with absolute affection for Minneapolis' grooviest mastermind. He has no outside editor (and increasingly few collaborators that are more than tools in his kit wielded with iron-fisted authority), so it's all Prince, all the time, and that makes for varied, largely comfortable, unchallenging listening since 1995's The Gold Experience. This in no way reduces the excitement one feels grabbing a new purple joint. The man did create Sign o' The Time, Controversy, Parade, The Black Album and many other modern masterpieces of punk-funk-soul-psych, and some vestige of that magic remains intact. The bastard child of Sly Stone, Hendrix and Smokey Robinson knows what he's doing, and even the comfortable Apollo Theatre revue, smooth jazz inflected work of the past 10+ years hasn't totally diminished the feeling that one is sitting at the elbow of serious talent when Prince plays.
Which brings us to his new 3-CD set, Lotusflow3r/Mplsound/Elixir (released March 29 exclusively through Target stores/website on NPG Records). At a mere $12 bucks, one isn't likely to feel too ripped off no matter how they ultimately feel about the latest outpouring. Lotusflow3r is a perverse but not unappealing mix of Hendrix-y ramble with pussyman philosophizing that's alternately air guitar tasty or cringe worthy soft. I'm sure it all makes sense to Prince but to anyone outside his head it's sort of a New Age/self help generation concept album that kinda rocks. Mplsound is a good party that's gonna go over well with anyone who's been missing The Revolution (present company included) – trust me, the water is warm enough. Zero new ground is broken on his homage to the Minneapolis sound he birthed in the late '70s and '80s, but that's not the point. He's showing that he can do it like no other, and this is creamy nostalgia with enough nasty key squiggles and entendre (double and otherwise) to get you doing the electric slide with Morris and Jerome in no time. And Prince tosses in a couple syrupy slow ones to give you time to hit the bar, snag a dancing partner's digits and so on. Besides causing some shrinkage of the set's overall libido, "U're Gonna C Me" reminds us he's been speaking in text message for decades.
And then there's Elixir. For most guys, perfume or flowers will do when wooing the fairer sex but not Prince. He makes them albums, and never has it worked out that any of these ladies has even a thimble of real, lasting talent. The recorded debut from Bria Valente, another in a long line of distressingly beautiful women Prince has taken into the studio, is destined to join the landfill piled high with his productions for Carmen E., Apollonia, Mayte, etc. Valente has a breathy, little girl non-voice propped up by the studio, and the faux orgasmic moaning and Quiet Storm, between-the-sheets production is a snooze. Even the Dionne Warwick pastiche "Everytime" and '08 Madonna-like "2Nite" only momentarily distract us from the sheer crapitude. Really, spare yourself the grief and just skip this disc – I took the bullet for the collective.
Nothing here is going to replace "Let's Go Crazy," "If I Was Your Girlfriend" or any of his other hits. Mplsound andLotusflow3r aren't unpleasant while spinning but few cuts are truly memorable or original. There's not a single liner note or musician credit (if this is a solo Prince affair that may explain the fairly stiff drum sound – he's no Stevie Wonder behind a kit), and the graphics look like they were done by a former Night Flight designer. The music is similarly throwback, employing his pitched up "Camille" voice, loads of screaming, out-of-nowhere guitar histrionics, vocoder tricks, etc. His once vaunted drum machine prowess is sounding a little thin (the ol' 808 can get a stale over the long haul if ya ain't careful). And he should have long ago figured out that he should keep his mocha loverman self WAY far away from rap or anything like it. But again, no editor, no outside influence and the bubble remains firm as a full strength Star Trek shield.
However, while criticisms pile up, this is still a pretty catchy assortment overall. The man can write a decent hook and tosses out lyrics that one delights at working into their lexicon. The guitars are mostly sizzling and he's got one of the great voices of the past hundred years, so, there are plenty of plainly visceral treats scattered throughout. If he could allow an gifted producer into his world, say Rick Rubin or Tom Rothrock (Elliott Smith, Beck), allow them to offer constructive criticism and trim away the fat, then we might see a return to his glory days. There's ample evidence that the wheels are still turning furiously inside Prince and he's blessed with more talent than a fucking orchestra put together. Sadly, the chances of some outside force having ANY impact on his work is next to nil, so we're left with half-satisfying efforts like this. He could be so much more and that's what keeps me (and a whole bunch of others) racing to the record shop on release day to see what he's up to, with the tantalizing prospect of true brilliance always hanging on the edges of whatever he touches.
JamBase | Slippin' On A Purple Banana
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