By Brian Gearing
Though it starts with dirty, game-spitting, sex-talkin', West Coast electric funk, the opening title track from Prince's 3121 eventually gets down to the real message: theres a party goin' down, y'all — "like the Wall of Berlin" — and you're invited. The idea of this future world party with Prince as the emcee further mystifies the Purple One's mythos, which is dripping from this record like the sultry, Southern "Black Sweat" from the first single. While his last record, Musicology, was as much a tribute to his influences as a pure Prince record, 3121 is a tribute to the man himself, thick with his signature, synth-centered 80s dance rock and old and new-school funk but with new inspirations, both musical and spiritual, that prove that even legends can still learn a lesson or two.
"3121" is the invitation to the party that started four hours ago. With the dance floor bumpin', glasses shakin', and the smell of sex so thick you have to brush it away, Prince stands at the open door with legendary saxman Maceo Parker at his side and the lovely and dangerous "Lolita" on his arm, directing you in with a cautionary enticement: "You can come if you want to, but you can never leave."
As he's grown as a man and an artist, however, Prince's emotional palette has grown beyond the dark, steamy tones of sex-as-love and love-as-sex, and while there are no egocentric self-aggrandizements on par with "My name is Prince, and I am funky," the first half of 3121 centers around the hedonistic nightlife typical of much of Prince's career. As 3121 moves further from the winter's New Year's celebrations and long nights beneath the sheets, it opens its windows to the love blooming in the spring air outside the bedroom. "Love" starts with a bootie-droppin' bass thump and sings to a distant lover, but a larger idea that "Love is whatever you want it to be" comes to fruition in the rock beat and sunny, melodic chorus where love is "like the sky, it never stops."
If love is "The Word," then it is a greater love than we've come to expect. Asking "Get up, come on, let's do something. Don't you wanna know the word?" the song's earthy, acoustic groove ponders redemption and grace. And "Beautiful, Loved and Blessed," with assumed protégé Támar sharing vocals, is a prayer of thanks as much as a reminder to count your blessings, and it's as close to Christian pop as Prince has ever come.
Combined with his new perspective, the heavy krunk beats and thick, West Coast funk that mingle with the early synthesizer tones of his eighties material show just how much Prince has learned in the 1,122 years since 1999, though the apparent contradiction between the album's moods is more indicative of the Artist's philosophy than any evangelical rebirth. Love, sex, sin, and redemption are all equal parts of a life that should be celebrated, and 3121 is the soundtrack to the party. The cathartic James Brown funk of the closer calls us to "Get on the Boat," but the full, Maceo-led horn section assures us that we don't have to stop living to get saved.
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