CD Review: Prince's New 3-CD Set
Saturday, March 28, 2009
It isn't always easy loving Prince -- which seems to be just how the brilliant but occasionally baffling musician wants it.
This week, Prince launched a splashy intergalactic Web site, LOtUSFLOW3R.com, offering his most obsessive fans a year's worth of access to various manifestations of his creative genius -- including an early crack at his new, at-times-terrific triple-titled triple album -- for $77. But before they could sign up, they had to figure out how to get past the site's instruction-free front page, a task that required the unearthing of two clues stashed like Easter eggs on the page.
Once the user registered, the Prince treasure hunt continued, with three new albums ("LOtUSFLOW3R" and "MPLSoUND," plus a new protege's project, "Elixer," co-written and co-produced by Prince) stashed in different sections of the Flash-heavy site. To access "MPLSoUND," for instance, one had to triple-click the strings of the powder-blue Fender Stratocaster that popped onto the screen only after one clicked on the white swan with a headphone jack for a head. And no, I was not dreaming when I wrote this.
This is how Prince treats his most devoted fans?
After running the digital gantlet, though, there was a real reward, not just in the archival videos and other extras that were pulled from Prince's vaults and splashed throughout the site, but also in some of the new music, too.
The guitar-heavy "LOtUSFLOW3R" and the funked-up "MPLSoUND" are not exactly all-time Prince classics, but they're filled with enough standout musical moments to keep discerning musicologists happy. (As always, they're also filled with titles that look like typos -- further evidence that the unspoken life's mission of His Royal Badness is to drive copy editors crazy.) The generally strong quality comes as something of a relief, given some of his earlier, execrable efforts, from "The Rainbow Children" to "Come."
The sprawling three-album set will be available exclusively at Target stores and on the company's no-Easter-eggs-required Web site beginning tomorrow for $11.98. Including the tracks from "Elixer" -- a limpid, fairly generic set of airy, cooing soul by Bria Valente, who is Prince's new Tamar (who was supposed to be his new Apollonia) -- that works out to roughly 4 cents per song.
Call it the Prince stimulus package! And don't bother with the double-entendre: The formerly freak-nasty singer scraped his dirty mind -- and music -- out of the gutter when he became a Jehovah's Witness. One reminder comes on "Love Like Jazz," a snoozy "LOtUSFLOW3R" song on which Prince, now 50, sounds downright tame as he sings about the female form over some Esquivel-style lounge music.
Prince could have easily cut this and several other duds (helter-skelter surf-pop song "No More Candy 4 U," the cranky hip-hop rant "Ol' Skool Company") to make a single, superlative disc out of the project. But he'd apparently rather leave the editing to others. That, and he opted to keep his musical personalities separate.
"LOtUSFLOW3R" is a moody, meandering, esoteric psychedelic-rock album on which the little purple polyglot gets in touch with his inner "Purple Haze" and pays homage to Jimi Hendrix via liberal use of Hendrix's sonic signatures, from the wah-wah that opens "Dreamer" to the driving fuzztone chords of the explosive workout "Wall of Berlin."
It's one guitar virtuoso feting another, with Prince turning in dazzling instrumental performances on track (the simmering statement song "Colonized Mind") after track (the tender but blistering "Boom"). Occasionally, though, the instrumental prowess simply sounds self-indulgent, as on the New Age almost-instrumental "Back 2 the Lotus," whose shifty, spacey jazz chords suggest Prince trying out for Phish.
Prince turns his funkier side loose on "MPLSoUND" (short for Minneapolis Sound), which is full of frisky club songs that tend to blend the musician's vintage synth-and-drums sound with some modern twists, most notably the Auto-Tune vocal effect. Whereas Auto-Tune can be a dangerous weapon in the hands of some artists, Prince uses it sparingly to add to the giddy feel of club jams such as the boastful "(There'll Never B) Another Like Me" and the high-octane standout "Chocolate Box." It's thrilling stuff that serves as a reminder of why we loved Prince in the first place.
DOWNLOAD THESE: "Chocolate Box," "(There'll Never B) Another Like Me," "Wall of Berlin