Prince Attempts Comeback with New Double Album
Nick Anderson | Thursday, April 2, 2009
Being an aging artist is hard. The Rolling Stones are a shell of their former selves; Bob Dylan is on the verge of being incomprehensible; Elton John is selling out tours because of songs that are 30 years old. It’s incredibly rare for an artist to be relevant in more than one era. About the only exception is Johnny Cash. The important question for any artist attempting a similar comeback is “How?”
The easy answer to this question is a “hip” cover and a couple of strong albums. Prince started down this road in 2006 with a festival stopping cover of “Creep” (If you haven’t heard it, stop reading and find it on YouTube). Now all that is left is a couple of strong albums for a full Prince comeback.
Instead of being content funneling his last several years of effort into a single album, Prince has decided to go all out and release a double album along with an album from his latest protégé, Bria Valente. Conveniently, “Lotusflow3r”, “MPLSound” and “Elixir” all come packaged as a set, sold exclusively at Target for under $12. It’s hard to find cheaper music (legally).
Any Prince fan will know how to handle Valente’s disk. Expect that same types of songs that we’ve heard from other earlier Prince protégés such as Sheila E., Apollonia and Carmen Electra. The music, being wholly written and produced by Prince, has its high points but beyond that, it’s entirely forgettable. After a single listen, there isn’t a single song that would cause a listener to put this disk back into a CD player.
Moving on to the Prince songs, the disks fall into two separate genres; “Lotusflow3r” plays as a straight rock album while “MPLSound” jumps between funk and ballads. Both contain their fair share of highlights without one outshining the other.
“From the Lotus …” the opening track, welcomes the listener into what can only be described as a dark alley of the Internet where these songs must have been recorded. The track (it’s hard to call it a song) draws the listener into the world of Prince with a guitar solos, drum machines, and other worldly sounds.
The high points of the album come quickly. “Crimson and Clover”, a pop standard, becomes incredible in Prince’s skilled hands. Not only does he play it like he wrote it, he throws in a couple line taken from Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady.” Why does he do this? Because he’s Prince and it works. Of course, this also serves as a reminder that Prince has no intention of giving up his position as Hendrix’s heir apparent. “$”, “Wall of Berlin”, and “Dreamer” showcase some of his best guitar work since the closing of the 80’s.
Some of the best moments occur when Prince gives up his falsetto and electric guitar and stops sounding so much like Prince. “Colonized Mind”, which could be found on Prince’s Web site before the album, provides a great example of this. Some of the worst moments come when Prince sounds too much like Prince. Instead of moving forward, Prince is treading water sonically. (In fact, his weakest moments of the last 15 years could be summed up as this.)
“MPLSound” reclaims the distinct funk and soul sound that Prince helped popularize years ago. Clearly, he hasn’t lost his touch writing songs. While his rock tracks were always more popular, his funk tracks are tighter, catchier, and better examples of pop music.
After three excellent tracks, Prince slows down for the soul ballad, “U’re Gonna C Me”, which proves to be the weakest song from both disks. It feels both out of place and forced. Prince finishes strong with four excellent songs (one of which is an ode to Selma Hayek centering on her toddler) which more than make amends for a sagging middle.
As often happens when double albums are released, Prince has spread himself too thin. There are easily enough good songs to create a single great Prince album. Either way, a mediocre Prince album is better than 90 percent of the music out there.