Review Summary: In case you didn’t know, Prince is a pretty mean guitar player.
After coming out of a sort of self-imposed exile with 2004’s patchy but entertaining Musicology
, Prince has re-established himself as a legend, if not through his newer material than as an electrifying live act. My generation was certainly in for a shock when the man most of us knew chiefly through an impersonation on Chappelle’s Show
arrived at Coachella and proceeded to shame every other band in attendance, and his steadily growing reputation amongst those who would initially dismiss him has opened up an avenue for a potential comeback.
, in all honesty, will likely not be the album to catalyze this process. Lyrically, it doesn’t hold a candle to either the “Partyup” Prince nor the serious, political and spiritual Prince of days past: when he tries to make earnest on “$” with lines like “How many times you look for happy and you never see the rich folks there… What difference does it make who got the most bank/It’s just ink & chlorophyll”
it takes a lot of effort not to laugh at the prospect of a man who charged his biggest fans 77 clams just to get this album a few days earlier on a web site that ended up not working anyway preaching about money woes.
Nevertheless, by splitting his funky and rocker halves into two records (he also wrote and produced a third for new protégée Bria Valente), he makes things easy on potential newcomers by letting them get to know his styles in control environments before they move on to more chaotic (and brilliant) fare like Sign ‘O’ The Times
is the rock album, and if you’re only image of Prince is dance choreography and poofy shirts, you’re in for a surprise.
The overriding message behind the album is that Prince is one of the most underrated guitarists in the business. From the gentle fusion of the instrumental opener “From the Lotus…” to the downright shredfest “Wall of Berlin” and the scorching Hendrixian vibe of “Dreamer,” Prince lights up his fretboard with a myriad of solos that conjure everyone from Jimi to Eddie Hazel to John McLaughlin in his quieter moments. Hell, I’d wager I could slip this to any of my die-hard classic rock fans and they’d be asking me why on Earth I didn’t tell them about Prince before now (I have).
Unfortunately for any neophyte, however, the guitar is the only consistent item in the album. When that opener dumps into the bluesy “Boom,” the results are jarring, and it gets no easier when that in turn leads into the hippy-dippy folk rock of “The Morning After.” The spacey “Colonized Mind,” actually one of the finer tracks on the album, is the worst of all, slowing things down so suddenly after a scorching solo in “4Ever” that I felt like I was listening to a poorly sequenced playlist than an album from an established professional. And the doo-wop-esque ballad “Love Like Jazz” would have sounded bad even if it wasn’t so disconnected with the stomping rock that precedes or nor the echoing folk that follows (the excellent “77 Beverly Park”). Then again, the sheer variety on display on an album that doesn’t even explore a large portion of Prince’s sound shows that he’s not as down and out as many would say.
Like his previous efforts – the consistent but safe Planet Earth
and the late-career highlight 3121
– Prince drowns everything in so much production wizardry that it ends up masking the lesser material at the expense of giving the album any bite; as varied and disjointed as the songs are, they’re rendered almost samey once Prince goes out of the recording booth and back into the studio. Having said that, not even poor production can keep this from being one of the more enjoyable rock guitar albums made in some time; it lacks the dance-ability of guitar workouts like “Let’s Go Crazy,” but it’s not a technically cold shred album, either. Plus, songs like “Dreamer,” which discusses racism and how it will continue to exist despite Barack Obama’s election, demonstrate that the man still knows his way around meaningful lyrics, even if those moments are few and far between these days. LOtUSFLOW3R
is not the best album of Prince’s modern era, but it’s an incredibly solid affair that could potentially get as many newcomers jamming along with tennis rackets while still satiating the old fanbase.