Royal resurgence?

Prince returns to his ’80s roots
April 18, 2006 4:35:57 PM

PURPLE REIGN: 3121 sounds as if the dirty beats of hip-hop never happened.“Only the greats have somewhere to come down from,” wrote the late critic Ian McDonald. Even though he was referring to Randy Newman, he could have been talking about Prince, who at his peak was unquestionably great. Beginning with 1983’s 1999 and ending with Sign ‘O’ the Times in ’87, the Purple One reigned supreme. He had it all — carnal heat, an unfair measure of talent, and an engaging mystique. He also did it all — playing most of the instruments and spitting out catchy tunes like a force of nature, combining the sweat of James Brown and the funk of Sly Stone with Hendrix guitar. Prince was nothing if not unique.

“Everybody’s got a bomb/We could all die any day/But before I’ll let that happen/I’ll dance my life away” he sang on “1999,” and those sentiments are Prince in a nutshell. He’s always wrestled with God and the devil. He stretched this leitmotif about as far as anyone could, and by the early ’90s his ideas had become predictable. His fame had also led him down a Michael Jackson–like path, with bizarre name changes, a very public spat with his then-label Warner Bros., and, eventually, by hermetically sealing himself in his own purple wonderland. He released a slew of woefully slack albums like Emancipation and Crystal Ball, trying the patience of even the most hard-core fan (of which I was one).

By 2001’s The Rainbow Children, which addressed his conversion to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Prince seemed to have forsaken his fans (and they him). So it was a surprise when Musicology was released in 2004 to no small amount of interest, even wending its way into Billboard’s Top 10. It wasn’t great, but it showed focus, with tight production and catchy songs. It could’ve been the follow-up to, say, 1988’s Lovesexy, which was also its main flaw: not much has changed in Prince’s sonic universe in two decades.

And that’s the problem with the chart-topping new 3121 (Universal), an album that sounds as if the dirty beats of hip-hop never happened. It’s an album for those who crave Prince doing prime Prince, I suppose. If that’s your thing, you’ll appreciate the rock-steady title track, which employs a thick beat, Prince’s patented “Camille” voice, as well as the lines “Lock the door/Till you see the sun/We gonna party, like there ain’t going be another one.” It rings as familiar as the metallic funk of the playful “Lolita” and the raging “Fury,” which reshapes the riff of “1999.” “Te Amo Corazón” is a beautifully synthetic samba and the chunky, mechanical beats of “Black Sweat” recall the mechanical beats of “Housequake” — state of the art two decades ago.

Prince tries hard to prove he once again has it. 3121 is ripe with sturdy songs with tactile hooks — the sensual “Incense and Candles” and the bump and grease of “Love” insinuate themselves like a mouse through a rattlesnake. Still, one can’t help but feel that 3121 is passé. There’s nothing here you haven’t heard before. And none of it stands up to classics like “Kiss” or “Let’s Go Crazy” or “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” No new ground is broken, and that used to be a Prince hallmark. It’s not impossible to reinvent your art in new and interesting ways past a certain point in life. Consider Kate Bush’s recent Aerial, which is both of-the-moment and timeless. She’s still the same Kate Bush of 1977’s The Kick Inside, but she’s not inextricably bound to her old sound and persona. Prince is. He may have killed on a recent Saturday Night Live, and overall 3121 isn’t a bad album. It’s just one that’s stuck in another time.

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Dear Prince, I am a 54 year old but still young woman. I have loved your music since I heard "When the doves cry" and not to mention "Pop Life" and all your other combination of music and lyrics. I have never contacted a celebrity in my life but I have to tell you how brilliant I think 3121 is. Fury is my favorite so far and it is becoming my favorite song of all time. I am thin blonde with a soul that engages me with your music. I didn't win the trip to your house but if you ever want to invite me, I'm there. You are an outstanding artist. Without being condescending to the ruling party in our country, I have a feeling we would share the same views. Again, Fury is one hell of a song!! Please keep your artistry going. Very Best Wishes, Carol

POSTED BY carolm AT 05/03/06 3:13 PM
I’m not familiar with Kate Bush. Can someone please tell me how many instruments she plays; if she writes all her songs; sings all the hooks, melodies, leads, and backgrounds; how many number one songs/albums she has; if she is world renown as a trend setter and innovator; how many albums she has produced; if she is in the R&R Hall of Fame; has she transcended the cultural differences of her time to reach audiences that were unreachable before she came along; has she demonstrated the ability to harmoniously tie the different genders of music into a believable androgynous living and breathing entity that has become synonymous with her sound; how many successful performers credit her as their inspiration? Please note that this is in no way shape or form a criticism of Kate Bush. I wanted to comment on the article, but because I didn’t have any reference, I couldn’t. I would like to know a little more about this person that has be compared to and seemingly made to overshadow Prince and his greatness. I will be trying to find some of her music, but would like to have a little background to support her sound. Thank you

POSTED BY Smittty AT 10/26/06 9:35 AM

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