Picks and Pans Review: The Artist Formerly Known as Prince
Prince and the New Power Generation
For years, Prince has pursued dual careers: sublimely gifted musician and breathtakingly batty movie star. Here he tries to combine both, with muddled results.
This kind of concept album used to be called a rock opera, but today a more fitting description would be MTV opera. Prince is planning a series of videos using songs from the album to tell the story of a torrid romance between a sphinx-like pop star (the role he always assigns himself) and a Middle Eastern princess (played by Mayte, a part-Egyptian, part-Puerto Rican belly dancer and ballerina who was discovered by Prince in Frankfurt). Kirstie Alley appears in one video. In a later one, Prince will reportedly name the logo (melding the male and female sexual symbols) that serves as the album title.
Musically, Prince seems intent on finally establishing his hip-hop credentials. Working with rapper Tony M., he achieves this on stripped-down dance summonses like "My Name Is Prince" and "The Max." But in the process, he forfeits his funk forte. And while he uses horns and vocal harmonies more confidently than ever, and portions of the album are rhythmically commanding, the melodies meander throughout. The only tune that gets the whole band in a strong groove, the James Brown—like "Sexy M.F.," is repetitive. (The chorus necessitated two album versions: one explicit, with a sticker; the other, bowdlerized, for the more conservative record chains.)
As usual, Prince concocts some interesting anomalies: the Caribbean-flavored soul serenade of "Blue Light" and the sexy ballads "Sweet Baby" and "Damn U." On a strong Prince release, these would be throwaways. Here, they are high points. It was probably smart of Prince to graft a video story line onto the album because the music alone doesn't hold attention. Maybe next time he'll put out a CD pop-up book. (Paisley Park/Warner Bros.)
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