Picks and Pans Main: Song
While this new three-CD, three-hour album from one of pop's most creative forces breaks no new ground, it is an exhilarating, melodically rich tour de force. For the enigmatic auteur, it is the most cohesive, satisfying work in years and the first for his new label since he severed his 18-year connection with Warner Brothers. Finally he has erased the "Slave" graffiti scrawled on his face (his summation of his relationship with the corporate giant), hence the album title. (Those who hoped he might drop the nonverbal moniker as well will be disappointed, although he has now let it be known that he can also be addressed as The Artist). Whatever his handle, the virtuoso formerly known as Prince Rogers Nelson, 38, expands his lyrical content beyond his usual twin obsessions of sex and salvation to examine commitment and fatherhood. He leaps gleefully from genre to genre, moving from the nasty bass lines of "Joint 2 Joint" to the dreamy sway of "Soul Sanctuary" and the propulsive "Damned If I Do." The only missteps are the halfhearted attempts at rap, a style that has never suited him anyhow. But his fluttering falsetto sounds perfect on a faithful rendition of the Stylistics' "Betcha by Golly, Wow" (he also covers the Delfonics' "La La Means I Love You"), and he transforms Joan Osborne's hit "One of Us" into a raging guitar anthem. At such moments of abandon you're reminded that no matter what he calls himself, the symbolic one still matters. (NPG)
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