With Prince, born Prince Rodgers Nelson, a degree of excess has always factored into his prolific musical package. Coming as a kiss off to detractors, his ego is backed up by his talent and presence as a multi-instrumentalist, rapturous live performer and songwriter. His music tends to swallow an audience whole with its addictive grooves and unrelenting energy. So when Prince landed in 1978 with his succinct debut For You and winded through the ‘80’s and mid-‘90’s, in his wake he left albums and singles that defied genre gravity.
Then, something happened; Prince lost the innate balance which kept his excesses in check. Slowly his work took on a suffocating sense of insular paranoia and lost its engaging dexterity. During these “wilderness years” Prince began to self-release much of his work after being free of a major label deal and aimed them at his hardcore constituents. In 2004, on the 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking film and record Purple Rain, Prince regained the spotlight and attracted the casual and still enthralled the devoted. Musicology (2004), 3121 (2006), and Planet Earth (2007) quickly rolled out, records that were accessible studies in his sound, if slightly muted by his recent conversion to the Jehovah Witness faith.
At this time, his newly acquired audience and diehards waited patiently for that record that would be the afterglow of his creative zenith, which was arguably in 1988.
On his 30th studio album LOtUSFLOW3R, he unleashes possibly too much of a good thing upon the marketplace. LOtUSFLOW3R divides into three portions, LOtUSFLOW3R, MPLSoUND, and Elixir. The hard copy version is only available through Target retailers, and shows that Prince continues to find new and intriguing ways to get his music to listeners without the involvement of major labels. The digital version can be located on his website.
Elixir is sung by another (in a long line) of Prince’s pretty dolls, this one is named Bria Valente. For all intents and purposes, it’s a Prince album with her supplying the vocals. There is nothing to gravitate towards, and her sexuality is subdued so unlike Vanity or Apollonia there won’t be any rude jams found. It makes one pine for the more talented women Prince has worked with such as Sheila E., Wendy & Lisa, Jill Jones, and Sheena Easton; at least they had beauty and brains.
The focus falls upon the double records of LOtUSFLOW3R and MPLSoUND. FLOW3R is a platter of improvisational, loose jazz/funk and several rockier bits thrown in. Prince turns on his full vocal charm: croons, squeals, hiccups, and guffaws that glue the songs to their jumpy arrangements.
“Feel Good, Feel Better, Feel Wonderful” is a quirky, jovial romp that brings Prince’s live energy on the record and makes it hard pressed to keep one’s feet flat on the floor. He nods toward the vocoder trend tastefully on the lithe “Boom,” and works out his guitar to awesome effect on “Wall of Berlin.” The latter shows that Prince is one of the more underrated guitarists of the last several decades.
There are a few dim spots on FLOW3R where his message becomes lost in the translation, like on the preach heavy “Colonized Mind” and overstays his welcome on the instrumental closer “…Back to the Lotus” which detracts from the power of the matching opening partner “From the Lotus…”
MPLSoUND draws on Prince’s Linn LM-1 drum machine constructs that filled dance floors in the 1980’s. Opening with no less than three numbers that find him using the familiar beat bursts, echo snaps, snare snatches, and slippery/gummy synthesizer sound walls, it feels like a party on first listen. The humorous staccato stomp of “(There’ll Never B) Another Like Me,” the maniacal Willy Wonka flirt featuring Q-Tip “Chocolate Box,” and the glistening, Camille cameo of “Dance 4 Me” show that Prince can get down with the best of anyone.
Sadly, MPLSoUND loses steam after these three gems. Prince seems tired, as if padding the first section of the album left him uninspired, and every other song works productions that have noticeably been heard before. Evidence of this is heard on “Ol’ Skool Company” which could be a doppelganger for The Black Album (1987/1994) cut “Dead On It.” In other areas, mindless vamp rants, like the messily arranged “No More Candy 4 U” show that Prince’s overproduction is his undoing.
The record will exhaust casual followers and either underwhelm or delight longtime followers. It won’t reach the near perfect post-1988 recordings like The Gold Experience (1995) and that may frustrate some. Prince will continue to walk to his distinct groove, even if it has grown a bit too familiar. Three stars out of five.-QH
[Editor's Note: Written by Quentin Harrison and originally published in the April 8th-14th, 2009 issue of the Dayton City Paper. For more information on Prince visit http://www.lotusflow3r.com-QH]