Listening to Prince's newest album, it is apparent that the Artist Formerly Known as the Symbol needs to come back to Planet Earth.
The album does have a few strengths, a lot of problems, and one undeniable success.
Several tracks have potential. "Planet Earth" is musically reminscent of "Power Fantastic," likely due to the heavy influence of collaborators Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman on both tracks. "Power Fantastic" is a Parade-era outtake, which I believe was intended for the aborted Dream Factory project. It eventually surfaced on The Hits/B-Sides. What this means is, it could be classic Prince, but instead the music seems to be simply rehashed with some overdubbed guitar licks. Lyrically, the song covers a wide range of political ground, but none very effectively.
"Guitar," the first single, is classic Prince pop in many ways, but is too lightweight to be a serious contender. The song is built on a guitar lick that sounds wicked-catchy, but is as musically stale as the lick in Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" (also catchy as all get out). Lyrically, it makes Avril Lavigne seem like Joni Mitchell, and that's hard to do. The song is reminiscent of "Fury," 3121's third single, in that both feature simple but catchy hooks, but the lyrics is the opposite, so shallow as to disrespect women rather than praising their strength.
"The One You Wanna C" features some great rhythms and is musically one of the album's stronger tracks, but even with these potential strengths, the lyrics ruin the song. At one point Prince attempts to compliment his woman by telling her that he knows she "ain't no concubine." A couple lines later he suggests that if she "wants to get creamy" then Prince is "the one u [she] wanna c." I usually prefer intellectually destroying such tripe, but when faced with that I feel my gut reaction sums it up: ewwwwww.
Most of the rest of the albums is an outright embarassment. Prince's attempts to rap on "Mr. Goodnight" show him trying to expand into musical landscapes he's already failed in. I do appreciate his previous forays in "Get Off" and "Sexy MF," but those songs, especially "Sexy MF," had funk-laden backing tracks, while "Mr. Goodnight" rests on lightweight R&B (read: imitation soul).
"Lion of Judah" is Prince's latest attempt to blend sexuality and spirituality. In the past, no one could do this quite like Prince, but now he has a little too much brimstone behind him to make it successful. The song is all power when, to be truly vital, it needs enough nuance to allow the complexity of religion to show.
"Resolution," the album's second attempt at a political broadside, is not nearly as successful as "Planet Earth." It uses middle school logic to confuse itself into being a song that seems anti-war on the surface, but really takes no stand if examined closely, other then the obvious stand that Hallmark-card-style rhetoric makes everything better. This is a lite version of 2004's "Dear Mr. Man," both musically and lyrically.
The one indisputable achievement on this album is "Chelsea Rogers." The song starts with a James Brown bass beat, laying over it some Catfish Collins-style scratch guitar and then laying horn charts over that. The gospel vocals mix with soulful screaming and dramatic exultations. The overall effect is Prince's most exciting all-out-funk since 1986's "Girls and Boys." For all its old-school flavor, the track is entirely modern, all the way down to the Outkast-referencing line "shake it like a juicy-juice."
The final verdict? Download "Chelsea Rogers" and don't worry about the rest.