At ‘Planet Earth’’s swanky launch party, the man from 02 described the new record by Prince as the “best album he’s made in years.” He would say that; the hosts of Mr Rogers Nelson’s 21-night purple reign over London have a lot staked on it. So do the Mail On Sunday who recently gave away the brand new album as a free covermount.
The ensuing industry storm has seen record retailers, fearing for their bonuses, threaten to take his back catalogue off the shelves, and his record label, SonyBMG, wash their hands of the project for fear of upsetting the shopkeepers. But it’s given Prince a buzz that he hasn’t enjoyed since changing his name to a squiggle while waiting for his deal with Warners to expire. Furthermore, the brouhaha around the album has led many to assume it will be a return to his ’80s, er, purple patch.
The signs are good, the throbbing cock-rock-funk single ‘Guitar’, and at a lean 10 tracks, his musical incontinence looks to have dried up. In fact, this is the best Prince album since he went shit (basically, anything after ‘The Gold Experience’). Of the 10 tunes, six are killer and only four slow jams suck (that’s the rating sorted then), and if it never strays far out of his comfort zone, that zone is still bigger and more fantastical than most artists’ wildest adventures. The themes are the usual sex and serendipity, but there’s a light, Bacharach-ish flavour spread all over it like honey. Not least when the title track segues into ‘Could It Be Magic’. Better still are the country-rock ‘The One U Wanna C’, the sleazy, spring-loaded ‘Chelsea Rodgers’ and the totemic guitar attack ‘Lion Of Judah’.
Even in the autumn of his genius, Prince can still outfox the young bucks. This sounds more like a new Gnarls Barkley album than an old Prince one. A genius on autopilot is still very clever indeed.