I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around,
and don't let anybody tell you different

-Kurt Vonnegut

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

3121: The Review

"It's goin' down y'all. Like the wall in Berlin."

Now that's a statement only Prince could get away with (just about). Followers of this blog may have noticed a slight increase in posts tagged ‘prince’ in recent days. While some have publicly noted their concern with this development, others may be wondering what the deal is and what His Royal Badness is up to these days.

Well, let me give you a straight anwer: 3121. That's not only the address of Prince’s new crib in LA, it's also the title of his latest album, which despite the above mentioned warnings I will review now.

First things first: 3121is the best thing Prince has released in years. Seriously, this is the kind of mainstream comeback album 2004’s Musicology should have been. The minimalist beats on "Black Sweat" will remind people that miracles happen when you give Prince a drum computer. Give him a guitar and you get the same, as half the songs on 3121 will show.

Of course, here and there you'll find Prince trying too sound contemporary. "Incense and Candles" uses vocal effects last heard by Cher, and "Black Sweat" could easily fit on the next Neptunes-produced Snoop album. But unlike previous efforts, Prince now seems comfortable mixing such elements with more subtle reminders of his own greatness. An example: "Te Amo Corazon" is a cheesy ballad that succeeds well enough (Prince’ accent notwithstanding) in sounding like Latin Jazz – but listen to the bizarre string arrangement during the song’s first ten seconds, and you will recognize vintage Prince in an instant.

Sounding modern while reminding loyal listeners of his 1980s self is a perfect recipe for mass success, and that's what Prince is doing here. And while he fails on some tracks – such as "Lolita" and "Satisfied", both trying to hard to meet radio formats – most are winners, such as the sizzling "Incense and Candles", which features what must be the first Prince rap that’s actually any good, and "Beatiful, Loved and Blessed". The latter sees his latest protegĂ©e, Tamar, trying to spoil the fun with her bland vocals, but Prince saves the song with a blistering guitar solo and an outro that outfunks even the final track, James Brown-inspired "Get on the Boat".

But there’s more. Listen to 3121 and, surpisingly, you’ll find a handful of absolute standout tracks – pure Prince, beyond the whole old-school/new-school dichotomy that’s been haunting Prince albums since 1991. "Love" marks a roaring venture into techno beats; "The Dance" features sensual piano licks and Prince’s best screaming since "The Beautiful Ones" on Purple Rain; and "The Word"’s melodies are so cleverly simple it even makes you forget the lyrics ("safeguard against forked tongues and the treachery of the wicked one").

Even more breathtaking than these three is the title track. Put in the CD, close your eyes and you will be transported to Prince's house party, where people "drink champagne from a glass with chocolate handles", where the butterflies in your belly are "scared that they gonna be awake all night long", where Michael B. is back on drums and Prince plays the most insane rhythm guitar you’ve heard only to outdo himself during the solo seconds later, while none other than Camille, Prince’s female alter ego, sings in a sped-up voice and tells you that "that’s where the party be – 3121".

Make no mistake - the album as a whole is no masterpiece. There are just too many compromises for that. But to use an old clichĂ©, when it’s good, it’s great – and even the weaker tracks feature some of Prince’s most inspired vocals in years.

Listen to the whispering falsetto screams of “Black Sweat”, put your earphones on to experience "The Word"’s atmospheric midrange voice, and check out the uplifting harmonies on "Love" and the dissonant ones on the title track. Get it? Prince had fun recording this album. And whenever that happens, you’re bound to have fun listening to it, too.

3121 is out tomorrow in Europe, and Tuesday (March 21 - i.e. 3/21) in the US.


shari said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
shari said...

I'm THERE! I will OWN it. It's about time for some mainstream music from him. :)