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NOVEMBER 25, 1996 VOL. 148 NO. 24




Paisley Park, a lavishly weird recording complex just west of Minneapolis, Minnesota, is exactly the kind of place you'd expect to be owned and operated by a lavishly weird recording star like Prince. The wildly talented singer-songwriter doesn't go by the name of Prince anymore, of course; in 1993 he changed his name to the unpronounceable glyph [symbol for the artist formerly known as Prince], and now most people call him either "the artist formerly known as Prince" or, more familiarly, "the Artist."

The latter, one quickly learns, is correct usage among employees at Paisley Park, a workplace that seems to have just about everything but llamas. The walls are ringed by zodiac signs, dotted by paintings of puffy clouds and gilded with the Artist's gold records. High up on one wall is an illustration of two huge eyes-guess whose?--with a godlike sunburst beaming out from between them. The Artist's private office has a papal portentousness to it-the doors are made of stained glass. And when the Artist is on the premises, a glass pyramid that crowns the complex glows with a purplish light. That is how ye shall know he is among us.

But pretentious quirkiness without the platinum popularity to back it up can begin to feel a little Norma Desmondish, and the Artist has been suffering from dwindling sales for almost a decade. Purple Rain (1984) sold 13 million copies; his last album, Chaos and Disorder (1996), didn't even sell 100,000. But this week the performer who defined '80s glam-pop and helped pioneer rock-funk fusion is attempting a comeback. Having extricated himself from his contract with Warner Bros. Records (a pact he so despised he started writing slave on his cheek), the Artist is releasing a triple CD titled Emancipation, the first in his new deal with EMI. While the album's overall import falls well short of that of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, it does have its moments.

The famously reclusive performer is also doing interviews. Last week he sat down with a TIME reporter (who ducked the question of what one calls the Artist to his face by not calling him anything) to talk about his new album, his new contract, his new wife, his new child and all the newness in general that surrounds him lately. In person he seems more fragile than one might expect, with his thin frame and delicately eyelined eyes. When he speaks, his voice is deep and soft. "This record is very personal to me," he says about Emancipation, a 36-song, three-hour-long epic. "I got everything out of my system with it.

When I wrote it, I was a free man and a happy man and a clear man. You'll hear much more clarity and joy in it." But was a triple album really necessary? "I let the music dictate what I want," says the Artist. "Citizen Kane is a long movie; maybe this is my Citizen Kane. I've got nobody to answer to now. This is one of the most satisfying things I've ever done."

With songs like the racy Little Red Corvette, the Artist, when he was Prince, established a reputation for funky eroticism, for music that celebrated getting down and playing around. Now the Artist is married (his bride Mayte was one of his dancers) and has an infant child, and his album reflects his new domesticity. ("So what does your wife call you?" the Artist is asked. "She calls me many things," he replies.) Emancipation champions monogamy-especially on the swaying jam Friend, Lover, Mother/Wife. The Artist also seems anxious about the world his child will inherit-several songs, including New World, deal with technology's dangers.

"My writing has changed immensely," says the Artist. "Getting married has really got me focused. Songs come to me a lot easier. This album-I could almost see the whole thing done in my head. The common thread is love-even the angry songs I tried to resolve positively."

He's also resolved his anger toward Warner Bros. He calls his 1992 contract with the company "a learning experience." The Artist wanted to release more than one CD a year; Warner Bros. thought that would dilute his work. The company also released two CDs of Prince material against his will-The Black Album (1994), a sharp-tongued CD that parodied rap and that Prince had famously shelved; and the uneven Come (1994), a collection of outtakes. The Artist was not amused.

"You don't know how much it hurts not owning your own material," he says, his new deal having changed that. "When a record company goes ahead and does something with a song you wrote-let's say it turns up in a Nike commercial-it can make you angry for a week." An executive at Warner Bros. sees things differently: "Prince never understood that you can't release as much as you can spew out...That way of thinking can come from living isolated like he has in a place like Minnesota. He's shy and somewhat closed off, and has always had a small group of people around him who never told him anything he didn't want to hear. He wanted his freedom so badly. He was really tortured."

No longer. Last week the Artist held a coming-out party. Three hundred guests streamed into Paisley Park to hear him perform. The show started with a recording of Martin Luther King proclaiming, "Free at last, free at last!" The Artist then took the stage to play Jam of the Year, from his new album, and Purple Rain, one of his biggest hits. The concert ended when he announced, "Hey, man, it's my wife's birthday, we gotta get outta here! Nov. 19! Don't y'all let us down!" Nov. 19, of course, happens to be the release date of Emancipation. The first disc is mostly shimmery party music; the second is slower and sexier; the third draws from throbbing, dance-oriented techno. While a few of the new numbers, such as Let's Have a Baby, are as sharply winning as long-ago Prince smashes like Kiss and When Doves Cry, Emancipation is plagued with a lot of filler. In the end there are just too many middling songs. Still, listeners can indulge in a little emancipation of their own and make one great album out of this three-CD set. Directions: 1)Buy Emancipation and a blank tape; 2)Record these songs off the three CDs: Jam of the Year; Somebody's Somebody; In This Bed I Scream; One Kiss at a Time; Soul Sanctuary; Emale; Let's Have a Baby; Friend, Lover, Mother/Wife; My Computer; and the title track. A little extra work? Sure. But well worth it. Freedom has its price.

* Reported by David E. Thigpen/Chanhassen



So you've been a Prince protege. Are fame and fortune guaranteed? Well, no. Every few years, however, articles like this one will check in to see how you're doing

APOLLONIA Her big moment came in the 1984 movie Purple Rain, in which she played Prince's love interest; her high-water mark since then was a role on CBS's now canceled series Falcon Crest in 1985-86

MORRIS DAY The flamboyant dance-craze lead singer of the R. and B. group the Time played Prince's nemesis in Purple Rain and Graffiti Bridge; he's currently touring with the Time, just like old times

VANITY The singer was a Prince discovery who toured with him in the '80s; today she's a born-again Christian and the director of public relations for Genesis Technology Group Inc., a Virginia computer firm

WENDY & LISA Guitarist Wendy Melvoin and keyboardist Lisa Coleman played in Prince's band; they recently produced rocker Doyle Bramhall's CD and are in the studio working on compositions of their own



'Emancipation' proclamation: Outstanding

Only a slave to the beat could create the liberating sonic spree on Emancipation (**** out of four). Released Tuesday, the three-hour, three-CD set by the artist formerly known as Prince is astounding in both its stylistic breadth and disciplined focus.

The Artist freely roams genres, moods and themes in 36 songs that capture his funk essence and distill his vision while showcasing a rare ability to master and manipulate any motif. In addition to honing his familiar rock/soul signature, he boldly tackles rap in Mr. Happy, Spanish rhythms in Damned If (Eye) Do, jazz swing in Courtin' Time, techno in Slave and house music in Sleep Around.

As usual, the sexual and the sacred intermingle in his tunes, though now there's a compelling emphasis on the joys of monogamy and commitment, from the sweet piano ballad Let's Have a Baby to the achingly devotional Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife.

The sprawling collection, produced, arranged, composed and performed almost entirely by The Artist, is rife with crunch and simmer, pelvic thrusts and fluttery heartbeats, euphoria and pique. Savion Glover of Broadway's Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk tap dances the percussion on a show-stopping, polyrhythmic Joint 2 Joint. A silky falsetto pierces Get Yo Groove On, and a sultry sway defines Sex in the Summer and the grinding In This Bed (Eye) Scream.

He reinvents four diverse songs popularized by other artists, including a playful cover of the 1972 Stylistics hit Betcha By Golly Wow! and a loving (Eye) Can't Make U Love Me, the Mike Reid tune Bonnie Raitt made famous. The Artist's gutsiest move may be unleashing a triple album, even one that's attractively priced at $25, mere months after Chaos and Disorder stiffed, selling only 100,000 copies. If Emancipation flops, it could signal the end of his Purple reign, but only commercially. Artistically, the royal funkster has lost none of his majesty.

By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY


Music Pop/Rock



Intended as both an extended retort to critics who say he's lost his touch and a declaration of freedom from his former label (Warner Bros.), this three-hour, triple-CD set is somewhat less than the wall-to-wall tour de force our man no doubt envisioned. Which isn't to say that there's not easily, oh, an hour's worth of top shelf material here. Serving up juicy bubblegum funk ("Sex in the Summer"), evoking the swing era ("Courtin' Time"), impersonating a power pop band with a Santana fixation ("Damned If I Do"), or covering his fave falsetto-soul oldies (not to mention Joan Osborne's "One of Us"), the Artist again bowls us over with the sheer breadth of his freewheeling eclecticism. The major sticking point is the so-so dance tracks, which rattle on and on to little purpose. As impressive as much of it is, Emancipation would feel a lot more liberating if it were freed of the perky filler the Artist seems to craft so effortlessly. B

Review by Tom Sinclair


December 1, 1996

The Artist Formerly Known as Prince
"Emancipation" (New Power Generation)

The problem with critiquing the Artist's new three-disc opus is one of perspective. Do you (A) line it up next to his recent work, the half-intentionally shoddy stuff he pumped out as he squirmed out of his Warner Brothers contract; (B) compare it with his older work; or (C) view it in context of today's music?

So you try all three-and the answers are easy:
(A) It's stellar; (B) it's darned good; (C) it's stellar.

"Emancipation" is a whopping reminder that the former Prince is one of the most creative musical innovators of the late 20th Century-at least when he feels like it. And that's not just hyperbole. "Emancipation," with its 36 tracks, could easily have emerged sprawling, unwieldy and cumbersome. It's not. Taken as a whole, it's as well-crafted as the infectious songs themselves, laying down moods and reining them in with purpose and precision, touching down on hip-hop, graceful funk, slow-burn sensuality and sweet soul.

Delicious cover songs pop up: An old-soul take on the Delfonics with "La, La, La Means I Love U"; an urgent, steamy rendition of the Bonnie Raitt hit "I Can't Make You Love Me"; a stirring romp through the Stylistics' "Betcha By Golly, Wow." But it's the new stuff that goes back to the funk and injects the juice, led by a heaping helping of solid tracks: the fluid "Somebody's Somebody," the hot "Sex in the Summer," the electronic club fare of "The Human Body," the hip-hop-trip-hop "Face Down."

The familiar Prince themes-sex, spirituality, sin and redemption-are here, along with a new strain of anti-corporate sermonizing. In "Slave," "Style" and the disc-closing title track, the Artist sings of "breaking the chains," taking snarky aim at the Warner company and individual (though unidentified) label staffers.

Held up to any light, this is one of Prince's best, certainly tops since 1987's "Sign 'O' the Times." And it doesn't take a critic to know what a good Prince album means.

By Brian McCollum



Where to start with what is probably the longest conventional release ever by a mainstream pop artist? By saying this: if you like your albums neat, focused, and easily assimilated, try Kula Shaker. This is meant not as snobbish put-down but practical advice. At a little over three hours, Emancipation is almost as long as Hamlet (the play) and roughly as long as 20 Hamlets (the slim panatella). The very reason it works so well lies in its multifariousness, its almost silly variety. If not quite Shakespearean in scope, it certainly covers some ground. Although, that said, matters of the heart, feet and front bottom still dominate TAFKAP's thinking.

It would be stretching a point to say that each of the three discs is thematic, but things pan out thus: Disc One is a kind of conventional album in miniature; the pretty stuff is on Disc Two, a shamelessly romantic offering to new bride Mayte, while Disc Three is the most risky and the likeliest to prick the ears of TAFKAP devotees with its excursions into rap and thumping techno.

Jam Of The Year is a tasty if unadventurous hors d'oeuvres, a musical prawn cocktail if you will. Right Back Here In My Arms and Somebody's Somebody are much more like it. Having passed over The New Power Generation band, Emancipation is the work of a lone obsessive cloistered in Paisley Park playing with the biggest train set a musically precocious boy can have. Both tracks have some of the solitary, claustrophobic intensity that informed the best work on Sign O' The Times viz If I Was Your Girlfriend and It. Get Yo Groove On is simply charming from its ersatz pizzicato strings to its internal narrative concerning a night on the town. "It don't take Stevie Wonder to see I'm wearing the right clothes to get in this club. I could buy every one of you" whinges the redneck punter who may or may not be a broad caricature of a white record company executive.

The highlights of this first third are the lovely White Mansion and the quite brilliant In This Bed I Scream, a melding of pop, rock and glitzy electro-soul that recalls his finest moments. If Disc One were all TAFKAP had released, it would probably still be his best album since Diamonds And Pearls.

Disc Two positively drips honeyed affection for his new bride, the Puerto Rican dancer Mayte, and certainly Sex In The Summer, Let's Have A Baby and Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife run dangerously close to being great, padded, valentine cards of songs but are rescued from schmaltz by TAFKAP's unique musical sensibilities: curdled brass harmonies, wilfully mechanical percussion, peripheral noises of unknown provenance etc. Though arguably the weakest of the three CDs, Disc Two does have one incontrovertible gem, The Holy River, an elegant, heartfelt tune that goes nova around five minutes in with an incandescent guitar solo. Already, the excitable are calling it the new Purple Rain.

The final disc includes two dalliances with rap, of which Da Da Da is a largely dumb and inconsequential harangue by Scrap D while Face Down is quite magnificent. TAFKAP's own take on gangsta, it pulses with understated menace without ever losing its cool and the "dead like Elvis" looped fragment is a masterstroke. The Human Body, a relentless dancefloor anthem with obvious roots in acid house has one eagerly awaiting P's first drum'n'bass record. Waiting quietly near the end of this bumper package is maybe the finest moment of the whole 180-odd minutes, the beautiful My Computer. Perhaps the most heartfelt hymn to technology since Kraftwerk's Computer World, it features both Kate Bush and the computerised voice-prompts of the America OnLine computer network and is a career highlight.

Not since Diamonds And Pearls has TAFKAP made such a consistently successful album and not since Sign O' The Times has he given his fecund, unknowable intelligence such free reign. One can second-guess the negative reviews right now: it's too long, it lacks shape, it costs too much, etc, etc; and there's truth in all of this. It probably does demand a week off work, a tent in the garden, a Thermos and some sandwiches to do it justice. But most of us will have had worse holidays.


Stuart Maconie



NPG Records

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)





Barely a week old, EMANCIPATION already stands as one of the most important releases in Prince's long and often brilliant career. His third release in just over a year (and eighth in the last five), EMANCIPATION is being hailed by His Royal Purpleness as the album he "was born to make," and by and large, the three-disc, 36-song effort stands as a profound celebration of artistic freedom for the 38-year-old Minneapolis-based artist.

But will it sell? Good question, and one of many that surround the release. It's well documented that, coming off of the decidedly lackluster reception for his last Warner Bros. release, the appropriately titled CHAOS AND DISORDER, Prince is in need of a hit. He'll need several, in fact, to carry a three-disc set through a sluggish and uncertain market.

Prince has always been a clutch player, however, and to his credit, EMANCIPATION is a strong and varied release that should reaffirm his status among the game's top players. Produced, composed, arranged and performed by Prince, EMANCIPATION is a veritable smorgasbord of sounds and grooves. Accompanied by an everchanging but talented cast throughout, Prince deftly navigates a sea of influences that is as deep as it is wide. No stone is left unturned, and Prince's artistry is put to good use as he hops from genre to genre, blurring lines and creating intriguing fusions along the way.

It's clear from the start that a certain amount of thought went into the set's sequencing, allowing for maximum enjoyment of what amounts to a considerable amount of material. Often, however, songs tend to outlive their usefulness as they drag on past the five-minute mark, though in most cases, Prince redeems himself with the next selection.

Are there hits? You bet, and His Glyphness went to great lengths to ensure a sufficient hit quotient, beginning with lead single "Betcha By Golly Wow," a remarkably soothing reworking of the Stylistics' 1972 hit that graces disc one. "Betcha" is but one of four covers offered here, including the Mike Reid-penned Bonnie Raitt tune "(Eye) Can't Make You Love Me" and a touching rendition of Joan Osborne's recent hit, "One Of Us," that, while placing special emphasis on the message, benefits greatly from a new messenger.

Throughout the three discs, it's clear that Prince is once more enjoying his muse, the lack of which clearly bogged CHAOS AND DISORDER and its predecessor, the late-'95 release THE GOLD EXPERIENCE. And, as time has shown, a happy Prince makes for happy Prince fans. Clearly, everyone wins.

Much of said contentment can be traced to a newfound stability within the artist's life, including his marriage to beautiful and talented dancer Mayte Garcia and the birth of the couple's first child. Both are recurrent themes on EMANCIPATION, and as much keys to its celebratory nature as his exodus from Warner Bros., depicted in the breaking-the-chains image that adorns the cover.

At 36 songs and three hours, EMANCIPATION is asking a lot of the listener. PURPLE RAIN it's not, but neither is it CHAOS AND DISORDER. Somewhere between, Prince has made peace with the demons that drive him and the angels that guide him, and the result is an effort that stands head and shoulders above recent multi-disc offerings by artists of similar stature. Head to head with Michael Jackson's HISTORY collection (which relied on a smattering of past hits as its selling point) and the Smashing Pumpkins' MELLON COLLIE AND THE INFINITE SADNESS (which was more filler than filling), there is no comparison.

Prince continues to chart his own course. You can either put your faith in him and follow, or get off the boat. But pay no attention to misguided critics who'll tell you that EMANCIPATION is nothing more than a sprawling mishmash-they've missed the boat entirely. The Purple Reign continues.

Steven Batten



(NPG/All formats)

"... For the past two years, the antics of Prince/TAFKAP/sort-of-swirly-trumpet-arrow-and-ring-type-thing have been a soap opera in their own right - more gripping, hilarious and downright absurd than a Brookside omnibus. We were talking here about a diminutive musician with a crap moustache not being allowed to release ten zillion albums a year but, from all the hype and anti-hype, you'd think we were discussing the massacre of all first-born.

So hold your breath because Warners have thrown in their hand and we have reached cards-on-the-table time. An audacious triple-CD set, three hours of solid, liberated Symbol. First impressions: sense of triumph ('White Mansion', 'Jam Of The Year', 'New World'); still fairly interested in 'makin' it' with the 'laydeez'; spelling not improved.

Indeed, let the formulaic smoochy rap likes of 'Eye Can't Make U Love Me' and 'Mr Happy' leave strange stains on your duvet and be convinced that - far from probing the unmapped corners of his genius - the Princess Diana Of Funk's contractual release means that he can finally start flogging the stray tunes left in his 'Must Send To Boyz II Men' file. Still, freedom rarely means the onrush of fine art. There's at least one-and-a-bit excellent TAFKAP albums to be uncovered here. Pass over the seduction slush of 'One Kiss At A Time', 'Soul Sanctuary', 'Sex In The Summer'... hell, most of CD2 and you're rewarded with 'The Holy River' and 'The Plan': odes to religious and romantic redemption that drip tankerfuls of pouting passion.

Take a rusty compass to the Foreigner-like cover of Joan Osborne's 'One Of Us' ("What if God was one of us?/Just a SLAVE like one of us?" Er, I think we get the point, Prince, mate) and you can delight in the trouser-bursting raunchiness of The Stylistics' 'Betcha By Golly, Wow'.

True, with a whopping 38 tracks to trawl through, rooting out the diamonds, pearls and raspberry berets buried with 'Emancipation' is akin to looking for a plot in the telephone directory at times. But there are hints in the squeal-heavy 'Slave' and the big band bonanza of 'Courtin' Time' that TAFKAP didn't leave his talent in a cellar at Warners HQ, wrapped around the ball and chain as a decoy. (5/10)"

Mark Beaumont


Tuesday, November 26, 1996

NPG, c/o EMI, 1290 Ave. of the Americas, New York, NY 10104

From CMJ New Music Report...

Release from slavery, whether literal or figurative, is a cathartic moment, one where you can finally say and do everything that's been pent up inside. Surprisingly, Emancipation, 's expression of freedom following his departure from Warner Bros., is subdued, very few of the songs on the three discs showing the manic exuberance it's clear he feels. But Emancipation's soulful grooves also show a man, now 38, whose music has matured naturally beyond the mayhem of earlier party records such as 1999; although he's been waiting a long time to let people hear these songs, besides the two obvious songs "Slave" and "Emancipation," they aren't written about his situation with Warner Bros. Instead, he writes about his happiness about his marriage, his wife and their child (about whose birth there are plenty of rumors and speculation, although and wife Mayte refuse to comment). The first single is a cover of the Stylistics' "Betcha By Golly Wow," an unusual choice for a songwriter who is so prolific, and whose songs have been covered by so many others. On it, he says, "sometime[s] a man can't find words to express all he feels inside," which likely indicates his state of mind about all the changes that have happened to him recently. He also covers the Joan Osborne hit "One Of Us," a song whose lyrics seem as if he should have written it. The funky, classic Prince-style tunes are many, including "Jam Of The Year," "Slave" and "Emale." Now that he's emancipated, seems a lot happier, and a little mellower. Listen to the above, plus "Courtin' Time," "Emancipation" and "Style."




(NPG/EMI Records)

Overabundant creativity is both the blessing and bane of Prince Rogers Nelson, a.k.a. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince (TAFKAP). Compulsively driven to conjure up endless songs and detailed soundscapes, his talents have led to glorious musical triumph and to years of well-documented strife with his record label Warner Bros. Meanwhile, the record-buying public has been largely absent of late, content to purchase the occasional single and to wax nostalgic over old copies of "Purple Rain." Now free from Warners (and, apparently, any notion of restraint), TAFKAP has brazenly released a colossus; "Emancipation," a three-CD, three-hour, 36-song set.

The sheer size and ambition of the beast may at first make for guarded, skeptical listening. As TAFKAP effortlessly jumps from hip-hop to jitterbug jazz, pure pop, Latin grooves, techno and the usual dance-floor jams, you get the feeling that he'd do anything to endear you back to his purple circle. But after a few spins, "Emancipation" emerges as an eclectic and winning overachiever in the "Sign O' the Times" mold, truly his most inspired work in quite some time.

The highs and lows of "Emancipation" come right out and announce themselves. "The Holy River," a personal reflection on sex, love and God, is the masterpiece; it's a song so powerful and accomplished it makes TAFKAP's straight-ahead cover of Joan Osborne's "One of Us" seem like a Sunday-school ditty. "Joint 2 Joint" is the epic; mega-bass avant funk that's funny, spooky and resolutely experimental. The outright duds are "Style," a crass attempt at a fashion show theme song; and "Emale," which hopefully is the first and last song ever to have a web URL for a chorus.

"Emancipation's" biggest bid for excellence is the entire second disc. Consisting mostly of slow jams, among them "Dreamin' About U," "Let's Have a Baby," and "Saviour," TAFKAP sings of love and devotion to his new wife and child in a breathy falsetto. What could have been a lengthy death-by-sappiness instead becomes one of the Artist's most intimate and finest hours, culminating with one of his strongest ballads ever, "Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife."

Forget the "Rain" already, this is a purple deluge of creativity. Rumored to be TAFKAP's last album of new material until the very Princely year of 1999, "Emancipation" is both excessive and essential.

* Patrick Macias

Patrick Macias is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.



By Greg Kot, Tribune Rock Critic
Web-posted Friday, November 22, 1996; 6:04 a.m. CST

So what to make of an artist who has just dropped three 60-minute CDs of new music on an already glutted pre-Christmas album market? Is he a self-indulgent egomaniac, a genius, a crackpot or a little of all three? The Artist Formerly Known as Prince is back with a triple-CD, "Emancipation" (NPG Records/EMI), that is bound to test as much as entice even diehard fans with its pricy girth.

For lapsed Prince-aholics, this latest marketing head-scratcher is in keeping with a career that seems to have grown stranger by the year since his last clear-cut masterpiece, the 1987 "Sign 'O' the Times," a mere double CD containing less than half the amount of music on "Emancipation." Indications that Prince had lost his way, if not his head, reached critical mass a few years ago when he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and started etching the word "slave" on his cheek, in protest of what he called his Warner Bros. label's draconian tactics in limiting him to only one album per year. Given the erratic quality of the work that was released, the suspicion in some quarters was that the suits at Warner Bros. knew what they were talking about.

But Prince has always been a constellation of eccentricity in a galaxy of pop stars who claim to flout the rules but rarely do. This was a guy who, after all, appeared clad only in bikini briefs and lingerie on the cover of his dynamic 1980 album, "Dirty Mind," tossing an androgynous curveball at funk's masculine prototype. He employed a multiracial, co-ed band that played both rock and R&B with equal authority as he became one of the few pop stars who transcended color lines on radio and the concert circuit. He released wildly different albums with dizzying rapidity, ping-ponged from style to style and persona to persona, and indulged his artistic whims instead of the money machine, once even pulling a finished work ("The Black Album") only days before it was to be released at considerable expense to himself and his record label.

If the recent work has been less consistently brilliant than his unassailable string of classics from the early to mid-'80s, it has not been without its charms. But solid albums such as the 1995 "The Gold Experience" have been overshadowed by his public pouting over his increasingly strained relationship with Warner Bros. He began releasing older material on such albums as "Come" and "Chaos and Disorder" to bail out of his contract, and toured North America only once since 1988.

Such behavior may have enhanced Prince's reputation as one of pop-culture's stranger inhabitants, but his artistic credibility has been taking a beating. So when he announced that he would celebrate his "emancipation" from Warners with a triple-CD to be released on his own New Power Generation label and distributed by EMI-Capitol, skeptics scoffed. Although a handful of major artists had released triple vinyl albums in the pre-CD age, none of those discs approached the 180-minute length of "Emancipation."

In a year when album sales have been soft and there is a surfeit of superstar product already in the stores, consumers will be hard-pressed to shell out for a multi-disc package (even if Prince has insisted that the discs be priced at under $30--about 33 percent below normal retail level for a three-CD package-and says he will contribute a portion of his proceeds to a children's charity he has established in Minneapolis).

But for Prince followers, "Emancipation" will be worth the dough, his strongest album of the '90s. It's far from flawless, and clearly would have been a stronger work if its 36 songs were pared by one-third and contained on two discs. Among the candidates crying out for immediate execution are the pallid P-Funk rewrite "Mr. Happy," not one but two throwaways about lap top culture ("Emale" and "My Computer"), and a mushy remake of the Delfonics 1968 soul ballad "La-La Means I Love You." But the range and ambition of "Emancipation" is dazzling, touching on pop, rock, funk, gospel, hip-hop, soul, house and techno. This grab-bag of songs isn't divided arbitrarily; each disc has its own sonic and thematic character.

3 distinct discs

The first finds Prince at his most accessible and traditional, even sounding slightly retro as he goes for a Louis Jordan jump-blues feel on the horn-strutting "Courtin' Time" and drifts back to 1972 for a flamboyant take on the 1972 Philly soul hit for the Stylistics, "Betcha By Golly Wow." The airy, synth-swept "White Mansion" is also a look back at his early career as a struggling artist, a prelude to his later record-industry battles, as he scoffs, "Sell my publishing-what a laugh!"

The love songs are full of irresolution and yearning, emotions made palpable by brilliant arrangements and orchestrations: the way a triangle chimes over a fat bass line on the slinky soul ballad "Right Back Here in My Arms," and Prince's voice turns into a multi-tracked choir of gospel-soaked singers on an erotic reinvention of Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me," and writhes in falsetto torment over a barrage of baroque keyboards on "In This Bed I Scream."

The second disc returns to one of Prince's favorite themes-sex as salvation-this time with an emphasis on a monogamous relationship ("To make love with another/No, I couldn't do it, no way," he insists on "Saviour") in keeping with his recent marriage to dancer Mayte Garcia and impending fatherhood. Bookended by the breezy "Sex in the Summer" and what sounds like a solemn wedding processional, "Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife," this music comes closest to the abstract pop brilliance of "Sign 'O' the Times."

"Curious Child" could be an Elizabethan ballad, were it not for its vaguely illicit subject matter; underneath the undulating guitar of "Dreaming About U," Prince muses about his "sane twin" and "lustier twin"; "Joint 2 Joint" is acid-funk punctuated by a head-tripping organ riff, a tap-dance solo and a hilarious bit in which Prince sings while crunching a mouthful of cereal; and "The Holy River" unfolds over seven minutes from shimmering folk-pop into a lightning bolt of a guitar solo.

A look at the world

The final disc is a state of the world report, and its tone is bleak. It suggests that Prince's artistic squabbles are part of a broader repression of the human spirit in an age dominated by technology, bureaucracy and duplicity. The music is equally harsh and machine-driven, flirting with techno, hip-hop, house and even industrial rhythms rather than the limber, organic funk of the earlier discs.

On "New World," Prince paints a picture of an Orwellian police state: "They're always listening-especially on the phone." On "Slave," the most direct reference to his Warners troubles, he verges on self-pity: "How'd they keep me under for so long/Break the bread I earn," while the title song is filled with defiance: "When they tell me that's enough that's when I wanna fill my cup."

In general, the third disc is the least instantly inviting, but includes the album's finest 3 1/2 minutes of music: "Face Down." A cryptic tale of artistic repression that suggests a cross between the brooding menace of Sly Stone's "There's a Riot Goin' On" and the dyspeptic word play Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues," it oozes paranoia over a menacing vocal loop of a woman intoning, "Just like Elvis." When Prince commands, "Orchestra!," a lone keyboard responds with an exhausted sigh. It's one of the most riveting pieces of pop music released in '96, and an indication of just how vital the Artist Formerly Known as Prince can still be.


Emancipation From a Rut
Three cheers for The Artist Formerly Known As Kaput

Daily News Staff Writer


Who but The Artist Formerly Known As Prince would force his fans to absorb a triple-CD set crammed with three full hours of new music at the commercial death point of his career? And who but this guy would have the brilliance to bring it off? On "Emancipation," TAFKAP does the barely possible: He releases 36 songs with no terrible ones and at least 25 really good ones. Especially coming after his creative dry spell on Warner Bros., the album's invention, growth and sheer hook-appeal startles.

While his new distribution company, EMI, certainly has a marketing nightmare on its hands trying to hawk such an unwieldy and pricey set, it's crammed with some of the most scorching grooves and fleet melodies of TAFKAP's career.

To make this monolith more digestible, each of its three albums boasts a distinct character. The first CD takes on the deep easy grooves of modern R&B (a la R. Kelly or Jermaine Dupree), wiping the floor with the competition through vastly superior melodies. A groove track like "Jam of the Year" lives up to its title, bridging Curtis Mayfield and Jodeci, while the pop melody in "In This Bed I Scream" burrows as deep as "When Doves Cry."

The second album stresses adult-pop ballads, nudging TAFKAP closer to Babyface turf - but with edge. Lyrically, the star makes an even bigger change, moving beyond his sex-machine role to explore committed love and fatherhood (reflecting his own life). Eroticism continues here, but in a more nuturing context.

On the third album, TAFKAP swings experimental, playing with club grooves and finding smart new tricks for the bass and drums.

Scattered throughout the albums are a few covers, lowlighted by Joan Osborne's overexposed "One of Us" and highlighted by the Stylistics' "Betcha By Golly Wow," which shows off TAFKAP's falsetto as its shiniest.

But he needn't rely on such nostalgic signposts to fire this work. By reviving a flair for songwriting long gone in modern R&B, while rendering his vocals more sober and his lyrics more thoughtful, one of pop's most maddening figures rewards our patience at last.

Original Story Date: 11/19/96

The Artist Formerly Known as Prince: 'Emancipation'

By Mark Jenkins
Special to the Washington Post
Nov. 24, 1996

As its title announces, the ex-Prince's new album marks his "Emancipation" from his lucrative contract with Warner Bros.; he now records for his own NPG label, distributed by EMI. The wantonly prolific singer-songwriter, who changed his name to a psychedelic male/female glyph in 1993, complained that his former label wouldn't release his albums as frequently as he wished. This, apparently, wasn't merely a matter of marketing and artistic control; Warner Bros. owed him an advance for each album it agreed to release, and ex-Prince (reportedly known to his pals as The Artist, short for The Artist Formerly Known as Prince) needed the cash to support his overextended media principality.

Although "Emancipation" is a partial return to form, it's probably too meandering to reinstall ex-Prince at the top of the charts. Running one second short of three hours of music, these three discs contain 36 songs that emphasize '70s-style funk grooves, produced, composed, arranged and (mostly) played by ex-Prince.

There are a few tentative engagements with hip-hop and techno, as well as an excursion into jump jazz ("Courtin' Time"), but little of the new-wave beat or hard-rock guitar that made 1980's "Dirty Mind" a critics' favorite and 1984's "Purple Rain" a crossover sensation. Most curious (or perhaps calculating) are four literal-minded covers: the Delfonics' "La-La Means I Love You," the Stylistics' "Betcha by Golly, Wow!", Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me," and Joan Osborne's "One of Us."

The latter is actually among the album's few meditations on the divine, usually one of the singer's principal (and most problematic) subjects. Now married to dancer-backup singer Mayte Garcia, and the father of a baby girl, ex-Prince does get a little cosmic about marriage and propagation on such tracks as "The Holy River," "Let's Have a Baby" and "Friend, Lover, Sister, Mother/Wife." "Style," he sings, "is the glow in a pregnant woman's eyes." That's pretty banal, but it's more compelling than the album's two songs about the Internet.

Unsurprisingly, the album's standouts are seldom about anything other than their own delirious rhythms (with a side helping, of course, of eros). "Jam of the Year," "Get Yo Groove On," "We Gets Up," "Sex in the Summer," "Slave," "New World" and "Face Down" are worthy successors to "1999," and that's not a complete inventory of the discs' canny dance tracks. Perhaps if ex-Prince were still signed to a major label, he'd have been forced to edit this set to a propulsive double or an explosive single album. Now that he's emancipated, of course, he's free to explore new realms of narcissism and self-indulgence. "Emancipation" may be an extravagant gesture, but it could have been substantially wilder.