Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic
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The hope for a heart-stopping new song from the former Prince dies hard. Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, the Artist's first major-label album in three years, suggests his crap detector is still at least partially on the fritz. The canned beats and stale sentiment of "Undisputed" and "Hot Wit U" typify the worst of his Nineties work. Yet in the midst of these self-indulgent grooves there is a handful of great songs -- the most Princely moments we've heard since 1992's "symbol album." "The Greatest Romance Ever Sold," "Tangerine" and "The Sun, the Moon and Stars" are a trio of light, twisting slow-to-midtempo grooves that sound like refugees from Diamonds and Pearls, the least-great of Prince's great records. The buried track "Prettyman" is a roaring up-tempo number in the James Brown funk mode, featuring legendary saxman Maceo Parker. And "I Love U, but I Don't Trust U Anymore" (rumored to be about his wife, Mayte) is a tender ballad that's sharp on the issues that come between deep lovers. The quality of these few sublime moments outweighs the lackluster album around them. (RS 832)


A Princely blend of ballads, blasts, surprises

The Artist clutches his past and clinches his future on the rave-worthy Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (3.5 stars out of four), out Tuesday.

Former identity Prince properly gets a production credit for this sumptuous collaboration between funk's Old School and pop's New Cool. The 15 tracks range from slow jams and aching ballads to sweaty funk workouts and pop-rock blasts, all connected by the common threads of seductive vocals, organic instrumentation and crisp arrangements.

First single The Greatest Romance Ever Sold, a meld of Arabic flavors, booming bass, flamenco guitar lines and turntable scratching, typifies The Artist's ability to fold disparate elements into silky bliss.

Guests Sheryl Crow, Eve, Chuck D, Ani DiFranco and Gwen Stefani enhance the diversity, though their contributions pale against The Artist's own vision and vocals in such standouts as the salacious Hot Wit U, languid Man o' War and piano ballad (Eye) Love U, but (Eye) Don't Trust U Anymore. Surprises abound, from the deep-grooved funk of hidden track Prettyman (with Maceo Parker on sax) to the reggae coda on the falsetto-kissed The Sun, the Moon and Stars and a fervent spoken-word spiel on Strange but True.

Sexy, exhilarating and celebratory, Rave could be pop's Dom Perignon of new millennium cocktails.


Artists' 'Rave' less than fantastic, but it ain't all bad

WHO: The Artist
WHAT: "Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic"


Everything we've come to know and love about the artist formerly known as Prince is all over his latest record -- for better and worse.

No, this is not the groundbreaking stuff of his '80s masterpieces, nor does it contain much of his best experimental work of the '90s. But it does brim with the same scintillating screams, melodies and production expertise that have marked his 20-plus year career.

The best of the 15 tracks are the ballads, most notably "I Love U, But I Don't Trust U Anymore," an intimate piano-propped heartbreaker that rivals Prince's classic "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore?" on the goosebump meter. "Wherever U Go, Whatever I Do" is one of those great life-lesson songs the former Prince cranks out with astonishing regularity, while "The Sun, the Moon and Stars" is his latest make-out-and-then-some song for the ages.



Prince : Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic

Instead of carving divine sexfunk for the 21st century, Prince Rogers Nelson has spent most of the '90s desecrating his good name. So it is with some trepidation we approach 'Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic'...

...Only to be gladly surprised, when the multi-tracked phalanx of helium-infused Artists trill out the title track refrain like some purple-velvet clad gospel choir. As opening gestures go, it drips with the kind of playful audacity Prince seemed to shed the moment he became merely The Symbol.

But, within seconds, 'Rave...' is sunk by the airtight electro-groove which courses throughout the entire LP. Locked deep within Paisley Park, alone with his muse, Prince has speedily become a late-period Phil Spector for the '90s; still impressive, still idiosyncratic, but now severely anachronistic as well.

It's as if Prince were killed at the turn of the decade, and his record company have kept the incident a secret, releasing offcuts from his previous recording sessions as new albums and parading a cyborg-simulacrum for public appearances so as not to arouse suspicion.

While much of 'Rave...' throbs with what we used to love Prince for (lascivious funk, wanton lust, a sorbet-light pop touch), and features, in his X-rated reading of Sheryl Crow's 'Everyday Is A Winding Road', an astonishing act of dogshit-to-diamond alchemy, we've heard it all before, and from this very source.

To paraphrase Woody Allen, genius is like a shark; it has to move forward or it dies. And what we have here is a patchily impressive, fleetingly satisfying, but very, very dead shark.



Pop musing: Prince's latest 'Rave'

Jon Bream / Star Tribune

The artist generally known as Prince has received considerable attention this year -- mostly for "1999," the hit he recorded in 1982 that still sounds remarkably vital today. Now he wants to call attention to his new music.

"Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic" (Arista), which arrives in stores today, has probably the greatest likelihood for commercial success of any Prince album since 1991's double-platinum "Diamonds & Pearls."

The disc is being marketed by Arista, whose founder and driving force, Clive Davis, is savvy, aggressive and on a hot streak. Arista has made big noise recently with recordings by Santana, Whitney Houston, TLC, Sarah McLachlan, Deborah Cox and Eurythmics.

Prince, who had complete artistic control over this CD, has some famous people helping him -- rocker Sheryl Crow, rapper Eve, indie folkie Ani DiFranco, No Doubt's Gwen Stefani, Public Enemy rapper Chuck D, saxophonist Maceo Parker and bassist Larry Graham. Using big-name guest stars has been a successful strategy for current acts (Mariah Carey, Puff Daddy) as well as for veterans on the comeback trail (Santana). And Arista knows how to use that tactic as effectively as any label.

"Rave" is a strong recording, deep with ballads, short on funky party music but with broad musical appeal. This 15-song collection might not be fantastic, but many songs will bring joy to the world in 1999 and beyond.

"Rave" seems like Prince's 1990s version of "Around the World in a Day," his 1985 pop kaleidoscope that followed the landmark "Purple Rain" -- with a little bit of "Parade" (the soundtrack to "Under the Cherry Moon") thrown in.

"Once again, I don't follow trends, they just follow me," Prince declares on "Undisputed," his commentary on the music business on "Rave." No, this disc isn't on the trendy tip; rather, it has more of an '80s vibe. But the songs will likely end up on the radio.

"So Far So Pleased" is cheesy synth Euro-pop, sweetened by Stefani's voice and supported by a muscular guitar solo. "The Sun the Moon and Stars" is celestial pop with an understated electronica beat and a dancehall rap -- Prince's small concessions to modern-day stylings. "Man 'o' War," a falsetto frustration about a relationship that's run its course, is a strikingly soulful slow grind that carries on and on. "I Love U, But I Don't Trust U Anymore" is an emotional piano ballad that could have been lifted from "Under the Cherry Moon." "Silly Game," about the posturing in relationships, is the ChiLites for the '90s, suggesting that Prince might find big success in adult-contemporary land because he knows how to wreak emotional havoc bathed in pretty sounds.

Even when he tries to get raunchy on "Rave," it's not R-rated stuff. "Hot with U" is a horny come-on, complete with heavy breathing and a fairly tame rap by Eve of Ruff Ryders; a remix could turn the beat around on this one. If you want to dance, check out the synth strut of the I-wanna-sex-you-up "Baby Knows" (with Crow on harmonica and vocals); the housequaking, James Brown groove of "Prettyman" (a hidden track featuring Parker's marvelous sax); a funky sendup of Crow's "Everyday Is a Winding Road" (perhaps this hit could find a second life in the R&B market); and the house-party minimalism of the opening "Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic" with its Princely screams, power guitar and Middle Eastern filigree.

On "Rave," Prince seems more comfortable, more peaceful and more genuinely loving than on any previous album -- except maybe the second disc of 1996's 3-CD "Emancipation." The closing "Whenever U Go, Whatever U Do" on "Rave" is sunny and simple, open and hopeful -- much like a glimpse of the light at the dawn of the new millennium.


Call It a Comeback
The Artist Gets Back in the Groove

Album Review: The Artist / "Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic"

By CHRISTINA NUNEZ / Pity us poor, loyal Prince fans, the ones who kept our hands raised and swaying long after the credits rolled on "Purple Rain." We have endured the "Raspberry Beret" pixie haircut, the "Lovesexy" album cover, the "SLAVE" facial scrawl and -- let me take a breath here -- the rapping. We've endured it all and, like a persecuted Apollonia, we come back for more.

We come back for the only thing Prince (oh, all right, the Artist) ever wanted us to hear: the music. Lately, though, his stock-in-trade has been less than a sure investment. Solid, filler-free albums have become rare commodities. "Emancipation" (1996) was a welcome exception. But since then, the fare has been more along the lines of "The Vault: Old Friends for Sale," much of which should have stayed locked up at the old Warner Bros. plantation. Even the title track, which was an achingly sad, spare tune off an old bootleg, is transmogrified on "The Vault" into an overwrought shell with weakened lyrics.

After contractual disputes with Warner Bros. and a failed attempt at releasing his own albums, the Artist is supposedly rerecording his entire song catalog so that he will own his master tapes. In the meantime, he has deigned to let Arista distribute his latest effort, "Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic."

An announcement made by Arista several months ago had us weary Artist consumers braced for another blow. It said that, like the No. 1 Santana comeback record with Lauryn Hill and other hot, younger artists, the Artist disc would feature collaborations with commercially viable stars like Sheryl Crow, Ani DiFranco, No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani and Chuck D. We winced. Sheryl Crow? Gwen Stefani? What were these peanuts doing in our chocolate?

Imagine the sighs of relief when Arista CEO Clive Davis previewed the album for an eager group of media types last month in New York. "Rave" was not ill-conceived, heavy-handed or clunky. It was good. The Artist tempers Stefani and Crow into Wendy & Lisa substitutes. DiFranco plays the guitar on a quiet, pretty ballad called "I Love U But I Don't Trust U Anymore." Chuck D. does his thing without interference.

The album's first single, "The Greatest Romance Ever Sold," is an easy-tempo ballad along the lines of "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," featuring the Artist's knack for combining pretty melody with staccato rhythm. The rest of the album travels from ballad to box-blaster and back, blending influences from hip-hop to trance without straining.

A couple of tracks veer a little too far into "Dawson's Creek"/John Hughes territory. The Stefani track, for example, "So Far So Pleased," is the type of song you can imagine playing as the camera pans across a bustling high school exterior. Other songs revisit the funk roots the Artist is so fond of: "Hot With U" is a Funkadelic-style grinder with Ruff Ryder's rapper Eve guesting; "Pretty Man" recruits master horn blower Maceo Parker for a freeform jam. Other notables include "The Sun, the Moon and the Stars," a contemplative song with "Parade"-era strings that the Artist wrote after a happy dinner in Spain with bassist Larry Graham and their wives, and "Undisputed," the Chuck D. track.

We've probably heard the last of the Artist's truly gritty work, like the stuff long ago on "Dirty Mind" and "1999," but this album at least finds him more in control of his impulses (i.e., his synthesizer). He is also in top vocal form, particularly on the title track. Unless the Artist decides to appear au naturel in the first video, "Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic" is something a weathered Prince fan can bring up to the register without any qualms.


The Artist Formerly Known as Prince
Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic

Label: Arista
Genre: Rock, Pop
File Under: The end of 1999
Rating: 42

November 1999 is a dangerous time for the Artist Formerly Known as Prince to put out a new CD. Expectations are at a peak because his most enduring tunes promised his public that after a cleansing "Purple Rain" he'd "party like it's 1999." But with mass killings, plane wrecks, Y2K fears, and a limp slate of presidential candidates for the new millennium filling our minds, getting on board a party train sounds like a ticket to disaster.

And now even Prince, who declared the corporate record machine outdated and contracts a modern form of slavery, has sold out. His new CD, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, not only has the power of a major label behind it, but also does little more than mimic the pop music everybody else is making. It sounds like the multi-instrumentalist, composer, singer, and fashion plate needs money, and while Rave will probably rake in the dough -- especially with an intrusive commercial for his Internet site and 800 number inserted before the final track -- it pales in the light of the Artist's heretofore brilliant career.

The '80s-ish dance floor title cut opens the set with an appeal for folks to get happy because if he had a dollar for every smile he'd "sho nuff b rich awhile." And since the Artist plays all the instruments, he didn't have to pay any musicians, and doesn't even have to share a dime of his profits. "Undisputed" comes closer to the Prince we all worshipped. With layers of electronic instrumentation creating a funk fantasy and the NPG chanting, there are moments of transcendence. But inserting Public Enemy's Chuck D's rap is interesting but soulless, bringing the mood down to the banal present.

Other guest spots also seem to be only stabs at attracting a broader audience. Sheryl Crow plays harmonica and shares the vocals on "Baby Knows," a catchy song about one sexy babe. (Prince also turns in a spirited and barely recognizable cover of Crow's "Every Day Is a Winding Road.") The acoustic ballad, "I Love U but I Don't Trust U Anymore," features Ani DiFranco on acoustic guitar, an incidental -- not essential -- role. Rather it is the Artist's high, sweet singing and piano playing that makes the ballad plaintive. Another slow tune, "Wherever U Go, Whatever U Do" is so unoriginal that it sounds like the Artist has taken a cue from Puff Daddy and Faith Evans and lifted part of "I'll Be Missing You" for part of the melody.

Ironically the best dance tune on Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic is the one most like early Prince, the hidden track that comes after the commercial. The funky and righteous number features Maceo Parker blowing his sax while the Artist struts around on all the instruments and uses his voice to its best James Brown effect as he paints himself as the man all the women are dying to take home. But it's too little too late. The build-up to the finale is cynical and narcissistic, and does little to move the listener. This Prince may not have turned into a frog, but he has become a commoner. -- Roberta Penn


Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic

Reviewed by Chris Willman

It's 1999, and Prince aficionados know what that signifies: the 12th anniversary of his last great album, Sign O' the Times. But hope, like numerology, springs eternal. Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic inspires optimism, as [The Artist] has realigned with a major -- Arista's Clive Davis, who might be brave enough to tell the unreliable hieroglyph the difference between wheat and chaff. But while the album's Santana-like slew of cameos (Eve, Gwen Stefani, Chuck D) may belie the Davis touch, Rave -- which has the ex-Prince reverting to one-man-jam mode in trying to recapture the spirit of '99 -- otherwise remains a characteristic mix of the kicky and cringe-worthy.

For as lame a song as he's ever unleashed, proceed to track 2. In ''Undisputed,'' he extols his own genius over a dull rhythmic bed that begs a second opinion. The Artiste almost redeems himself with the next track, ''The Greatest Romance Ever Sold,'' a silky bedtime story with seductive descending chord progressions. And so it goes. His disco cover of Sheryl Crow's ''Everyday Is a Winding Road'' is a borderline travesty, but later, Crow herself sings on a funny new raunch-rocker, ''Baby Knows,'' that nearly atones for the earlier misstep. When he's really on, almost anything -- even that nasty messiah complex -- seems 4givable. Grade: B-