It isn't expedience, it isn't desperation, it isn't eccentricity of vision per se: Whatever compels Prince to continue expounding on his idea of a spirito-sexual musical revolution remains a mystery all these records away from his greatest, most populist work. He's digging in his high heels harder than ever on the busy, portentous The Rainbow Children. It cops jazz forms without swinging, gets James Brownishly funky minus the urgency, and offers church interludes that are too mystical to carry earthly convention. Laid out as a series of "chapters," the tracks provide a text for the everywhereness of God and find him mostly in the bedroom. Heavily processed vocal intros provide a biblical weight to each number, as do Gnostic references to the Banished Ones, ambiguous numerology, ambiguous vegetarianism and his talk of "displaced bloodlines." But this is Prince, and if the laid-back jazz funk doesn't interest him, he can always get rowdy with the ladies. His admonishing tone and dubious history take a back seat to the fine, sexy stuff - the simple ballad "She Loves Me 4 Me," the grooving "Mellow" and "1+1+1=3." But it's a long trudge across the desert to this heady water, especially with Freak-in-the-Pulpit leading the way, waving his synthesizer of holy justice.
By David Segal
The artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince has yet to reclaim the cachet he enjoyed before trading in his name for an unpronounceable symbol in the early '90s. Changing times are partly to blame. He and the funk-soul brothers of his generation have been muscled aside by neo-soul crooners like Maxwell and Ginuwine, who were attentive subjects during His Majesty's purple reign in the '80s.
It didn't help that Prince spent much of the last decade in a brawl with his former label, Warner Brothers, a fight that inspired him to switch his name to a squiggle. The change made him seem more like a crank than a "slave," as he tagged himself, but it didn't diminish his work habits. In 1996, there was the fusing of classic rock and soul on "Chaos and Disorder" as well as the three-disc "Emancipation," a slightly overwhelming declaration of independence from his Warner masters.
A welter of music followed, most recently "Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic" in 1999, which had Prince sharing vocals with pop stars like Sheryl Crow and Ani DiFranco, and rappers like Eve and Chuck D. "Rave" was a popular and critical disappointment and it hinted at why Prince often handles all vocals and instruments on his albums: He doesn't always play well with others.
For his latest, "The Rainbow Children," Prince is back to his mostly solo ways. Aside from some help with horns, saxophone and drums, he's totally in command here, which is probably why this odd and impressively eclectic auteur has produced an album that is so odd and impressively eclectic. "Rainbow" is a rambling and often ridiculous pop opera about religion and love that badly needs an editor. But buried in this mess is some of the best music Prince has recorded in years.
The glaring flaw of "Rainbow" is the story it tells through both music and a between-songs narrator whose voice has been slowed to a tempo that sounds like Barry White on barbiturates. The tale is an impossible-to-follow account of a character known only as "the Wise One" as he leads the Rainbow Children -- whoever they are -- and does battle with a no-goodnik named "the Resistor," a sharpie with the Devil's dedication to wickedness. Along the way, the Wise One apparently weds a beautiful woman with excellent hair, then builds something called the Digital Garden, where spiritual unity with God is achieved.
Or else it isn't. You could spend a week trying to untangle the plot and cast of "The Rainbow Children," though that would be a deeply maddening seven days. Prince seems to be conjuring a biblical allegory of sorts -- there are many references to God and Christ -- as he declaims about race, love and enlightenment.
It's tempting to label it all mumbo-jumbo, but there's nothing jumbo about this mumbo. It's more like mumbo-mini, with peculiar asides like "The opposite of NATO is ATON" and this mouthful of wisdom, lifted letter for letter from the libretto in the liner notes:
"The source of this Resistance must be banished as it is in direct conflict with the initial action. It cannot be banished, 4 its very nature is resistance. In other words, ONE CANNOT SERVE 2 MASTERS. U r either 'this' or 'that' which is not 'this.' "
What's more annoying 2 u? The sentiment or the play-school spelling?
The only way to enjoy "Rainbow" is to ignore the babble and skip around the album. Dodge the smooth jazz of the title track, shun the lecture on "Family Name," and never you mind about "Everywhere," which owes a little too much to the musical "Godspell."
Head straight to "The Work, Pt. 1," which is surely one of the year's great dance numbers, a James Brown knockoff with a stutter-step beat, yelps and plenty of horns. Four songs later comes "1+1+1=3," which matches a breezy bass rumble with those sped-up vocals that were a Prince trademark back in the Reagan era. "She Loves Me 4 Me," a few spots forward at No. 11, is a ballad that recalls a time when Prince seduced instead of preached. "The Everlasting Now" is supposed to provide a rapturous happy ending for the beleaguered Wise One and his Rainbow offspring, but there's no mistaking that it's a song for revelers.
Which is what we want from Prince, though there's precious little of it on this pious and patchy disc. It's 2001, and that apparently means the guy doesn't want to party like it's 1999.
© 2001 The Washington Post Company
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Published Nov 23 2001
Prince, ''The Rainbow Children'' (NPG/Redline)
He's finally changed his tune. Prince has given up on making booty funk for horny 14-year-olds. Sonically, this 14-track disc is his most sophisticated and jazziest -- yet it's still typically experimental. For instance, the opening title track sounds like Steely Dan with a more soulful, contemporary vibe, punctuated by warm and eventually wacked out guitar and bent by a bit of narration by a robotic voice (reminiscent of Bob George from Prince's infamous ''Black Album''). Overall, the tempos here are mellow, the sound often mesmerizing and uplifting without being over-the-top. Throughout this P-Funk-goes-jazzy disc, Prince sparkles on guitar and keyboards.
-- Jon Bream, Star Tribune
Prince, The Rainbow Children (3.5 out of 4) How fitting that Prince's resurrection as a pop visionary comes by way of a religious awakening. Having exhausted sexual taboos, the recently converted Jehovah's Witness bravely plunges into the forbidden zone of faith, taking provocative discourse to a higher plane without abandoning his lust for greasy funk and bump-and-grind beats. Preaching peace and harmony, Prince slams hypocrisy, racism, sexism and spiritual bankruptcy in his strongest sacred and social statements since 1987's masterful Sign 'o' the Times. Periodic slides into piety and dogma are forgotten in the heady rush of strikingly original music, a soulful symphony of rock, funk, gospel and jazz hybrids. Flawed only by its irritating Darth-like narrator, The Rainbow Children delivers salvation from mediocrity in an often-bewildering interplay of biblical references and sensual grooves. Peerless production, experimental glee and brilliant musicianship add up to one of Prince's most challenging and fascinating works to date, whatever your take on the enigmatic valentines to God. -- Edna Gundersen
LIFE IN THE POP LANE
Prince's 'Children' filled with spirit
By Rene E Graham, Globe Staff, 11/27/2001
''The Rainbow Children,'' the latest album by The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, reveals in full the mercurial musician's renewed religious fervor. Of course, creating music with spiritual overtones is nothing new for Prince who, for more than two decades, has always shifted between the sacred and the sensual. For every hot and sweaty grinder like ''Erotic City'' or ''Do Me, Baby,'' there has always been a sanctified counterpoint such as ''The Cross'' or ''The Ladder.''
But ''The Rainbow Children'' is a 70-minute homily disguised as a concept album about goodness, evil, and the enduring power of God's love. It's Prince's version of Bob Dylan's ''Slow Train Coming'' and ''Saved,'' which marked that fellow Minnesotan and legendary singer-songwriter's conversion to Christianity, and frightened his longtime fans about half to death.
Reaction to ''The Rainbow Children'' might be as shaky. There are funkified grooves aplenty here, but this is a starkly different Prince. Gone, at least for now, is the man whose album ''Dirty Mind'' became one of the first to get slapped with a ''Parental Advisory: Explicit Content'' sticker. Walking the way of the Lord, he no longer uses profanity and has abandoned the lewd, lascivious musings that made such songs as ''Darling Nikki,'' ''Let's Pretend We're Married,'' and ''Sexy M. F.'' blush-inducing, jaw-dropping classics.
Then again, Prince has never done what the masses have expected of him - namely, remaking ''Purple Rain'' or ''1999'' over and over again. He's always seemed to make music, and often brilliant music, for his own creative growth first; that the masses loved what he was doing, especially during the first decade of his career, seemed a happy accident.
So Prince isn't trying to revive his 1980s heyday here. He didn't hire the producers du jour to give his album just the right ''Total Request Live'' sheen. Unlike Michael Jackson, that other 43-year-old whose commercial highpoint was achieved when Reagan was president, Prince seems less interested in competing with Kid Rock or Destiny's Child than in crafting songs that reflect the man he is now. As he sings on ''She Loves Me 4 Me:
Things do get off to a wobbly start on the title cut, as Prince, his voice distorted into an almost-inaudible bass, spins his version of Adam and Eve. One of the song's musical anchors is syrupy soprano saxophonist Najee; fortunately, Prince's stinging guitar keeps the song from sliding into somnambulistic smooth jazz. On ''Rainbow Children,'' Prince gives a nod to himself with the lines, ''Reproduction of the new breed leader/ Stand up and organize,'' which he first sang on 1981's ''Sexuality,'' perhaps as proof that this music isn't such a great leap from his earlier works.
The album doesn't really take off until track four with ''The Work Pt. 1,'' a big chunk of James Brown funk that gives the album a momentum it never again relinquishes. The buoyant hyperjazz of ''Everywhere'' trumpets a life renewed by God in a place where ''milk and honey flow.'' That song segues into ''The Sensual Everafter,'' a soaring instrumental, which lays the groundwork for an evergreen Prince theme - sexuality as an expression of spirituality - in ''Mellow.''
''1+1+1 Is 3'' is vintage Prince and sounds like the younger cousin of ''Erotic City'' - sinewy guitars and keyboards with a groove as deep as marrow. ''The Everlasting Now'' is a full-on eight-minute rave, reminiscent of 1987's ''Gonna Be a Beautiful Night,'' and exactly what the Minneapolis sound was all about.
In the lyrics, Prince even acknowledges the likely thoughts of some fans when he says, ''U know, this is funky but I just wish he'd play like he used 2, old scragglyhead.'' It's a funny line, one of the few showing off his sense of humor. More would have been nice, if only to balance out somewhat silly lyrics about ''the banished ones'' who deny God, cuss, work for ''whosepapers,'' ''hellavisions,'' and ''scagazines'' and live in ''MendaCity'' - mendacity, get it?
Still, for all its bald religiosity, Prince manages to make his songs more meaningful than the self-aggrandizing twaddle banal bands like Creed try to pass off as enlightenment.
''The Rainbow Children'' isn't a classic, but it may be the most consistently satisfying Prince album since 1987's great ''Sign o' the Times.'' The focus here isn't as broad socially, and it's a bit of a mess at times, but it's the kind of glorious mess we've come to expect from Prince.
This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 11/27/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.
Music Review by Marc Weingarten
The Rainbow Children
Prince's worldview has always been a muddled conflation of one-world utopianism, Christianity, and paganism. This concept album, called The Rainbow Children, finds him trying to work through that tangled belief system with an epic rock-musical/morality play in which God's chosen, the rainbow children of the title, are anointed to deliver the Good Word about ''The Everlasting Now.'' Bible-thumping sincerity doesn't suit Prince well; the album's light jazz-funk grooves sink under the weight of his sanctimony. In a career marked by interesting failures, never has Prince sounded so prosaic. C+
The ONION a.v. club
The problem with labeling artists as geniuses is that sometimes they take the tag seriously, using it as a license to indulge every whim. After all, who's to question a genius? Prince lived up to the label for a long time, but his badge of genius began to weigh heavily on him as his commercial fortunes slipped in the early '90s, and subsequent efforts have found him alternating between courting the mainstream (1999's Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic) and delving ever deeper into the rabbit hole of a private mythology. The new The Rainbow Children falls squarely in the latter category. A mystical-striving conceptual piece along the lines of 1992's glyph-titled album, but without the Kirstie Alley spoken-word interludes or the catchy songs, Rainbow presents a genre-mixing musical account of some sort of apocalyptic/ utopian event. This seems mostly to involve a struggle between The Rainbow Children and The Banished Ones, characters such as The Muse and The Pharaoh, the destruction of something known as The Digital Garden, narration from a computer-distorted Prince, and a lot of the aimless smooth-jazz that's become a staple of his recent concerts. Much of Prince's genius used to lie in his ability to snare listeners into his genuinely avant-garde work, weird pop constructed from the outer reaches of R&B, funk, rock, and whatever else occurred to him. Here he mostly harnesses bits and pieces of the past -- James Brown on "The Work, Pt.1," Sly Stone on "The Everlasting Now," fusion-era Miles Davis most everywhere else -- in the service of a vision that makes sense only to him. The Rainbow Children contains one good song, a ballad called "She Loves Me 4 Me," buried beneath layers of spiritual horseshittery. On the albums that first earned Prince the label of genius, it was always the other way around. -- Keith Phipps
The New Yorker
Prince believes in God; the King of Pop doesn't even believe in himself.
by BEN GREENMAN
Issue of 2001-12-10
For a few years there, it looked as though Prince wasn't a musician at all but an entrepreneur suffering the most painful of plights: failure. In the eighties, the Minneapolis-born pop polymath dominated the charts and the critics with a string of brilliant, sometimes bawdy hit records: "Dirty Mind," "1999," "Purple Rain," "Sign 'O' the Times." But in the early nineties, miserable about his recording contract with Warner Bros., he changed his name to an unpronounceable glyph, took to scrawling "Slave" on his cheek with face paint, and began to lecture on the parallels between major-label recording artists and bond servants. The complaints had a spiritual and a political dimension, but Prince's gripe was primarily economic: what galled him above all else was the fact that record labels traditionally retain the rights to an artist's master recordings. He even coined a catchy intellectual-property slogan: "If you don't own the masters, the master owns you."
This gospel of self-determination resulted in a series of get-liberated-quick schemes. Prince tried self-distribution, online sales, and even a limited partnership with a major label, teaming up with Clive Davis and Arista for the release of the 1999 album "Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic." All his schemes went belly up, some more spectacularly than others: an ambitious plan to create note-for-note clones of his entire catalogue, thereby offering consumers an alternative set of masters, stalled after only one song. Earlier this year, after reclaiming his name, Prince launched yet another enterprise, the New Power Generation Music Club, an online service that, for a modest monthly fee, allows fans to download new and unreleased material to their home computersóa new single here and there, live versions of popular Prince songs, remixes.
Then came "The Rainbow Children," Prince's twenty-third album, give or take, in twenty-three years, which appeared on the Web site in October and in stores in November. Unlike "Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic," which was a largely forgettable collection of pop songs that seemed designed to prove that Prince was still a chart forceóand, in fizzling, proved the oppositeó"The Rainbow Children" is an album in the classic sense of the word, a seventy-minute suite that comprises R. & B. ballads, funk workouts, instrumental interludes, and even sermonizing. Prince recently adopted the tenets of the Jehovah's Witnesses, and "The Rainbow Children" is filled with lengthy monologues delivered in a computer-modulated basso profundo. The opening speech gives a fairly representative taste of what is to come:
With the accurate understanding of God and His law they went about the work of building a new nation: The Rainbow Children. The Wise One who understood the law that was handed down from God long ago reflected the true meaning 2 his woman every day and she surrendered her discerning of it in2 his care and keeping 4 she trusted he would lead in the right way. Her children in subjection 2 her, she in subjection 2 the Wise One, and the Wise One in subjection 2 the only begotten one, all 4ever in subjection 2 God.
Happily, the music isn't as cumbrous as the rhetoric. Working mostly as a one-man band, Prince sets down a bass figure that wouldn't have been out of place on Dave Brubeck's "Time Out," adds a layer of burbling guitar, and tops off the arrangement with a joyful chorus that sounds as if it were being sung by a regional company of "Hair." The jazz inflections, at least, are a good sign. The last time Prince dabbled openly in jazz was the late eighties, when he routinely covered Charlie Parker's "Now's the Time" in concert, collaborated with Miles Davis, and produced some of his finest music. In the years since, he's been more concerned about keeping pace with hip-hop, and the results have been generally slack. It's also clear that this record marks the return of Prince as guitarist, a relief for those who feared that he would forever limit himself to dropsical solos like the one in "Purple Rain." Here he plays mad-rush rock chords, delicate jazz runs, and metronomic funkóall in the same song.
For a little while after that strong start, it looks as though Prince's eccentricity might get the better of him. The mid-tempo love song "Muse 2 the Pharaoh" is both generous and incomprehensible: after pledging to a woman that "there is nothing he wouldn't give her," Prince bemoans the world's reliance on "berries, talons, arrows and stars" and notes that "the opposite of NATO is OTAN." What follows is even airier: "The Work Pt. 1," an enjoyable if insubstantial James Brown pastiche; "Everywhere," a busy show tune that celebrates Prince's enlightenment; and "Mellow," a plum-colored ballad thatówell, celebrates Prince's enlightenment.
But the last half hour of "The Rainbow Children" takes wing. The ascension begins subtly, with "She Loves Me 4 Me," a sweet little love song that seems to clear Prince's palate; then comes a pair of funk songs, "Family Name" and "The Everlasting Now," each more than eight minutes long, and each unimpeachable. Prince has always produced his own records, but not always well; "Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic" was particularly disappointing, festooned with guest stars and superfluous effects. Here everything works, from the tapestry of guitar textures in "Family Name" to the fuzzy and deeply funky bass that kicks off "The Everlasting Now." The drumming deserves special mention: like many studio wizards, Prince has often relied on drum machines, but, as Sheila E. proved back in the late eighties and John Blackwell reiterates here, there's no substitute for a flesh-and-blood drummer who can move from stutter-funk to Latin rhythms to straight-ahead rock and roll. The over-all sound is warm and welcoming; not only do the songs sound lived in but they sound as if Prince had lived in them long enough to decorate.
In this final stretch, it also becomes clear that "The Rainbow Children" is as much a collection of essays as it is a pop album. At times, the lyrics tilt toward the mystical ("Family Name" opens with a coy reference to the Akashic record, which the theosophists thought comprised all past and future experience); elsewhere, they are laughably didactic ("Don't let nobody bring u down / Accurate knowledge of Christ and the Father / Will bring the Everlasting Now"). But there's also some European history (assuming that the "devil" who has "been here since 1914" is the spectre of world war), biography ("The Everlasting Now" includes verse-long lives of Little Richard and Sly Stone), and sociology ("Family Name" ends with a snippet of a Martin Luther King, Jr., speech). There's a rebelliousness in this specificity: if the Prince of the early eighties could shock fans by singing about oral sex and incest, the Prince of the new millennium shocks by singing about faith and politics. Near the end of "The Everlasting Now," Prince acknowledges that "The Rainbow Children" may be a hard sell. "You know," he says, mimicking the pinched tones of a critical fan, "this is funky, but I just wish he'd play like he used to, old scragglyhead." The response is the sharp report of a slap.
The album should have ended with that slap. The anthemlike finale, "Last December," is less grating than past Prince anthems, thanks in large part to an astounding guitar solo, but it still feels staged. If Prince is no longer playing for the suits and the seats, if he's just delivering the music in his head and demonstrating his allegiance to his God, then why end the record with a big showstopping number? Is it possible that when he searched his soul he found an entertainer?
Prince and Michael Jackson have always had lives that were like the strands of a double helix. Both were born in 1958, within three months of each other. Back in the early eighties, Jackson topped the charts with "Thriller" just before Prince did the same with "Purple Rain." Jackson's 1987 hit "Bad" was originally supposed to be a duet with Prince. And even Prince's recent conversion to the Jehovah's Witnesses echoes Jackson, who was raised in the faith and practiced it until 1987.
Jackson's "Invincible," engineered over the course of the past decade for the space-program sum of thirty million dollars and finally released at the end of October, is his first album of entirely new material since 1991. He has spent the last decade generating headlines instead of music, thanks to the endless cosmetic surgery that turned his face into that of a dressmaker's dummy, the laughably public marriages and mysteriously sired children, and dozens of other well-documented incidences of increasingly erratic behavior.
This year, as the release of "Invincible" approached, Jackson took to shooting himself in the foot, over and over, as if to test the limits of the superstardom he has enjoyed since he was a child. First, he mounted a pair of absurdly mismanaged self-tribute concerts at Madison Square Garden, where long stretches of dead space alternated with testimonials by such wax-museum favorites as Liza Minnelli and Elizabeth Taylor. Then Jackson hastily threw together a tribute single to benefit the families of victims of the September 11th tragedy; other stars that he insisted would contribute vocals to the song, such as Britney Spears, denied that they would be participating.
As he stumbled, Jackson's new music began to leak to the radio. The album's long-awaited first single, "You Rock My World," rocked no one's world, despite a flashy music video featuring the comedian Chris Tucker and the inadvertent comedian Marlon Brando. It's easy to see why: there's bounce in the beats, but the silky-smooth chorus has no traction. Critics rushed to pan the album, which managed to sell almost six hundred thousand copies in its first two weeksóhuge for most artists but only fair to middling for the self-declared King of Pop. The record's success isn't just a matter of bragging rights: Jackson supposedly financed "Invincible" in part with loans from Sony Music, and if he doesn't sell millions of records he stands to lose portions of his vast music-publishing holdings, which include much of the Beatles' catalogue.
It's not surprising that Jackson has drawn fire from the press; his hubris demands it. What is surprising is that the album is far from a disaster. "Unbreakable," the first song, has a jabbing piano line and a sticky melody; on the title track, he chops the word "invincible" into its four syllables with a precision that borders on malice. The ballads are even better. "Butterflies" has a vapid lepidopteral lyric, more Mariah Carey than Nabokov, but Jackson's vocals are astonishing: over a muted, descending horn line, he works the upper edge of his falsetto. There are many great mysteries of our age; one of them is how a man who is so patently artificial can still deliver an entirely genuine performance. It's there again on "Cry," which was written by the R. & B. singer and producer R. Kelly and features a cresting gospel chorus, and on "Whatever Happens," a ballad with spooky spaghetti-Western whistling and a typically liquid Carlos Santana solo. Each time Jackson hits his mark, it reminds you why you couldn't stop watching him when he stepped in front of his brothers and belted out the opening verse to "I Want You Back."
Elsewhere, the news is not as good. While the ballads are sung, and sometimes sung quite well, many of the up-tempo songs are expectorated: Jackson likes to show his muscle by gritting his teeth and spitting out angry half words. And he has the bite to match his bark: throughout the record, he has greedily commandeered the music of other artists to shore up his own comeback. "Unbreakable" features a rap cameo by the hip-hop star Biggie Smalls, which may surprise those who are aware that Smalls has been dead for almost five years; the rap, as it turns out, originally appeared on a little-heard record by the basketball star Shaquille O'Neal. And the grinding "2000 Watts" was slated to be the title song for a record by the R. & B. singer Tyrese, who co-wrote the track, before Jackson expressed an interest. What the King of Pop wants the King of Pop gets.
But what does the King of Pop want? Following the clues on "Invincible" is a maddening, sometimes hilarious process. Why on earth would anyone name two songs on the same record "Invincible" and "Unbreakable"? That's like following "Beat It" with a song called "Get Lost." Why would anyone supplement immensely costly album art, including a photo portfolio by Albert Watson, with a napkin doodle by the famed spoon-bender Uri Geller? The worst offender, if not the worst song, is the final track, "Threatened," which desperately tries to re-create "Thriller"-like atmospherics, right down to a stitched-together Rod Serling monologue that echoes Vincent Price's appearance on the earlier work. Chilly and cheerless, "Threatened" is perhaps the best example of Jackson's diminished humanity and the best way to differentiate his music from Prince's. "Invincible," for all its successes, is stringently commercial and sometimes unstrung, while "The Rainbow Children," for all its self-indulgence and meandering, is grounded in musical and spiritual faith, genuinely suggestive of community. After twenty years of eying each other's moves, Jackson and Prince have released albums only three weeks apart. Tellingly, though, they were the three weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving.
The Rainbow Children (NPG)
Though "The Rainbow Children" is being hyped as a concept album, "concept" has never been Prince's strong suit. The story behind this 70-minute song cycle is muddled, at best; it may or may not be about the rise of a post-Apocalyptic nation of true believers, Prince's ongoing feud with the record industry, the search for an alternative universe ... who knows? And who really cares? Because what's truly meaningful about these "Rainbow Children" is the music, some of Prince's strongest in years, a veritable fashion show of killer melodies dressed up in funk, gospel, soul and gypsy-rock finery. The kaleidoscopic scope of the music -- most of it played by Prince in his one-man band guise -- recalls the reach of his 1987 masterpiece "Sign O' the Times." Only Najee's unctuous sax and flute playing is a distraction; otherwise, Prince is back at the top of his game. -- Greg Kot
(Copyright 2001 by the Chicago Tribune)
(3 out of 4 stars)
Oh, happy day! Prince has returned. "The Rainbow Children" is his most solid effort in at least five years.
First released on his Web site, it's got everything good about the Minneapolis genius: humorous pokes at his own chameleonic and regal image, incendiary guitar work and supremely soulful vocals. Musically that translates into the jubilant James Brown grooves of "The Work, Pt. 1," the gospel-jazz title track, the ethereally erotic "Mellow" and the vintage funk of "1+1+1=3."
Even the album's sometimes heavy-handed "concept" - which advocates love, faith and questioning revisionist history - reminds you of great records of yore such as "Lovesexy."
Whether you're down with the overall message or not, "The Rainbow Children" sounds colorful - and beautiful - to a longtime fan's ears.
"The Rainbow Children"'s cover art--a swirling painting of a jam session--makes it clear that Prince has reinvented himself once again. He has ditched the stiff drum-machine pop of his recent work in favor of a live and ferociously versatile band, creating his most organic and consistently innovative music since his genius output of the late-'80s. The exuberant title track has a jazz-rock fusion vibe that manages to do justice to both genres. Elsewhere, the band works it out James Brown-style, takes it to the couch with slow-jams, then heads into church for some lively, Vegas-infused gospel. Unfortunately, the record is burdened by a pretentious, overarching narrative about "the Wise One" and his struggle with "the Banished Ones." More disturbing is Prince's new attitude toward women, who are to be "in subjection" to the Wise One. Apparently, the good grace he feels towards his "rainbow children" has its limits. -- Justin Hartung, citysearch.com
Same question: There's got to be a brilliant Prince album in there, so when's it going to show up?
Not quite yet. However, The Rainbow Children comes close; it's easily his finest, most coherent set of songs since 1991's Diamonds and Pearls and his best overall work since Sign O' the Times (despite Prince's own ridiculous hype about how "controversial" it is).
But though it comes close at times, it's no Sign O' the Times or Black Album. And surely there's another one of those in there, waiting to get out.
In the meantime, The Rainbow Children (due in stores Tuesday) is a better-than-average way to spend your time, despite Prince taking you through more indecipherable twists and turns.
Be warned: it's a concept album, with Prince narrating with the same electronically altered deep voice he's used on everything from 1999 to Bob George. It's got something to do with blessed children and oppression and freedom and God and rainbows and The Resistor and . . . um, stuff like that. (Also be warned; the advance I got my hands on is banded as one long track, forcing you to listen to the whole thing rather than skip song to song, ala his 1988 release Lovesexy).
The music has everything that's good about Prince wrapped up in it -- great guitar solos, slammin' R&B and a wide range of sounds that harkens back to his best albums. Prince grabs ahold of grooves and won't let go.
The Everlasting Now instantly goes down as a classic Prince track; indeed, if you ignore the narration, it sounds like a classic Prince album all the way through. 1+1+1 is 3 is low-key and funky; She Loves Me For Me, a sweet love song. He once again sounds like he's able to reel off riffs in his sleep; and most importantly, he's playing his guitar again. There's a misstep or two here, but he's on the way back to greatness. Grade: A-