ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS
'Adult' artist again takes musical shots at the industry
By Jim Walsh
Pop Music Critic
On the opening title track of the artist formerly known as Prince's new 12- song, mostly acoustic album "The Truth," the musician growls over a stark, bluesy guitar riff worthy of Lightning Hopkins: "Everybody's got a right to love/Everybody's got a right to lie/The choice you make, it ain't no piece of cake/It ain't no (bleeping) piece of pie."
On the last track, "Welcome 2 the Dawn," the music swells angelically, the artist's voice takes on a cartoonish quality, but the message is serious: "Every choice you make is karma, so be careful what you do."
"The Truth," then, is about facing up to, and making, choices. Big ones, little ones. Tough ones, easy ones. And over the course of his 39 years, the prolific Chanhassen artist born Prince Rogers Nelson has obviously been through changes that came from making such choices. As a result, his 18th album -- an even more overtly spiritual (and personal) work than the highly spiritual "Emancipation" of last year -- is a road map to the lessons he has learned and the person he has become.
That person is, to put it crudely, an adult. On the spooky "Don't Play Me," the former Prince fires a barb at the music industry, ebonics and those who would still see him as the precocious imp who flashed his butt on the "MTV Music Awards" a couple hundred songs ago. He offers this declaration of independence: "Don't play me/I'm over 30 and I don't smoke weed/I put my ass away and the music I play/I ain't the type of stereo you're trying to feed/I use proper English, and I'm straight/I've been to the mountaintop and it ain't what you say."
One of the most misunderstood choices the former Prince has made in recent years is to go outside the music industry to distribute his records -- by any means necessary. Last month, EMI Records, the U.S. label that was distributing "Emancipation," folded. But that hasn't stopped the artist from recording and releasing his music, nor will it impede "The Truth." A hundred copies will purportedly be given away free via the artist's Web site (http://www.love4oneanother.com).
"Don't Play Me" isn't the only track on "The Truth" that takes the music business to task. On "Fascination," a spare dance track built around anti-drug lyrics, a fluttering flamenco guitar and salsa percussion from the New Power Generation, the artist takes a shot at grungesters and gangstas, and his nemesis, Michael "The King of Pop" Jackson, who named his first-born son Prince Michael Jackson Jr.:
"The most vital thing in pop is the epitome of doom/You wake up in a cold sweat, 'cause one of them's in your room/Singing from the telly, making more bucks than sense/So-called king gives birth to so-called Prince."
Another life change depicted on "The Truth" is revealed on the psychedelic workout "Animal Kingdom." Here, the artist declares his decision to follow veganism, an outgrowth of vegetarianism that forbids consumption of animal products. (Chorus: "No member of the animal kingdom ever nurses past maturity/No member of the animal kingdom ever did a thing to me/So I don't eat red meat or white fish/Don't give me no bleu cheese/We're all members of the animal kingdom/Leave your brothers and sisters in the sea.")
Most of this is set to a snapped finger here or there, a made-up drum part spit spontaneously from the singer's lips, some sparse embellishment and ambient noise, and acoustic guitar work that would make Leo Kottke grin. Along with all the philosophizing, there are a few forgettable fillers (namely, the wooden "Man in a Uniform," the pedestrian ballad "One of Your Tears" and the reincarnation rehash "Comeback"), as well as a few light-as-a- summer-breeze confections ("Circle of Amour" is an exquisite old-school tribute to a quartet of friends from Prince's alma mater, Minneapolis Central; "Dionne" is a lazy, slide-guitar-spiced R&B song that soars on the artist's sweet falsetto; and "The Other Side of the Pillow" is a nonchalant love song built around a campy backup chorus and the equally campy lyric, "You're as cool as the other side of the pillow."
In the end, however, "The Truth" attempts not to ask questions but to answer them. As the artist sings on the title track: "The question is, what did you stand for?/The question is, who did you save?/When it gets right down to the nitty and the gritty, did you take more than you gave?"