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. ó 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:
With this one I can be what I want to be
I don't have to live up to no one's fantasy
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 Rainbow Children" (Redline)
Street date: 11/20
"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
The Rainbow Children
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-
Prince Flies Somewhere Over the Rainbow
By David Segal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 21, 2001; Page C01
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
Star Tribune (Minneapolis/St. Paul)
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.
While the music intrigues, the lyrics challenge. ''Rainbow Children'' is a concept album about God, spirituality and a world in which people of all colors get along. The vision and philosophizing are pure Prince -- cosmic, complex, confusing and, of course, coital (in polite, almost poetic euphemisms). It is not particularly controversial, despite what the sticker on the cover says. This is more cult-like.
-- Jon Bream, Star Tribune