Diamonds and Pearls
buy on
download from iTunes

Rolling Stone
Entertainment Weekly
St. Paul Pioneer Press

Philadelphia Daily News
Miami Herald
Philadelphia Inquirer



Paisley Park/Warner Bros.

PRINCE HAS NEVER SOUNDED SANER than he does on Diamonds and Pearls. After his obsessive struggles -- in terms that were deeply insular and allegorical -- with spirituality and sexuality on Lovesexy and Graffiti Bridge, Minneapolis' resident genius has refocused his attention on his first love: pop songcraft. The results are hardly Prince's most monumental work, but they do reveal a long-buried subtlety and -- dare I say it? -- modesty.

Range is the name of the game on Diamonds and Pearls, but not the sprawling stylistic hybrids that characterized such masterworks as Dirty Mind and Sign o' the Times. Rather, Prince limits himself to fleshing out a carefully bound pop formalism. His creative madness -- a chorus of car horns in the delightful "Walk Don't Walk" or the interlocking keyboards of "Daddy Pop" -- is strategically women into (relatively) conventional structures. The album is packed full of irresistible hooks, though some -- like the dreamy chorus of the title track -- seem hastily pasted onto unfinished songs.

The album introduces the New Power Generation, which proves fully capable of jumping from the sly garage rock of "Cream" to a light ska groove in "Willing and Able." Drummer Michael B. is an especially impressive anchor, helping give Diamonds and Pearls the most band-oriented sound of Prince's career. It is telling, though, that the hardest rocker on the album -- "Thunder," a roof-raising plea for salvation -- is the one track Prince handles all by himself.

Less successful are the attempts to integrate rap into Prince's pop universe. A verse or two by N.P.G. rapper Tony M. in "Willing and Able" is a fine addition, but giving him an entire song -- "Jughead," a silly attempt at a new dance craze -- is simply a waste. Tony's rapping style, also featured on "Push," is functional, but his rhymes are insubstantial. "Housequake," on Sign o' the Times, was a great dance "instruction" song because Prince so clearly loved the James Brown funk he was aping; in contrast, "Jughead" sounds like an obligatory effort at including a genre with which Prince has never been comfortable.

The recurrent themes of Diamonds and Pearls are lighthearted self-motivation and positive thinking -- "Push until U get 2 higher ground" or just "walk on any side U like." Most ambitious is "Live 4 Love," a grinding seven-minute internal monologue of a troubled fighter pilot, while "Insatiable," the requisite seduction ballad (still Prince's most underrated style), is simply gorgeous, highlighting his effortless to great effect. But only the bass-heavy first single, "Gett Off," includes the loopy lewdness we have come to expect from Prince. "Slip yo dress down like I was strippin' a Peter Paul's Almond Joy" may not make a whole lot of sense, but it's got the demented excess that much of Diamonds and Pearls seems to be missing.



New Musical Express
October 5, 1991

PRINCE AND THE NEW POWER GENERATION - Diamonds And Pearls (Paisley Park/Warner Brothers)

THERE was a time when Prince seemed to be the vital force acting on pop music's zeitgeist A wily provocateur, the greatest singles artist of the last decade, he melded forms, recruited bands and changed identity as often as he changed his clothes or his girlfriends. Which was a lot.

A free agent with a subversive instinct, Prince was unstoppable, a genius mischief-maker, a cunning ironist who had a firm grasp of history as well as the future funk. Prince satisfied parts of the musical psyche most bands didn't even know existed. He was a preening, narcissistic, big- headed git, but he produced magic at the drop of a hat. We could forgive him his faults.

Prince's career lost its purpose and momentum round the time he got cold feet over releasing 'The Black Album' bootleg. He's never really got back the sustained quixotic inventiveness that ran through 'Sign 0' The Times', his last great album. There have been moments but they've been fleeting. Prince slipped out of focus, lost in a fog of grandeur and self-delusion.

What went wrong? Search me. But when the man responsible for the greatest soul spectacular I've ever seen last brought his show to London I stood shouting 'shite' for 15 minutes and walked out. And I'd paid for my ticket.

Something had to give, as they say. Prince couldn't go on making soup out of his stylistic devices like he's done on his last two soundtrack albums. Perhaps the mighty losses and total embarrassment of his Graffiti Bridge movie and album has put his pretensions back in line.

'Diamonds And Pearls' is.Prince kind of reborn. He's stripped away a lot of the baggage that weighed down recent outings. Sharing the limelight with rapper Tony M and the brassy backing vocalist Rosie Gaines, he's integrated himself in an outfit of Paisley Park love children.

Of course he's still a salacious, narcissistic big head - who else would go to the bother of marketing a hologram cover shot where he's being fondled by two models? Sad man. . . Then there's the new, Robert Palmer-style single 'Cream' where his ingratiating, cheesy delivery sounds like a desperate and unbecoming bid to be accepted back into the pop mainstream. When Prince resorts to such tactics you know something must be wrong.

'Gett Off' had a similar calculation, a whiff of formulae and a sign that he'd fallen behind the times. But in the context of much of this album, it sounds unhinged, adventurous, wildly exotic. There's a cautious approach here that suggests Prince has been chastened by commercial failure and bad business deals. There seems an obligation to touch too many bases and he spreads himself too thin.

'Thunder' is hysterical pop operatics, 'Diamonds And Pearls' pure pop schlock, a lushly layered but shallow ballad, and the jazz snooze of 'Strolling' is hardly there at all. But there's something going on on this record, enough to remind you that Prince is not going to be easily written off, enough to suggest that the limits of his world aren't quite drawn by 'Kiss', 'Sign O'The Times', 'When Doves Cry' and 'Let's Go Crazy.'

The pleasures cover old ground but with new smarts and vigour-dancefloor exhortations and statements of intent like the ebullient 'Daddy Pop', the power packed 'Push' and the incredibly gauche, candle-lit seduction of 'Insatiable'.
The album's scathing metal send-off 'Live 4 Love' picks up on Gulf War images scattered around the record. An attempt to reassert the Prince/Paisley Park manifesto for living in vehement fashion, it gets lost in too much clutter and dead weight. But at least it's an attempt to say something pointed.

Where 'Diamonds And Pearls' really shines in unadorned glory on 'Money Don't Matter 2 Night'. There's a story behind Prince's career and it's tied up with management crises, his own vanity and the need to be loved, weighed against the desire to stretch the limits and the racial expectations of the marketplace. It's a story that probably won't ever be fully told, but much of it is captured and alluded to in this gorgeous song and the angry rap that precedes it.

Prince, man of many masks, sings a sweet, simple, straight, melodic blues and makes it a stand-out. Confusing little bastard, isn't he...

(Gavin Martin)



Review by David Browne

Even Prince seems to realize there's a lot riding on his new album, Diamonds and Pearls (Paisley Park/Warner Bros). No longer the funkiest game in town, the aging wunderkind has seen his record sales slip, his movies bomb, and, even more humiliating, seen lesser lights, like Paula Abdul, copy his psychedelic-R&B innovations and outsell him. So, for the first time since 1988's Lovesexy, Prince has ditched his solo method of making records -- playing, singing, and producing it all himself -- and made a record with an actual band, the New Power Generation, in what could be seen as a way to help conjure the old magic.

On paper, the proposition sounds promising. But too many years churning out records by himself in his Paisley Park complex have taken their toll. The first sign of stagnation was his appearance at the MTV video awards several weeks ago, where he performed "Gett Off," the album's slight initial single. The song is little more than a drum track with words, yet there was Prince, acting as if mooning the audience and singing lyrics like "Tonight you're a star, and I'm a big dipper" were still innovative. In fact, the performance had the look and sound of the old uncle who keeps repeating his familiar Depression-era stories at holiday get-togethers, and the same can be said about Diamonds and Pearls.

We should have seen it coming. In recent years, Prince has let his muse wander, creating coy, often gimmicky throwaways (much of his 1989 Batman soundtrack and last year's Graffiti Bridge) that had the sound of a man who spent too much time in his own hermetically sealed world. In that regard, his use of the New Power Generation is a major step. The band isn't completely distinctive, but for the first time in years his songs -- the plush ballads in particular -- have the bounce and friction that stem from interacting with humans. The clattering cymbals of drummer Michael B. (yes, real drums on a Prince record) and the gruff harmonies and churning organ of Rosie Gaines perk up musical trampolines like "Daddy Pop" more than Prince could on his own.

And yet we've heard it all before. The songs are formula; there's nothing shocking or fresh about "Cream," for instance, a standard-issue funk workout with oh-so-daring lyrics like "U got the horn so why don't U blow it!" Elsewhere on the planet, producers like the Family Stand have out-funked Prince, and bands like Living Colour have taken his fusion of rock and funk and catapulted it into the next galaxy. Prince's concession to changing times is to insert the deep-voiced raps of Tony M. into several songs, which makes him seem a trend follower, not a trendsetter.

For at least one startling moment on Diamonds, hope rears its head. "Money Don't Matter 2 Night," the tale of a loser, is sung in a soulful growl that sounds utterly unaffected, and it sports a slinky, subtle groove that recalls the maturity of Stevie Wonder's early-'70s heyday. With more songs like that -- and perhaps some songwriting collaborators and an outside producer -- Prince might actually seem vital again. Otherwise, the imp continues spinning his wheels, the hole in the road growing a little deeper with each new record. C


Sunday, October 6, 1991
Section: Showtime
Page: 5D


Prince & the New Power Generation
"Diamonds and Pearls"
Paisley Park (9 25379-2)

Rating: ***/****

It seems appropriate that, after 13 years in the recording business, Prince should pause to pay homage to some of his musical mentors.

Throughout his career, the man from Minneapolis has blended a variety of genres, combining energetic funk, rock 'n' roll, metalesque guitar and sweet pop ballads into a very distinct sound. With his latest album, "Diamonds and Pearls," he tops it off with elements of a style he once disdained: rap.

What emerges is a record long on eclecticism but short on originality, as most of the songs too closely echo the works of the artists he admires. With the exception of a couple of world beat-inspired pieces - "Thunder" and "Willing and Able" - the tunes may produce some deja vu for listeners with diverse tastes.

The artists he honors are clearly apparent: He gives a nod to some funk pioneers with the Sly Stone-style "Daddy Pop" and the Parliamentary "Push." In "Insatiable," he puts a sexy slant on the Stylistics' style of ballad, and, with "Cream," he funks up T. Rex's "Bang a Gong (Get It On)" nicely (in this, she's "filthy cute" instead of "dirty sweet").

Perhaps the most unusual bow comes on the title cut, which features high harmonies and full-band unisons that sound suspiciously like Frank Zappa, of all people.

The band also does a nice turn on mid-'70s pop on "Money Don't Matter 2 Night."

What keeps the album from jelling into a cohesive piece may be the tremendous chasms in chronology over which Prince's homages try to leap, for amid all of these flashbacks are sprinkled some very contemporary pieces. "Gett Off" and "Jughead" feature some rappers from Prince's band sounding a little too much like Ice-T and Public Enemy, sans the social commentary, and the album's finale, "Live 4 Love," is propelled by the guitar-driven sound of punk-funk.

It is the latter song that awakens the listener to what is missing from this album: guitar solos. Until the record's final few minutes, Prince doesn't really strut his stuff on the frets. This is a pity, for, on such albums as "Sign o' the Times" and "Batman," his screaming solos provided the best moments.

But that's not the only ingredient missing from this collection. Instrumental breaks of any consequence are kept to a minimum, and the lyrics are a little more obvious and cliched than one has come to expect from such a strong songwriter. His new band, the New Power Generation, features some very good players, but they are rarely given an opportunity to shine. The exception is singer Rosie Gaines, who provides terrific descant work on a number of songs, and isn't a bad rapper, either.

It's refreshing to know that an artist as popular as Prince is still keenly aware of his influences. Perhaps on his next album, he will take their song structures in a completely Prince-like direction.



Published: Monday, September 30, 1991
Section: FTR
Page: 2E


Free Press Music Writer

Prince has made no secret about it; he wants to strike gold with his new album, "Diamonds and Pearls."

That's why the Minneapolis pop autuer performed his new songs at the Special Olympics and on Arsenio Hall's show, why he bared his butt at the MTV Music Video Awards and why he's staged a couple of non-interviews -- chatting with reporters but forbidding them to use notepads or tape recorders -- to insure coverage. Prince's commercial fortunes have been in a steady decline since 1984's "Purple Rain" propelled him to superstardom, and his desire to ascend is as clear as obvious as the libido in his songs.

Thanks to a handful of ace tracks, "Diamonds and Pearls" -- due in stores Tuesday -- may march Prince back into the hit parade. It's neither his best nor his most consistent record, but after several albums in which he explored his personal vision to the detriment of his overall sound -- "Sign O' the Times," "Lovesexy" -- Prince has made a welcome and refreshing return to popcraft, focusing on creating tasty, stick-to-your- ears tunes that leave you humming the hooks after the first listen.

And speaking of libido and vision, "Diamond and Pearls" establishes once and for all the silliness of debating the contradiction between Prince's prayerful and prurient lyricism. On the album-opening "Thunder," he promises "2 see Jesus in the morning light"; a few songs later, he's cataloging "23 positions in a one-night stand."

After 12 albums, we should know that sex is part of Prince's musical world; the conflict between the sexual and the spiritual gives us something to talk about. But Prince is mostly for listening.

"Diamonds and Pearls" affords mostly good, and varied, listening. There's the house-style beat and Arabian guitar stylings of "Thunder," the sexy groove of "Daddy Pop," the restrained, T. Rex feel of "Cream," the jazzy finger-snapper "Strollin', " and the pretty title track and the sultry seduction number "Insatiable," in which Prince sounds like Barry White on helium.

All of these songs are tightly written, affording just enough air for Prince's latest band, the New Power Generation, to insert the most distinct group imprint of any Prince album. "Diamonds and Pearls" is unmistakably a Prince album, but with the whomp of Michael B.'s drums or the church-bred yowl of Rosie Gaines' vocals, NPG gives it a different kind of cohesion, an expansiveness that treads into sonic areas different from those Prince has traveled on his own.

The album's greatest shortcoming, however, is that it's front-loaded with the strongest material. The first four tracks -- "Thunder," "Daddy Pop," "Diamonds and Pearls" and "Cream" -- are killer, meaning the remaining nine are hit and miss. Some are pleasant but ordinary ("Walk Don't Walk," "Push"), while a number such as "Jughead" -- a would-be dance led by NPG rapper Tony M. -- is simply awkward.

Overall, however, "Diamonds and Pearls" is a pleasant and at times inspiring listen. And it sounds like the beginning of a new period for Prince that has potential for artistic, as well as commercial, advancement.


Monday, October 7, 1991
Page: 43



by Jonathan Takiff, Daily News Staff Writer

Is the sun setting on the Purple Empire of Prince? Or can the pandering popster rise again, like Phoenix from the ashes, with his most commercially attuned new album "Diamonds and Pearls"?

The signs of a desperate man are impossible to miss. In recent weeks, the diminutive demigod of pop has been reduced to merciless pandering to the peons - baring his tush on MTV's Music Video Awards, performing for free with his surprising new group (The New Power Generation) at a bunch of radio industry conferences - just to grab attention for the album package.

To flog the set's first single - a predictably funky ode to orgasm called "Gett Off" - Prince has put out both a "maxi CD single" with five different mixes, as well as a 30-minute "maxi video" with two lavish Roman orgy/Arabian nights-themed visualizations of the track, plus three other equally hedonistic songs ("Violet the Organ Grinder," "Gangster Glam" and "Clockin' the Jizz") that leave little to the imagination. Perversely at odds with current safe-sex counseling, Prince uses all these videos - and also that for his second "D&P" single "Cream" - to celebrate anew the joys of multi-partner dalliances. Doesn't this guy read the papers?

Big bucks have also been lavished on the high-tech, you-gotta-look-at-me packaging of the "Diamonds and Pearls" CD. Beating Michael Jackson to the process, the cover features a holographic image of the rocker and two femme fatales who seem to move, stroke and wink as you wiggle the picture left and right under bright incandescent light. (Under fluorescent store fixtures, the 3-D effect doesn't happen at all, and the package looks like a dud.)

Sure, none of this packaging excess is really new to our boy. Prince has always been a most gregarious sort, demanding attention with his outrageous gender-bending costuming, lascivious moves and X-rated lyrics. But for a long spell there was also great pop art backing up the controversy. Prince was the undisputed monarch of cutting-edge music in the 1980s - uniting bristling rock and funk, the sacred and the profane, under one majestic flag.

Hitting hard on virtually all radio formats (like nobody since Stevie Wonder a decade before), Prince's career peaked with the 10 million-selling 1984 album "Purple Rain." His film version of the same name did so well that some fans expected him to challenge the reign of filmdom's King of Rock, Elvis Presley.

Moreover, Prince's gurgly, pumping synthezier-driven sound launched a thousand careers. He had a hand in producing talents, like the Time and Sheena Easton, and the unofficial emulators who merely copped his licks, from Paula Abdul to the Family Stand.

In recent years, though, Prince has seen his appeal grow stale, his empire crumble. Two of his last three albums, "Lovesexy" and "Graffiti Park," haven't even sold 1 million copies, and his follow-up films "Under the Cherry Moon" and "Graffiti Bridge" both stiffed.

The Minneapolis music empire he once ruled has been at least partly co- opted by two of his former underlings, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

Another bitter pill for Prince to swallow was watching Sinead O' Connor's career skyrocket with her cover version of his song "Nothing Compares 2 U."

And at the current moment, Prince's latest protegees, the Latin lovelies Martika and Ingrid Chavez, are grabbing just as much attention with their Prince-produced/written recordings as is the man himself with his own work.

"Diamonds and Pearls" and Prince's New Power Generation group represent a calculated move to the mainstream for Prince. Instead of plunging further into the musical netherworlds, he is now retrenching, regrouping, reacting and responding to prevailing trends.

For the first time in his history, he's letting others share the lead microphone and color his sound. There's now a sassy female belter and keyboardist, Rosie Gaines, dolled up in Gay '90s garb and ringlet wig to resemble a black Mae West. She's wailing in the prevailing dance/pop style of the '90s, with the same sort of gritty siren's gurgle as the Brand New Heavies' N' Dea Davenport and whoever's singing lead this week with Soul II Soul.

Stranger still, Prince is now consorting with a studly rapper named Tony M., whom the monarch proclaims has "the wittest pen the Twin Cities has ever seen." Sorry, there, Bonnie Prince, but the dude doesn't make me laugh at all, and his "wave your hands in the air" entreaties are as old as the hills.

Equally surprising and a whole lot more effective, the New Power Generation features a genuine live drummer, chunkmeister Michael B., lending lots of sparks and punch to a rhythm section previously identified by its synthetic sheen, it's air of high-tech electronic artiface.

"Diamonds and Pearls" starts promisingly. Wry in sound and vision, the gospel- and raga-tinged "Thunder" suggests that Prince ain't just the way, but also the salvation. 'Cause girls, only his offspring will survive!

A percolating, multi-voiced, funk-rock arrangement (updating Sly and the Family Stone) makes the most of the slight "Daddy Pop."

The title track "Diamonds and Pearls" is a tender, glistening ballad with pretenses of pop classicism and the ever-popular "all I can really give is love" sentiment. (Later in the set, the recessionary theme comes back to haunt us on "Money Don't Matter 2 Night," this time with a tad of protest expressed over misplaced war expenditures.)

Rising to the top is the bluesy rocking "Cream," which seems tailor-made for hip-grinding on the dance floor (or anywhere else you dare). If Prince doesn't get a hit with this one, Robert Palmer will.

Oh-so-lightly arranged and harmonized, with cool, hollow body guitar riffs, "Strollin" has pretenses of finger-poppin' jazz. It's something new for Prince and worth applauding, though the veneer shines brighter than the core.

The more substantial "Willin' and Able" has an equally light texture, albeit with a gospelly call and response edge, and a rap interlude.

But when the song abruptly hits the wall, seguing into the club mix of "Gett Off," the going gets rough. Little more than a rhythm track, with samples of James Brown (soooo original) and fab rappin' lines like "tonight you're a star and I'm the big dipper," the song seems like Prince's effort to court the hard-core followers of 2 Live Crew and NWA with something a little more clever. Not much, though.

Sadly, it's pretty much downhill from there. The sampled horn bleets are the only memorable elements of "Walk Don't Walk." Prince virtually lets his backup band take charge on the rappin' "Jughead," emulating the cartoonish rap style of DJ Jazzy Jeff, but coming off as ditzy as its theme - "get stupid, get stupid." The sampled orchestral swirls of "Push" (also a big component of the Ingrid Chavez album) can't disguise the dearth of compelling music and going-nowhere rap. The ballad "Insatiable" harks back to Philly soul harmony acts like Stylistics, although I can't recall those guys ever singing about videotaping a love-making session!

"Live 4 Love" takes us home with the ever-potent message that love and war don't mix, and just a few teasing snatches of Prince's great guitar playing - making for a frustrating finale that sums up the set's problems. Yes, it's applaudable that Prince is finally daring to change, to meet the public halfway. But at times like these, I wish he wasn't diluting his strengths in the process.


Wednesday, October 9, 1991
Page: 1D



BY LEONARD PITTS Jr. Herald Pop Music Critic

Prince and the New Power Generation
Diamonds and Pearls
Paisley Park

Yeah, Prince has a new band. More about them later. For now, let's deal with all those rumors that preceded this record -- rumors that sagging sales have forced the purple popmeister to change both his musical and his professional style.

OK, so he did the Arsenio Hall show, just like a regular mortal -- an event which, I concede, once seemed about as likely as holding the winter Olympics in Hell. And yes, several cuts on this new album do take Prince closer to the rawness of the street than he's been in years. But does all this represent a wholesale change of direction?

Not in the sense that people think. Prince changes styles more often than some folks change their underwear, so don't read more into Diamonds And Pearls than is there. Knowing Prince, he's already got next year's model on the drawing board.

Now, about that band. They be fonky -- like Magic Johnson's gym socks or a stink bomb in a tuna cannery. Like from the old school, with greasy organ lines, fatback bass and wordless moans. But they be versatile, too, bringing a breathy, harmonic charm to songs like Thunder and Money Don't Matter and framing Strollin' with plump, sun-baked, George Benson-like guitar work.

Stylistically, Diamonds and Pearls is a crapshoot, bouncing between attitudes and drawing strength from that. Still, it's far from Prince's best or most visionary work; in some ways, it is far too comfortable. The title track is cloyingly sweet, while Insatiable is just another in Prince's long line of sex-grind ballads, a line that got tired and old years ago.

On the other hand, I like the aforementioned Strollin' for its breezy, wasted-Sunday feel. And the street stuff, full of crisp ensemble raps and machine gun grooves, really kicks. The controversial first single, Gett Off, is a particular standout in that regard. It's a titillating sexual celebration that is, with apologies to Luke, nasty as it wanna be. But it also has humor, heart and swaggering attitude.

There is an openness, an accessibility to the music here that is refreshing, coming from the often dark-toned Minneapolis music man. Could be the harbinger of a kinder, gentler Prince. Could also be just this year's model.


Sunday, October 6, 1991
Page: I01


By Tom Moon, Inquirer Music Critic

Diamonds and Pearls, Prince's 13th album, is pulp fiction from an author of epics.

It catches Prince, 32 and sounding it, at a sorry juncture: After years as pop's closest thing to a Miles Davis-style innovator, he has compromised his artistic vision to sell some records.

Prince earned his reputation by taking songs that were already a cut above ordinary and transforming them into invigorating, provocative statements. Even before his 1984 breakthrough with Purple Rain, his albums predicted trends in pop the way Davis' did in jazz. His deft use of dissonance, symphonic orchestration, polytonality and jarringly syncopated rhythms instantly separated him from everyone else on the charts.

With Parade, Sign O' the Times, Lovesexy and Graffiti Bridge, Prince established a vital new pop language. Merging elements of Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix with Duke Ellington and Cole Porter, he created a sound that was fixed on the future even as it surveyed, at Concorde speed, the music of the 20th century.

Now, with the decline of his commercial appeal, it's Prince's desire to innovate that's taken a flyer.

None of his recent records, least of all Graffiti Bridge, soundtrack to the cinematic disaster of the same name, could be considered a runaway commercial success. And Warner Bros., which has heralded each new work with a big rollout, is probably getting nervous.

So how does Prince respond? Hunker down and continue his unwavering dedication to musical evolution? Or take a reading of current trends and concoct what he thinks will be a hit?

With a few notable exceptions, Diamonds and Pearls is a no-brainer collection of softballs. It's lowbrow. As "Daddy Pop" - with its autobiographical account of a music mogul "punchin' in the rock and roll clock" - makes clear, it's music as a glorified desk job, a series of obligations rather than an expression of spirit.

With its misguided attempts at generating dance-floor excitement, Diamonds is horrendously basic, a subordination of this artist's best instincts. It's Prince chasing trends rather than setting them, which is something of a first: When his minimal Minneapolis funk began to dominate rhythm and blues in the early '80s, Prince was rarely at a loss for ideas. Even when the rhythms were similar, his production sense and ear for the unusual made every track an adventure.

With Diamonds, Prince and his New Power Generation attempt full-on hip-hop. Like a good trashy novel, it's got some juicy moments (particularly Tony M.'s agile turn on the Staple Singers sendup "Willing and Able"), but there's very little that distinguishes Prince's endless vamps from the run-of-the-mill stuff that dominates dance-club discourse. Drummer Michael B. pumps out a charged, correctly minimal pulse, and the backing is more musical than most rap, but the finished product just doesn't detonate. In terms of raw power, indulgent one-chord bores such as "Jughead" and "Gett Off" can't compare to "Let's Go Crazy" and "U Got the Look."

There's almost a tug-of-war going here: Prince the innovator wants to do more, and Prince the businessman holds back. The otherwise unremarkable chant "Push," for example, contains evidence that Prince has learned a lesson from superlative arranger Clare Fischer: The string arrangement, which is buried in the mix, contains slicing, unorthodox lines that effectively lift the song out of its drone.

Gone are the dense polychords, the braided vocal harmonies, the juxtapositions of instruments that made Prince works learning experiences. On Diamonds and Pearls, they are replaced by a bare, distant, uninvolving funk in which Prince's hedonistic themes repeat until they wear out. This is music with a beat, but it's a beat behind - and often peppered with Prince's unctuous power-of-positive-thinking slogans (see the mildly interesting pep rallies "Cream," "Willing and Able" and "Walk, Don't Walk," and the less convincing sermon "Thunder").

The best moments on this collection happen when Prince confronts the reality of his present position. For years, he has gotten by simply by exalting his stardom and declaring, in the throes of funk-fueled ecstasy, that his vision is supreme. On Diamonds - in the music-business-can-corrupt message of "Daddy Pop" and the greed-is-evil confessional "Money Don't Matter 2 Night" (which recalls early '70s Stevie Wonder) - there are tentative signs of self-examination.

If money truly didn't matter, Prince probably wouldn't have pushed the limp "Gett Off," the album's first single, quite so hard. Instead, he would have devoted his energy to exploring some less saleable ideas, and continued the unconventional evolution that Diamonds and Pearls halts.

Then, at least, he'd be heeding the advice he dispenses on "Walk Don't Walk": "The sun will shine upon u one day, if u're always walking your way."