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3 1/2 stars

3 stars

2 stars

Leaving aside the Super Bowl halftime show and the assless pants, Prince is like Woody Allen: They're both reclusive, sex-obsessed gen iuses who release new material relentlessly and without any regard to the law of diminishing returns. Prince's recording career now spans 31 years: Counting fan-club records, he's averaged more than one studio album per year. His latest release actually contains three separate albums, including one he wrote and produced with his new protégée, Bria Valente. The package is excessive and uneven, of course, but it's also intermittently brilliant and a real bargain (that is, if you buy it for $11.98 at Target — not so much if you download it with a $77 membership at lotusflow3r.com).

Prince played every instrument on MPLSoUND — just like the old days, only now he gets obsessive with Pro Tools. He isn't as bawdy as he once was (becoming a Jehovah's Witness will do that), but he's still got a lot of humor and swagger. On the funky "(There'll Never B) Another Like Me," he sings about his beauty routine (it involves olive oil in his hair), and on the seven-and-a-half-minute "Ol' Skool Company," he covers issues from the TARP bailout to the state of radio ("If the White House is black/We gotta take the radio back").

Five of MPLSoUND's nine songs sound like lost B sides from assorted classic Prince albums (Dirty Mind, 1999, Controversy, etc.); these days, even a really good Prince song usually reminds the listener of a better, earlier one. What really hamstrings the album, though, is a four-song sequence in the middle: Two syrupy ballads, one overlong tribute to Valente and one Caribbean-inflected number that sounds like a Smoove B seduction.

On LOtUSFLOW3R, Prince has a specific mission: showcasing his long-underrated guitar playing. Whether it's the spare funk of "Wall of Berlin," the metal grind of "Dreamer" or the hazy cover of "Crimson and Clover," the music kicks into high gear when Prince starts soloing, delivering one epic face melter after another in a style halfway between David Gilmour's and Eddie Hazel's. The drawback is that when he isn’t playing guitar, the music on this disc is oddly muted — you keep waiting for Captain Six-String to fly in and save the day. It's OK to call a song "Love Like Jazz," but the jazz in the title shouldn't be cocktail jazz.

It’s been more than a decade since Prince successfully launched the career of a female sidekick, but he's trying again with Valente. Prince has touted Elixer as a quiet-storm album in the Sade mode, but most of it is just generic pop ballads. The lyrics are memorable only when they're clunky ("Taste the rainbow," goes one line, which sounds like it could have come from a Skittles ad). Valente has a pleasant, if thin, voice — she doesn’t have the chops to elevate this material into anything memorable. There is one gem here: The catchy dance number "2Nite," where Valente whispers over insistent disco keyboards. One day, it, along with the best tracks from MPLSoUND and LOtUSFLOW3R, will sound right at home on Prince’s inevitable box set: 2 Much of a Good Thing.

Gavin Edwards


Prince turns a brilliant sonic triple play: 3 albums in 1 day

By Steve Jones, USA TODAY

Prince likes defying conventions, and this time he's doing it with a 3-D sonic assault. He strikes out in several creative directions on a trio of new albums — the rock-guitar-fueled LOtUSFLOW3R (* * * ½ out of four), electronic-infused MPLSoUND (* * *) and pop-flavored Elixer, featuring protégé Bria Valente (* *).

The albums are available today as free downloads to fans who pay the $77 annual membership fee for his new LotusFlow3r.com website, marking Prince's official return to cyberspace since shutting down his pioneering NPG Music Club in 2006. The three discs will be sold exclusively at Target starting Sunday in an $11.98 bundle.

This isn't the first time the major-label-averse artist has bypassed traditional retail. He gave away 2007's Planet Earth as an insert in the U.K. national newspaper The Mail. Ticket buyers for 2004's Musicology tour got copies of that album with their purchase.

The new records are a bargain both in terms of the nearly three hours of listening time and audio treasures. LOtUSFLOW3R is loaded with rip-roaring guitar riffs and booty-agitating grooves as he explores love, politics and love's politics. Feel Good, Feel Better, Feel Wonderful is an orgiastic funk workout, while the hypnotic Colonized Mind and anthemic Dreamer share his worldviews.

MPLSoUND finds Prince revisiting the synth vibe of the '80s with his outsize ego intact on tracks like (There'll Never B) Another Like Me and Ol' Skool Company, which reunites some of his Minneapolis cohorts. The sly Valentina, bouncy Q-Tip-assisted Chocolate Box and wicked No More Candy 4 U also stand out.

Prince has toned down his music's Dirty Mind raunchiness since becoming a Jehovah's Witness in 2001. Still, the pop-lite Elixer, showcasing Valente's sensual yet indistinct vocals, could have really used a whiff of Prince's old Do Me Baby spice. Though there are a few tantalizing moments, the overall effect is more tepid than torrid — even with Prince producing and playing guitar.

Taken together, the three albums confirm that the eccentric genius still has his creative passion. And even if everything he tries doesn't hit a high note, it's still a pleasure to hear the Purple One work out.

> Download: The aforementioned tracks, 4Ever, $, Crimson



Friday, Mar. 20 2009 @ 12:27PM
By Lina Lecaro

Prince fans rejoiced when it was announced that his royal highness would be putting out a budget-minded musical trifecta at Target -- three brand new CDs packaged together for only $11.98 -- but after hearing each album in its entirety last night at an exclusive press listening event, we're thinking the artist came a bit short of a bull's eye. There are some exhilarating exceptions, particularly off the funk-laced "old skool" style bumper called MPLSoUND, but those expecting to boogie or get revved for romance (two areas where Prince reigns) might be disappointed with the other two albums, LOtUSFLOW3r and Elixer (featuring his new protégé Bria Valente), both of which are more appropriate for smooth jazz stations like 94.7 The Wave (and elevators) than the fervor of the dance floor or bedroom.

LOtUSFLOW3r, which is also the name of Prince's trippy, new intergalactic-themed Web site, sees the artist immersing himself in gentle grooves, slinky-slick vox and psychedelic riffs. Cuts like "Boom," "Colonized Mind" and "Dreamer" have moments of otherworldly, instrumental genius that beg for headphones and a good buzz, but even after two glasses of wine (the gathering was at The Crown Bar) and fully preparing to take a journey, we felt like aliens in a strange land listening to his soundscapes. It's telling that the most beguiling cut on LOtUSFLOW3r is a cover: Prince's frothy-sweet take on "Crimson and Clover," which trades Joan Jett's edgy come-hither cover with a more tender seduction, infused by Hendrix's version of "Wild Thing" in the chorus. Jimi comes to mind a few times while listening to the new album, but this purple haze is too new-agey and esoteric. We wanted fire.

Elixer, featuring Valente, had a couple hot spots, but for the most part, it's also more about chilled tempos and languid rhythms. That can be a good thing when the vocals are emotive or distinct (think Sade), but Valente's smooth, airy -- admittedly pretty -- croons are more on the generic Janet Jackson tip. Unfortunately the material lacks the hooks or sexual tension of either of the above's hits. Which is surprising, especially if rumors about a relationship between Valente and Prince are true. Now that Prince is more religious, we're obviously not gonna get "Sex Shooter" or "Sugar Walls," but a couple of cuts here veer way too close to Disney animated soundtrack balladry. There is one very big hum(p)dinger, though, the infectious, techno-driven "2 Nite," a jam that recalls Vanity 6's freaky-femme anthem, "Nasty Girl" and Miss Jackson's sassiest. This one smolders and we can't wait to see what the remixers/DJs do with it on club decks.

Prince definitely saved the best for last, and the exuberant tunes on MPLSoUND (an acronym for "Minneapolis Sound") are absolutely worth the price of the entire CD trio. "There'll Never B Another Like Me," boasts the beats and bravado fans know and love, while "Chocolate Box" has a flirty fun "Controversy" feel with buoyant keyboards and soulful chants. "Valentina" and "Dance 4 Me" have a subtle sauciness and synth-driven stomp (plus more giddy guitar work) and "Ol' Skool Company" closes out the collection with a bang, channeling a P-Funk zest and party vibe that shows our Prince hasn't lost his bodaciousness. The only thing missing from MPLS (and all three discs), is the enticing falsetto that gave his early material, and a few later hits, so much mojo.

All three releases will be represented on the new website as different "worlds," where music can be downloaded from each (the recordings are only available at Target and via the site). A virtual playground and 3D visual feast, the site was developed with web gurus Scott Adison Clay and Anthony Malzone, and it seems very video game influenced. Clay was on hand for a preview surf-through last night, and while there were some glitches and some of the ways to acquire content were convoluted, it should appeal to tech-heads and Prince die-hards with exclusives including lyrics (not the on Target package), never before seen photos and even video footage dating back to the '70's. Members pay $77 for access, and the biggest perk is definitely advance info and preferred seats for Prince's live shows.

The Target 3-disc package will be in stores and available through Target.com, on March 29.

MARCH 24, 2009 @ 7:45 PM



A review of the paisley one's ambitious three-disc set

Prince has always been a futurist. The Purple One peddled his Crystal Ball album through the Internet as early as 1997. His trademark abbreviated, alphanumeric spelling style has unexpectedly become the lingua franca of text messaging. And most importantly, the very best songs from his sprawling catalog, like “Kiss” and “When Doves Cry,” groove just as hard now as they did thirty-odd years ago.

So it’s no surprise that Prince has devised yet another unorthodox way to sell records. Sidestepping the iTunes behemoth, he’s lumped together three albums, two of his own and one of his protégé Bria Valente and is selling the three-disc set through Target for $11.98 beginning on March 29. If you have $77 a year to spare, you can also access his newly designed psychedelic website lotusflow3r.com for supplementary lyrics, artwork, photos and music videos, as well as vintage content. He’s scheduled to perform at three different venues in L.A. on one night to promote the project.
But enough about the bells and whistles, what’s good with the music?

Overall, it’s a solid offering of tightly conceptualized tunes. The first disc, Lotusflow3r, begins with an intergalactic prelude, shimmering with trembling cymbals, click-clacking rims shots and a soaring guitar solo that builds to a crescendo. From there, the album alternates between arena-flooding guitar chugs and introspective melodic moments.

For every Jimi Hendrix inspired psychedelic riff, there’s an unexpected and genre sprinkled betwixt. “Love Like Jazz” floats on a cool Herb Alpert-esque samba, as Prince’s nimble guitar now tiptoes along a sinuous fusion line. Then there’s the puzzling “77 Beverly Park,” named after his studio—an all-instrumental tune that sounds like a pasta commercial with its nostalgic Italianate lira. Meanwhile, “Wall of Berlin” is a Princely take on punk rock with high-octane speed metal guitar phrases and crystal meth-fueled drum patterns.

This first disc concludes with “Back 2 The Lotus,” a laid-back denouement that seems designed for a post-coital cigarette. Working the wah-wah pedal on his guitar and manipulating pitch along with weird spacey sound effects, the music sounds like Venusians trying to communicate their message of love and sexiness through a wall of distortion.

Track Listing for LotusFlow3r

1. “From the Lotus…Boom”
2. “Crimson and Clover”
3. “4EVER”
4. “Colonized Mind”
5. “Feel Good, Feel Better, Feel Wonderful”
6. “Love Like Jazz”
7. 77 Beverly Park”
8. Wall of Berlin
9. $
10. Dreamer. . .Back to the Lotus

The second album in the set is Elixer, by the preposterously named Bria Valente, who has all the requisites of a Prince protégé: hyper-sexualized hotness, indeterminate racial background, adequate singing talent. Her ten tracks are disposable, and redeemed only by Prince’s extraordinary production ear. “Home” bumps along a gut-rumbling Afrika Bambaataa-esque 808 that sounds like freestyle for the new millennium. And tunes like “All This Love” and “Here Eye Come” percolate to a reliably funky bassline and flirtatious loungy vocals. Otherwise, her voice—and this album— doesn’t offer anything besides sex; no dimensions, no humanity, no angst. I would say skip it, but because it’s bundled with Prince’s other two albums, you don’t have much choice.

Track Listing for Elixer

1. “Here Eye Come”
2. “All This Love”
3. “Home”
4. “Something U Already Know”
5. “Everytime”
6. “2Nite”
7. “Another Boy”
8. “Kept Woman”
9. “Immersion”
10. “Elixir”

If after swallowing that Elixer, you still have the stamina for more, you will be amply rewarded by Minneapolis Sound, or as Prince spells it, MPLSoUND. True to its title, the album basks in the trademark funk rock sound that Prince himself originated and so many others replicated a few decades ago. There are organic yet peripatetic drums that conjure visions of the Time two-stepping behind Prince in high-heeled boots. Hammering percussions and skin-tight funk guitar strokes reappear on “Box of Chocolates” and “Dance 4 Me.” And lyrically, Prince is just as erotic as ever, rapping seductively to a MILF on “Valentina”: “Tell ur mama she should give me a call/ when she get tired of runnin’ after you down the hall/ and she’s all worn out from all those late night feedings/ And she’s ready for another rock’n’ roll meeting.” No matter what technology holds and the future brings, some things are better left unchanged.

Track Listing for MPLSound

1. “There’ll Never B) Another Like Me”
2. “Chocolate Box”
3. “Dance 4 Me”
4. “U’re Gonna C Me”
5. “Valentina”
6. “Better with Time”
7. “Ol’ Skool Company”
8. “No More Candy 4 U”


3 1/2 stars (out of 4)

"I'm hot and I don't care who knows it/ I got a job 2 do." So declares Prince, working himself into a funky lather on "Black Sweat," the hip-gyrating highlight of his new CD. Recapturing his old "Kiss" -style swagger and irreverence ("You'll be screamin' like a white lady when I count 2 3: 1-2-3") over a ferocious groove, it's quite simply the baddest thing he's done in years.

Of course, it's not totally unexpected. You could feel this coming after Prince's 2004 comeback album Musicology and hits heavy tour of the same name, restored him to his rightful throne. And 3121 shows that His Purple Highness has no intention of stepping down anytime soon. Even better than its double-platinum predecessor, it boasts higher highs: "Lolita," along with "Black Sweat," gives this disc the best one-two punch he's had since "Gett Off and "Cream."

With its bright synth lines and tight rhythm guitar, "Lolita" is classic 80's Prince, though now that he is a Jehovah's Witness, he won't surrender to the nubile temptress who's "fine from head 2 pumps." Elsewhere, the scorching, electric guitar charged "Fury" takes him back to the funk-rock glory of the Revolution era, while the spiritually glowing "Beautiful, Loved & Blessed" pairs Prince with new protogee Tamar, a much better duet partner than Apollonia ever made. A couple of lesser slow jams, including the Latin-flavored "Te Amo Corazon," make 3121 fall short of the slam dunk it could have been. Still, there's plenty here to make you go crazy all over again.


Puttin' on the Funk, Playing Sly Games

"3121" (Universal)

Prince doesn't sing any complicated messages on his new album, "3121." He has his perennial topics in mind: love, partying and sex (monogamous now that he has declared himself a Jehovah's Witness), with some salvation on the side. It's a friendly, happy, concise album, clocking in under 54 minutes and just about always putting the funk in the foreground. But within the grooves, Prince enjoys some sly musical games. It's not what he says, but what he plays, that gives the songs their snap.

When Prince went fully independent in 1996, his first impulse was to pour out all the music he made: triple and quadruple albums, cover versions, Internet-only songs, instrumentals. But since 1999 he also has been making deals with the major conglomerates, one album at a time, and giving them some of what they want: songs that reaffirm his gift for pop hooks and that also deliberately stir memories of his 1980's hits. With any luck the new songs could sound familiar enough to reach a generation raised on sampled 1970's and 80's R&B. He reaches back to "1999," for instance, in "Fury," a tale of pop ambition and parted lovers.

Yet he's experimenting too, perhaps goaded by atonal liberties of hip-hop. Working alone in the studio, Prince becomes the opposite of his onstage self. Instead of working in real time with live instruments, he goes for a dizzying mix of the handmade and the surreal. "Black Sweat" is an electronic maze of claps and bass thrusts with a whistling, sliding synthesizer high above, while the murky P-Funk vamp of the song "3121" carries dissonant distorted guitars and voices that have been sped up and slowed down. When Prince proselytizes in "The Word," the track is a shifty mixture of staccato acoustic guitar, washes of string sound, a lone saxophone, simmering electronic sounds and clipped percussion.

Meanwhile, when he's not being futuristic, his music holds a history of soul. "Satisfied" is an old-fashioned falsetto ballad, complete with horn section, "Get on the Boat" mixes James Brown funk with salsa, and "The Dance" builds up to an orchestral supper-club bolero.

Prince has done some careful ethical balancing to square his old lascivious self with his openly devout one, and on "3121" he shows his sense of humor about it. He's still a seducer, but one with boundaries. In "Lolita," he's tempted by a young girl, yet insists, "you'll never make a cheater out of me"; then he starts a call and response, asking, "What you wanna do?" She responds, teasingly, "Whatever you want," but when he says, "Then come on, let's dance," she says, with disdain and disbelief, "Dance?" Still, Prince understands what made him a star, and he's not giving it up. "I'm hot and I don't care who knows it," he declares in "Black Sweat," then immediately gets pragmatic: "I got a job to do." JON PARELES


For the bargain price, Prince's triple play hits the target

On his new three-disc package, the Minneapolis rock icon strikes out with a protégé but hits a glam slam with his party tunes.

Three has become the new purple.

Remember when Prince did three hometown shows in one day on 7/7/07? Now he's releasing a three-disc album Sunday, exclusively via Target, for the thrifty price of $11.98.

To promote the new three-pack, he is performing three consecutive nights on "The Tonight Show," starting tonight, and three concerts Saturday in Los Angeles with three different bands.

About the only promotion missing is a trio of fragrances (how about Mplscent?), though Prince does talk about cologne in two -- but not three -- songs on the new set.

Enough about the marketing. How's the music?

In short, the two Prince discs -- "Lotusflow3r" and "Mplsound" -- are hit-and-miss, with enough good stuff to justify one must-have CD. The third disc, "Elixer," by his Minnesota protégé Bria Valente, is marginal. But there is no breaking up this threesome; all the discs come in the same purple package.

Prince loyalists will dig parts of "Lotusflow3r" and Mplsound," both of which echo familiar 1980s Purple sounds. But some of the topics are current: Wall Street bailouts, "Ugly Betty" and a reference to "the White House is black." In moments that evoke "Sign o' the Times," the Minneapolis icon sings about issues of race in "Colonized Mind" and "Dreamer," inspired by Martin Luther King.

He also rails about radio, record labels and stars who can't sing -- three Prince themes older than his fabled Minneapolis Sound.

When it comes to romance, this former libertine has become hopelessly "old-fashioned," as he sings in "Ol' Skool Company." In fact, his seductions seem too tame for today's urban and pop radio. With lines such as "Ooh baby baby/ when u walk thru that door/ eye am gonna give u what u're waiting 4" (his spelling, of course), he's not going to score with listeners weaned on, say, The-Dream's "Rockin' That Thang."

Actually, Prince seems to be admitting to his age (50) and accepting the fact that he's not making music for horny teenagers anymore. In the dreamy ballad "Better With Time," he tells his lady: "Like wine, u get better with time." In "Valentina," he talks about hitting on a girl's mom.



Prince's Triple Album Is Online, and All Over the Place

By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 28, 2009; Page C01

It isn't always easy loving Prince -- which seems to be just how the brilliant but occasionally baffling musician wants it.

This week, Prince launched a splashy intergalactic Web site, LOtUSFLOW3R.com, offering his most obsessive fans a year's worth of access to various manifestations of his creative genius -- including an early crack at his new, at-times-terrific triple-titled triple album -- for $77. But before they could sign up, they had to figure out how to get past the site's instruction-free front page, a task that required the unearthing of two clues stashed like Easter eggs on the page.

Once the user registered, the Prince treasure hunt continued, with three new albums ("LOtUSFLOW3R" and "MPLSoUND," plus a new protege's project, "Elixer," co-written and co-produced by Prince) stashed in different sections of the Flash-heavy site. To access "MPLSoUND," for instance, one had to triple-click the strings of the powder-blue Fender Stratocaster that popped onto the screen only after one clicked on the white swan with a headphone jack for a head. And no, I was not dreaming when I wrote this.

This is how Prince treats his most devoted fans?

After running the digital gantlet, though, there was a real reward, not just in the archival videos and other extras that were pulled from Prince's vaults and splashed throughout the site, but also in some of the new music, too.

The guitar-heavy "LOtUSFLOW3R" and the funked-up "MPLSoUND" are not exactly all-time Prince classics, but they're filled with enough standout musical moments to keep discerning musicologists happy. (As always, they're also filled with titles that look like typos -- further evidence that the unspoken life's mission of His Royal Badness is to drive copy editors crazy.) The generally strong quality comes as something of a relief, given some of his earlier, execrable efforts, from "The Rainbow Children" to "Come."

The sprawling three-album set will be available exclusively at Target stores and on the company's no-Easter-eggs-required Web site beginning tomorrow for $11.98. Including the tracks from "Elixer" -- a limpid, fairly generic set of airy, cooing soul by Bria Valente, who is Prince's new Tamar (who was supposed to be his new Apollonia) -- that works out to roughly 4 cents per song.

Call it the Prince stimulus package! And don't bother with the double-entendre: The formerly freak-nasty singer scraped his dirty mind -- and music -- out of the gutter when he became a Jehovah's Witness. One reminder comes on "Love Like Jazz," a snoozy "LOtUSFLOW3R" song on which Prince, now 50, sounds downright tame as he sings about the female form over some Esquivel-style lounge music.

Prince could have easily cut this and several other duds (helter-skelter surf-pop song "No More Candy 4 U," the cranky hip-hop rant "Ol' Skool Company") to make a single, superlative disc out of the project. But he'd apparently rather leave the editing to others. That, and he opted to keep his musical personalities separate.

"LOtUSFLOW3R" is a moody, meandering, esoteric psychedelic-rock album on which the little purple polyglot gets in touch with his inner "Purple Haze" and pays homage to Jimi Hendrix via liberal use of Hendrix's sonic signatures, from the wah-wah that opens "Dreamer" to the driving fuzztone chords of the explosive workout "Wall of Berlin."

It's one guitar virtuoso feting another, with Prince turning in dazzling instrumental performances on track (the simmering statement song "Colonized Mind") after track (the tender but blistering "Boom"). Occasionally, though, the instrumental prowess simply sounds self-indulgent, as on the New Age almost-instrumental "Back 2 the Lotus," whose shifty, spacey jazz chords suggest Prince trying out for Phish.

Prince turns his funkier side loose on "MPLSoUND" (short for Minneapolis Sound), which is full of frisky club songs that tend to blend the musician's vintage synth-and-drums sound with some modern twists, most notably the Auto-Tune vocal effect. Whereas Auto-Tune can be a dangerous weapon in the hands of some artists, Prince uses it sparingly to add to the giddy feel of club jams such as the boastful "(There'll Never B) Another Like Me" and the high-octane standout "Chocolate Box." It's thrilling stuff that serves as a reminder of why we loved Prince in the first place.

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Chocolate Box," "(There'll Never B) Another Like Me," "Wall of Berlin”