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Prince's new 'Lotusflow3r' is funky, then clunky

As the father of two young daughters, I naturally spend great chunks of time thinking about Prince. Not because he might someday date my girls or because he's roughly their height. No, I ponder the Purple One because he once bragged about needing only two hours of sleep per night. He shuns shut-eye and writes When Doves Cry. I miss sleep and inadvertently diaper my kid's head. A subtle distinction, but a telling one.

My point, if it's not incredibly clear by now, is that Prince is a wee freak of nature. There aren't many minutes in the day when the Minneapolis mite isn't making music, the midnight hour included. And this super­heroic sleeplessness leads us perfectly to his new incredibly ambitious, altogether odd album — or albums. The three-disc Lotusflow3r, available exclusively at Target for $11.98, sounds as if it were recorded in one long REM-free night, a sexy first-take spin through distinct parts of the 50-year-old's paisley psyche.

Prince's three-headed experiment is not without its bumps; an entire disc is dedicated to new protege Bria Valente, with Prince producing, playing, drooling, etc. And all three discs could use some xxxtra booty-bumping bass. But with the exception of Bria, the three-pronged package makes for good make-out music … and, if you're feelin' lucky, maybe a little bit more, too.

The album breakdown goes like this: There's the funky, boot-knocking MPLSound, a nine-track disc of synth-frisky funk and Rick James squirm. Prince can rip this stuff out in a hurry, and he probably did. But it's still tasty, especially the crazy-kinky double entendre of Chocolate Box and straight groover Dance 4 Me. If you wanna slow-jam with your lovah, try U're Gonna C Me, which reminds me of his sprawling Scandalous on 1989's Batman soundtrack. For a dude who has seen more thighs than Colonel Sanders, Prince has always played the unsure lover well, and here he's either wounded or woozy from love. MPLSound loses velocity late in the game, but it's the comp's strongest disc.

Much more organic — jazzy time-changes, Hendrixian guitar moans, lyrics that long to inspire rather than seduce — is the 12-track Lotusflow3r. From the grinding rock squelch of Boom to a cover of Crimson and Clover made with the same ingredients in Purple Rain, the disc is one steady guitar jam, Prince proving that he picks as well as parties. Much of it plays like self-indulgent noodling (Love Like Jazz is unintended elevator music), but the hard-nosed Dreamer puts Prince firmly in Electric Lady Land, reminding us that he bows to Jimi just as well as he does to James Brown.

MPLSound and Lotusflow3r are huge improvements over Prince's 2007 output, the execrable Planet Earth. As for the final disc, well, it's a "bonus" at best, a drink coaster at worst. Called Elixer, it's the quiet-storm debut of Prince's newest vanity project (or, for that matter, Apollonia project). There's nothing particularly interesting about Bria Valente; she sounds like Janet Jackson, but without the nasty or the Jackson. Prince himself writes, produces, drops in guitar solos. But compared to the rest of the disc, Elixer is a parking brake on a good time. Then again, at the very least, Bria Valente will help me sleep at night. And Lord knows I could use some.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.

Prince, Lotusflow3r (NPG) GRADE: B-



Let's go crazy and back again

For a good chunk of the 1990s, Prince was a symbol, that symbol, an erotic squiggle that was better as a punch line than a form of protest against his record label.

While we're glad that madness is over, Prince's doodle-pad art makes for a good demarcation point in his career. So here are three favorite pre-symbol albums, plus two later (read: sane, brilliant) ones.

Pre-Symbol Albums

1. Purple Rain (1984) Every note inspired, awesome — yes, especially Darling Nikki.

2. Around the World in a Day (1985) Raspberry Beret is the hit, but the funky, angry America is the jaw dropper.

3. Sign o' the Times (1987) Prince's slow descent into Loonyville had already commenced, but the

lucid moments here — Housequake, If I Was Your Girlfriend — are among his underrated best.

Post-Symbol Albums

1. Musicology (2004) After a long layoff, partytime Prince returned with this brassy, funky tribute to James Brown. One of his best … of any period.

2. 3121 (2006) Whereas Musicology was the sound of an R&B jam session, 3121 was strictly the sound of Prince's libido. Boom, boom, boom. Turn up the bass, turn down the sheets.

Sean Daly, Times pop music critic

Prince's new 'Lotusflow3r' is funky, then clunky 04/04/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 4, 2009 10:26pm]
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