(The following review was published in the Indiana Daily Student March 30, 2006)
A PURPLE PAIN
No matter how often the media poke fun at his bizarre and reclusive lifestyle or how many times Dave Chappelle ranks on his quirky, sexual purpleness, Prince is still one hell of a talented musician. Which is why listening to 3121, the newest addition to the artist formally known as the artist formally known as Prince’s repertoire, is so disappointing.
Following in the footsteps of 2004’s Musicology, a highly successful, but fairly mediocre album, Prince attempts to return to the ’80s synth-pop rhythms and sounds that made him exclaim, “Baby I’m a star,” and mixes things up with a bit of hip-hop and Latin instrumental flavor. Unfortunately, the result is an album that tries hard to rekindle a sound of the past, but ultimately comes out lost and confused in an age where rap and hip-hop make up mainstream pop.
The album opens up with the title track, a funky, amusing little electro house beat about what we can only imagine is Prince’s address to his personal garden of Eden. With lyrics like, “Put your clothes in the pile on the floor / Take your pick from the Japanese robes and sandals / Drink champagne from a glass with chocolate handles / Don’t you want to come? 3121,” one can’t help but assume that this album is more a personal invitation into the secret and opulent lifestyles of the billionaire Jehovah’s witness than anything else.
In the world of 3121, at least in the first six tracks, every day seems to be a party, a party with a bad girl named “Lolita,” lots of “Incense and Candles,” “Black Sweat” and of course “Love.” In fact, the first half of the album plays out more like a self-indulged string of sexual infused funk beats (which might or might not be fantasy), than the catchy pop songs from the ’80s that Prince is most commonly known for.
The album picks up the pace during the second half, however, with a number of tracks that are reminiscent of the pop life of Prince’s past.
“Fury,” which is the best song on the album, feels like a highly polished B-Side cut from any of Prince’s truly classic masterpieces, the flawless Purple Rain, the politically charged Sign ‘O’ the Times and even the campy but boisterous 1999. The song opens with a driving drum beat, catchy keyboard hook that nicely resembles the works of former Revolution member Lisa Coleman and fiery axe licks that remind us Prince is still a guitar virtuoso.
According to the liner notes 3121 was produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince himself, a feat that shows both musical chops but also quite possibly control issues. There are a couple ‘guest per4mers’ including funk saxophone maestro Maceo Parker, some shouts and sexual grunts from Prince’s ’90s band lineup, The New Power Revolution and a surprisingly soulful balladic duet, “Beautiful, Loved and Blessed,” featuring R&B singer Tamara, who nicely compliments Prince’s highly feminine voice in the same way Shelia E. did back in the purple velvet decade of the ’80s.
Overall the album seems to be lost somewhere between classic Prince fare and the sexual soul world of someone like Barry White. It’s quite generous of Prince to invite us to his purple, sexual soirée, however, it’s difficult to truly get into the world of 3121 while we’re doing our normal daily routines like walking to class or riding the C-bus. Perhaps incense and Japanese sandals do in fact make the listening experience all the more rewarding.