2000 00 party over, whoops outta time. This, Prince’s 23rd album “Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic”, is the one where we had to stop pretending that he could do it on record anymore. Neither rave, nor fantastic, it was a funk meets pop attempt to sell out that failed to do so. The problem was the songs and the gift of song, plus the occasional arrangement, not performance, not singing… all of it is what it is precisely. Prince as an artist never lost his primary skill, he was a master musician, a genius musician: a funk pioneer and a brittle brilliant business man, who set out to do precisely what he wanted to do exactly how he wanted to do it. What he wasn’t was a great songwriter, for at least the second half of his career.
Prince is fully committed on this album, it is a pop move by definition with guest appearances by popsters Eve, Gwen Stefani, Ani Di Franco, and Sheryl Crowe, and big time black artists Chuck D and Maceo Parker. Only Gwen, on the albums best moment, the over arranged but catchy “So Far, So Pleased” does him any favors. A catchy piece of funky bubblegum, it is a hidden gem among some uninspired Princeisms. By now we can’t really respond to his funk exercises, not the title track which, oddly, isn’t rave music, not the very next track, the Chuck D “Undisputed”, not the ballad that follows. It takes till a third of the way through before the album kicks in to a degree with “Tangerine”, a strummy break up track with probably the best lyric, “Sometimes I feel tangerine, sometimes I feel blue”, followed by the best track “SO Far, So Pleased”.
Once you’re past that, his cover of “Everyday Is A Winding Road” is a true misstep, echoing his earlier and superior “One Of Us”, this time he rewrote it as an r&b track and missed the melody in its entirety. “Man O’War” sounds right but doesn’t sound like a good song, and the love in disarray to the lyric are very plain speak, a mixed blessing true, but if you take the albums lyrical content and compare it to his early 80s heights, it just doesn’t happen. Even his iffy albums in the 90s had scope to them; here he aims for one thing, the charts, and misses. It is as if he missed a step on a stair, he crates his ideals and ideologue, with the the same old same new Prince, the one we would shrug through to the end of his life. Like Bruce, Paul, Neil, Bono… his well of inspiration seemed to have taken a break and wouldn’t come back. It is the stalled modem of funk albums. Listen to the dreadful piano ballad “I Love U, But I Don’t Trust U Anymore” -a big heartbreaker that never lifts off.It is the near beer of Prince, it sounds as though it should be big and important and it is nothing of the sort.
This is exactly what Prince lost when he left Warner Brothers, somebody to tell him no.
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