THE RAINBOW CHILDREN
He may be out to take the Crown of Weird away from Michael Jackson, but Prince is nothing if not fascinating.
What makes him so much more than an entertaining freak is the sheer brilliance and startling originality of his new music on The Rainbow Children, a dramatic and evocative symphony of soul as fine as he's ever made. It came - direct from Paisley Park Studios in Minneapolis - with a sticker proclaiming a "controversial" new album. They're not lying.
The artist formerly known as an unpronounceable symbol appears to have dumped his greasy sex machine persona and donned the mantle of a devout Jehovah's Witness. Good Lord, what will he think of next?
Not once in The Rainbow Children's 14 tracks does Prince grunt and moan about being a Sexy Mother ..., although he can't resist a little steam in tracks like Mellow. Mostly, this appears to be a series of funky love letters to God in a new religion of Prince's own creation. Now that's controversial.
Loaded with biblical references, the record opens with a stylish, jazzy groove under a sinister electronic voice setting the stage for the tale of a magical world, kind of a digital Garden of Eden populated by the "Rainbow Children." It's deep, cryptic stuff - although thought-provoking all the same, touching on race relations, sexual roles and spirituality. The upshot is that all races, all religions need to come "together as one," as a massive gospel choir sings in the elaborate closing song, Last December.
Along the way, Prince is in fine form. He glides effortlessly from shades of James Brown to beautiful soul ballads to fantastical musical hybrids that defy comparison. The music here is bold, challenging and often wildly experimental. Production and musicianship is flawless. Standouts are too many to list. There are some bewildering and stunningly self-indulgent moments here and there, but it is never boring.
With The Rainbow Children, Prince reclaims his place as a peerless visionary of pop music - whatever goofy religion he chooses to follow. If he comes to your door wanting to talk about God, just pretend you're not home. (More on: Prince).
1. Rainbow Children
2. Muse 2 the Pharoah
3. Digital Garden
4. The Work Pt.1
6. The Sensual Everafter
8. 1+1+1 is 3
10. Wedding Feast
11. She Loves Me 4 Me
12. Family Name
13. The Everlasting Now
14. Last December