On Prince's latest, the funk is outweighed only by the bunk. So where to begin making sense of this incomprehensible mess?
How about with the "caution--genders merging" symbol that is the album's title? Or should our quest begin with the baffling story line of his "fantasy rock soap opera," in which Prince seduces a virginal yet hot-to-trot Middle Eastern princess, i.e., his latest "protegee" ( nudge nudge ), teen-age belly dancer Mayte?
Should we try to decipher the cryptic dialogues between Prince and Kirstie Alley, who plays a reporter hot on his cute tail?
How about the sudden burst of apocalyptic religion in "7," following so much veritable soft porn? Since Prince refers so often and obliquely to "another world," should we ask whether they have nonstop oral sex there too?
And what \o7 is\f7 it with the recurring homages to \o7 Roger Vadim?\f7
Although there's some sort of underlying narrative here--soon to be further explored in a DC comic book (no joke!)--it seems a random mishmash of silly ideas set to irresistable beats, roughly corresponding to Prince's usual ratio of 90% flesh, 10% spirit.
(There's a little more flesh in the "unedited" edition; those who purchase the "edited" album are denied the privilege of Prince de-abbreviating "Sexy MF.")
For the second album in a row, Prince has largely left behind his studio innovation for the derivative pleasures of his hip-hop-informed band, the N.P.G. The "live" horn section hearkening back to James Brown is a terrific touch. The accessible combination of rap interludes on heavier numbers and sweet saxes on ballads guarantees he'll continue to woo back the mass audience he alienated around "Lovesexy."
But the ham keeps getting in the way of the jams. And look out when the concept starts rearing its pretentious head: The multi-part "3 Chains O' Gold" is redolent of nothing so much as a witless "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Prince has always been indulgent, but this is a pedestrian indulgence. Formerly a horny gnostic of fascinatingly obsessive proportions, he now seems like just another confused Peter Pan with Playboy on the brain and a Bible in the hotel drawer. As the brothers Doobie once said, what were once vices are now habits.
\o7 New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).\f7