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** THE ARTIST "New Power Soul" NPG

June 28, 1998|Robert Hilburn

In concert last fall at the Hollywood Bowl, the man who now calls himself the Artist was so enthralling that for 90 minutes he became the musical Prince of our dreams once again.

By the end of the evening at the Bowl, you were looking forward to a new album by the visionary Prince of the '80s, not the confused, unreliable Artist, who had worn out our patience with his hokey 1993 tour and a series of underwhelming albums.

The promise wasn't met when the Artist stuck it to us with the horrendously overblown, four-disc "Crystal Ball" set in March. Just as Prince once scrawled "S-L-A-V-E" on his face to express frustration with his record company, fans must have been tempted to turn to the greasepaint themselves to express the frustration of paying $40 for an album of listless studio jams: "S-U-C-K-E-R."

News of "New Power Soul" raises expectations all over again. It's a single-disc collection of new material that is designed to help us party all the way into 1999, with an occasional pause for expressions of romantic devotion and salvation.

And there are witty touches in the funk-driven arrangements, but they're only mildly satisfying. For all his continued musical prowess, there is little of the illumination and daring of the great "Dirty Mind"/"Purple Rain" period. He remains a master of musical textures, but the absence of ideas leaves him a one-dimensional Artist.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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* Excerpts from these albums and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/soundclips

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