CD Review: Prince – LotusFlow3r – MPLSound – Brian Valente – Elixir

prince200Another year, another CD from Prince, though in this case there are three CDs included in this latest package from our Purple Hero. As of this writing, the three-CD set is only available at Target stores due to Prince’s hatred of dealing with the major labels since his major-league dust-up at Warners. Although I hate the fact the indie record stores won’t be getting this release for awhile (if at all) I respect Prince’s stance against the majors and he has at least made sure the price is right ($11.99 for the three CD set) so there is not much to balk about as far as pricing and availability as there are Target stores every-freaking-where. Next time, though, I hope he manages to reconcile his hatred of the major label system with the realization that indie stores have always stood by him and his music despite Warner Brothers treating him like crap so he can maybe give the indie stores a special release or work with them or something. Commercial over – as I said, the price is right.

The music, though, may be another matter.

The way Prince is presenting this set is not as a cohesive multi-CD set ala Emancipation or even Crystal Ball. What Prince is attempting to do here is give the consumer three different projects for the price of one. The first (and main project) is called LotusFlow3r and is the main CD of the set. The second CD is called MPLSound and features Prince jamming over some old school Prince beats and grooves. Possibly these are backing tracks he’s had laying around in his seemingly bottomless musical vault and just decided to update them or re-record parts of them to make them sound more contemporary yet retain enough of the classic old-school Prince feel to excite the part of his fanbase hungering for that vintage Prince sound. The third disc serves as the debut release of his latest lover/protege Bria Valente, for whom Prince has produced, written the songs, and doubtless played all the instruments on this CD as a testament to both his love (I am just guessing) and his belief in her talent (sure). Since there are no musician credits on any of the packaging for these releases I will assume he’s done all the music for all three these CDs, as has been his usual M.O. as of late.

The first CD, LotusFlow3r, is devinitely slanted towards the kind of modern neo-soul Prince has played since breaking away from Warners for good in the mid-90’s. It is characteristically very lush R&B with most of the rock feel coming not from the (mostly) mid-tempo beats but from Prince’s fluid, Hendrixian guitar playing. Though derivative in his guitar sound, Prince should get way more credit for his axe work than he does. He is one of the most fluid, intuitive, skillful players in the history of rock and roll but due to his guitar sound not being original enough, he is unfairly overlooked in this department. For me, it is the main reason I have still purchased his albums despite there being nothing much resembling a hit song over the past fifteen years or so. Sadly, I do not hear a hit on this disc either, though an excellent cover of the ’60’s chestnut Crimson and Clover could conceivably cross-over, though it is wild that another writer’s song is the catchiest song on a Prince album. Back in the day, Prince could create a hit whenever the mood struck. Perhaps he still can. He has said he is done with hits, that making hits is not what he wants to do. To my chagrin, at least, he keeps his plan on track with this CD.

The second CD, MPLSound, is the one I personally like the best. Though it has it’s own set of problems due to the fact it copies old-school Prince with a little updating and peters out towards the end, I find this CD has the catchiest material and finds Prince at his most playful. What I have noticed through the years is when Prince seems to be having fun, he is at his best and his most playful, sexy, bawdy cuts are the ones that have been the most successful. As he has matured, he has largely “grown out” of his penchant for playful smut and he doesn’t get too dirty here either but this is the closest he’s come to his old self in quite a long time. The first cut alone, the wonderful (There’ll Never B) Another Like Me should get visions of old-school funky, nasty Prince dancing in your head as your own feet start tapping like there’s some sort of party going on. The best CD of the three, and although not a complete return to form, this sure bodes well for the future as I hope he gets a good reception for this disc and decides to give us his best stuff just one more time. Hey, I can hope can’t I?

The third CD is by Bria Valente and entitled Elixir and, frankly, you would need to influence me by some kind of potion or something to make me say this CD is good. It embodies all that is wrong with today’s R&B. Slicker than 47 politicians, this CD has very little in the way of true emotion and while Vanlente’s singing is decent enough, you just don’t get the impression Valente is really conveying any real emotion. The notes are there, but that undefinable X-factor is missing. To that end, Valente is obviously very young and maybe she will develop her talent over time. Valente truly does have a good voice, she just needs something to seperate her from Beyonce and all the other Beyonce-wanna-be’s that are unfortunately clogging the airwaves and marketplace. That Prince is working with her may mean something, but we’ve seen him (and heard, unfortunately) make other albums with his various proteges and lovers and they have all come out flat, the best thing about them being Prince’s involvement. It is the same here. I found myself not listening to her voice as much as checking out Prince’s arrangements and licks, kind of tuning her out, which I am sure was not the intention behind this disc.

Prince is Prince. What else can you say about him that hasn’t been written many times over? The man is a genius, yet he has largely abandoned writing for mass appeal, instead playing and writing music he likes, critics and the public be damned. As such, rarely do Prince’s albums reach the top of the charts anymore or get much airply and if they do sell well, there is usually a gimmicky reason like a few years ago where he was handing out free albums to whoever paid for a concert ticket. Still, despite changing his musical focus, Prince still puts out transcendant music, just not the same type as years past. For those yearning for the old school Prince groove, the MPLSound CD is their best bet. Though it is uneven, the CD is largely a tribute to his old style and seems as if he took old unused backing tracks and re-wrote the lyrics to make them seem more current. For those happy with the newer version of Prince who likes to play mid-tempo rock/R&B songs with copius amounts of Hendrixian guitar solos, the main CD of this set, LotusFlow3r, is your deal. Though it sort of left me cold, as I have mentioned above, Prince’s version of the ’60’s song Crimson and Clover kicks major ass. As far as the third CD goes, I just can’t recommend it. Though it is pretty much the same slick modern R&B with female vocals that artists like Beyonce have taken to the top, it’s seems verey cold and feels like another cookie-cutter Prince protege album where it’s really Prince just indulging his current lover by giving her an album like he’s done for artists such as Martika, Elisa Fiorillo, Mayte Garcia and on and on. So, despite all the extra, self-indulgent, throwaway material on these three CDs, because the cost is comparable to one CD anywhere else, I would have to say it is still a good deal to pick up this set. Besides, maybe you’ll actually like the slick R&B I despise. Who knows?