First, let me say that we have much for which to be thankful to Prince. Personally, Around the World in a Day on repeat got me through an unexpected all-night cross-country trip I might not have survived without thinking "OK just until 'Tambourine' comes on again... Then you can rest... He was maybe the sole big star of the 80s to escape with any dignity. He was cool enough that Miles Davis wanted to make some terrible music with him before succumbing to demons (mediating that is Miles collaboration with Sting on the 1985 atrocity You're Under Arrest.../em>) and judging by the populist outcry of applause at his last Super Bowl performance, he apparently still has it. And yes, his major hits like "Little Red Corvette" and "Kiss" still hold up. He's a Purple Atlas holding up the globe of popular culture. All hail Prince.
Fuck Prince. For me, Prince was better mythology than fact, like much of rock 'n' roll. Prince is like the Beatles in that his long looming shadow casts a shadow blocking the sunlight needed for things to grow the ever-expanding stretch since his saliency, which was twenty goddamn years ago when Sign 'O' The Times was released. Every record of his since then has been an exercise in shrugged justification. Hell, I'm even pulling for the little purple bastard each time, hoping he nails it and it always falls flat like so many over-inflated balloons brushing the sharp thorns of relevancy. He should have pulled a Sly Stone in 1987, and vanished, maybe dragging himself out for a Versace show or something. But then, Sly materialized recently to cash in on what looks to be diminished returns, so maybe being a ridiculously pampered recluse is not all it's cracked up to be.
Planet Earth scored a coup with his stunt issuing free copies in the paper, a quaint 80s take on an internet leak, but it is telling that little news came out after this. Planet Earth, like everything he does is lush as a VIP Vegas buffet, but all this technology and talent is put in service of the cheesiest shit ever, and not even good cheesy shit like he used to turn us on with. "Mr. Goodnight" is the ultimate example - a lava floe of tepid R&B with Prince talking/rapping like a bad SNL seduction skit. You know those pieces they used to run in The Onion, Shmoove B. who would seduce you with a variety of cheeses, both domestic and imported and, additionally, wine will be served? It's like my retelling, flat as hell.
There are a few righteous moments, like the slam disco of "Chelsea Rodgers" which I bet would go off in the kind of gay clubs I used to haunt in the 90s, but they ain't around no more. And "Resolution" is perfect for 30 seconds until his asinine take on war kicks in. You wanna know what really happened to protest songs? Here's your answer. I was really hoping "Lion of Judah" would not be a reggae song, but its worse, it's Police circa 1981 (Ghost in the Machine came out in 1981?) fake-deconstruction reggae. And while we are mining the 80s for comparisons, the much lauded "Guitar" is an improbable mix of U2's "I Will Follow" and Huey Lewis and the News' "The Heart of Rock 'n' Roll" that works less successfully than what I'm describing. I have heard that Prince only listens to his own music, but this album offers an even scarier possibility that he actually listens to a radio station held hostage by his scantily clad minions with 6's at the end of their names, forced to replay the hits from when Prince had hits, just so he can let the clock radio go for a bit until "Alphabet St." comes on, and yawn a triumphant yawn.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com