Frank Sinatra did things his way. But he’s got nothing on Prince. The Minneapolis musician with a penchant for purple has never shied away from controversy or idiosyncrasy, not to mention his iron-clad insistence on doing everything on his terms. This time around, Prince has partnered with Target to release a triple album: two albums of his own material (LotusFlow3r and MPLSound) and another from his protégé, Bria Valente (Elixer). Here are the highs and lows from Prince’s 21 tracks and Valente’s 10. (For readability, we’ve taken the liberty of translating Prince’s text-speak lyrics into more readable English).
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"Colonized Mind" deals with the damaging consequences of evolutionary theory, examines the relationship between power and democracy, emphasizes the importance of the family and concludes, "Without God, it's just the blind leading the blind." "Dreamer" celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of racial harmony, while "Feel Better, Feel Good, Feel Wonderful" implies that focusing on God is the key to dealing with life's problems ("You know you should feel wonderful/Keep your mind in the vertical direction/Always looking up"). "Ol' Skool Company" takes Wall Street to task as it trumpets the values of faith and family. Prince says, "When God, His Son and the love of family ruled in the community/The songs you sing lift you up to heaven." Remarkably (given the problems we'll look at), Prince chastises our culture's sensuality ("They got you catering to the whims of the flesh"). And he says a stable career and marriage should precede having children ("First come job, then come marriage/Before Shorty come out with the baby carriage"). The playful "No More Candy 4 U" rebukes those seeking the rock star life ("That's the life of a fool") and points out the hypocrisy of award-winning entertainers who praise God while living rebelliously ("To all the suckers winning anything and thanking the Lord for what they do/No more candy for you"). Two songs talk about love without plunging too far off the sensual deep end ("Here," "Better With Time").
Bria Valente's Sade-like R&B offering has little to recommend it lyrically. About the only positive moment is her faithfulness to her man on "Another Boy," in which she says she'll never fall for the flirtations of other suitors.
Prince may have left the most explicit fantasies of his earlier years behind, but he still finds plenty of inspiration singing about sex. The odd "4Ever" imagines an eternity of intimacy with someone he can't, apparently, be with in the here and now ("If I never get to feel your hips close to me/ ... If we never get to take a bubble bath/ ... I can be your future lover/ ... Eternity is just one kiss away"). Spiritual-sounding phrases often get fused to Prince's sensual daydreams, such as in "Love Like Jazz": "Baby I don't care what you learned in lovemaking school/You and me we 'bout to jam/Make love like the first woman and man"). Elsewhere, it's just plain naughty ol' Prince. "I got a box of chocolates/That'll rock the socks off any girl that wanna come my way" ("Chocolate Box"). More than a little creepy is "Valentina," on which Prince informs (evidently) Salma Hayek's infant daughter that he'd like to spend some time with her mom ... when she's done breastfeeding.
When it comes to Bria Valente's Elixer, it's sex, sex, sex and more sex. "Here I Come" explicitly narrates a woman masturbating in the shower. "All This Love" details what's happening with a man's and woman's anatomy during sex (not to mention bringing in a dose of Eastern spirituality by mentioning chakras). "Something U Already Know" implies that intercourse was so wild that a woman couldn't walk the next day. Indeed, nine of 10 tracks allude to sex in some fashion. The only one that doesn't is a vaguely spiritual song ("Immersion") that could be referring to heaven but may also be referring to a non-Christian spiritual experience ("Welcome to the place much faster than time/The true reality where only peace you'll find").
If you haven't checked in with the artist once again known as Prince lately, you might be surprised to discover that the 50-year-old performer has toned things down—albeit marginally—as a reflection of his Jehovah's Witness faith. Liner notes exclaim, "All Praise and Glory 2 The Most High—Jehovah." And the range of topics on his latest effort is matched only by the number of musical genres he employs. From R&B vibes, to sizzling guitar work, to synthesizer-based samples that repeatedly recall 1984's Purple Rain, there's barely a popular musical style Prince doesn't tap. Rock, funk, hip-hop, electronica, R&B, jazz, blues, pop, gospel—it's all here.
Prince might argue that he's changed his lyrical tune significantly of late. Certainly, shout-outs to God and pleas for people to get married before they start having babies aren't subjects that he would have entertained 20 years ago. But significant change isn't what LotusFlow3r is all about. This singer remains deeply infatuated with the subjects of sex and sensuality.
And even more problematic is the material of his protégé, Bria Valente. Prince's comments on her explicit content give us a window into the way he tries to reconcile the apparent gulf between his religious convictions and her decidedly steamy material (and some of his, for that matter). "This music is nasty, but it's not dirty," Prince told the Los Angeles Times. "There's no profanity. It isn't promoting promiscuity. She's singing about her lover, who could be her partner for life."
Nasty, but not dirty. It's a distinction that doesn't seem to trouble Prince too much.
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The Purple One's 25th studio effort, a triple album, debuted at No. 2.