I always knew that Prince would last for twenty-five albums. What I didn’t know was how the quality would sustain over the years. His Purple Badness’ train derailed for a while after the triple disc excess of Emancipation, with the disappointing New Power Soul, the hollow Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, the Jehovah’s Witness catastrophe The Rainbow Children and the jazz odyssey of N.E.W.S.. But he got back up on that horny pony with the `return to former glory’ of Musicology. If that album proved that Prince still had it, then 3121 serves as proof that it wasn’t a fluke. The man has many different strengths in many different genres. He is probably one of the most underrated lead guitarists out there, can funk like James Brown and is the undisputed master of the sex jam, with apologies to Marvin Gaye. In 3121, Prince flexes all of his musical muscle and is sure to please even diehard `friends’ of his most popular albums.
The opening title track is an invitation not only to the album, but to the `party’ that Prince provides on nearly every record, hearkening back to the way that “Glam Slam” accented Lovesexy. “Glam Slam” ended up to be the name of Prince’s club in Minneapolis, while “3121” appears to be his Los Angeles studio / home street number. The liner notes are a 2D version of what would be his episode of Cribs complete with pictures of the dining room, the sweet purple pool table and of course, the place where the `magic happens.’ “Lolita” tells the story of a young temptress (what else could it be about?) who entices our hero out onto the dance floor. Prince shows some age vulnerability when he sings, “I (eye) must admit / long time ago / we’d be the shhh / uh oh.” But poor little Lolita will not make a cheater out of Prince. (I thought his marriage broke up?)
“Black Sweat” will remind most of his mid-era sexcapade numbers such as “Gett Off” and “Sexy M.F.,” but the keyboards also remind me of some of the darker Depeche Mode songs such as “Fly on the Windscreen.” A Prince album just wouldn’t be a Prince album without a new song that didn’t also double as a new dance with handclap backgrounds. Maybe in shipping some of his stuff to L.A., Prince uncovered a box that contained an unopened vocoder that he ordered and never bothered to use. He uses that device in “Incense and Candles,” a duet with, you guessed it, another protégé, this time Támar. When I say Prince is back in rare form, I mean it! It’s as if we just skipped from the symbol album to now, having never gone on those extraneous side journeys, and the man’s only religions were music and sex.
But it’s “Fury” that really brings things back to the days of Purple Rain, the keyboards strong but understated and the electric guitar taking center stage along with Prince’s screaming vocals. Nothing would have made `The Kid’ prouder. He does, however, continue with the religious themes that are in many of his albums, but at least this time around it is as balanced between the different themes as his early albums were. “The Word” and “Beautiful, Loved and Blessed,” another duet with Támar, are the non-secular songs on the album, and he does manage to find the funk in the sacred more than most. “Get on the Boat” closes things out nicely with James Brown style horns and vocal delivery. And with Maceo Parker on board blowing his sax, Prince has never sounded more like the Godfather of Soul than he does on this track.
It can still be argued that Prince’s best days are behind him, but that’s easy to say after 25 albums in 28 years. The fact that his music still remains viable through umpteen format changes, from vinyl to cassette, CD to mp3, is what is truly astonishing. There are two sides within Prince that are constantly doing battle, the performer and the songwriter. Thank goodness for us he has two `better angels’ of his nature which drown out any demons of mediocrity, and 3121 is a perfect combination of the two. It may not replace Purple Rain on your lists, but it will remind you of why we loved Prince in the first place.
Prince- Diamonds & Pearls