Artists often turn to reinvention as their careers evolve, and Prince has changed artistic courses as often as he’s changed his name. But in his new album “The Rainbow Children” he tries too hard and thinks too big.
For the master of the fearless, new personas emerge over the course of a single song as he marries the deepest purple funk to screeching rock overlaid with his roller-coaster vocals. And we still remember the uncomfortable period when he was formerly known as himself.
His Purple Majesty wouldn’t be satisfied short of raising new holy terror. We can’t say he didn’t try.
“Tossing his pearly crown into the deep blue underground,” Prince trades his booty-thumping kingdom for that of the Lord. With “Rainbow,” he high-mindedly beats out a mythic book of millennium scripture as the title’s chosen people conquer temptation, vanquish their corrupt (history), and sing praises for their prince’s marriage.
Its cover sticker reads “Controversial.” Perhaps “Rainbow’s” sexism or religious references merited the item-selling label. The thinly veiled references to himself as the story’s “Wise One” might not be popular.
The concept album has been the bane of ambitious song craftsmen, sometimes with half-baked yields. True to form, “Rainbow,” a veritable gospel/r&b opera, clocks epic-length tracks heavy on the jam, light on coherence. Uncharacteristically preachy and incomprehensible, Prince forgets small things like unity, simplicity, and knowing when to quit.
“Rainbow” does beam hope for new music with its sincere spirit. The upside to pointless jams is free joy. Without his characteristic synthesizers, Prince selects a nearly all-instrumental accompaniment of superbly polished jazz cats. In and around the golden ball of funk horns, the legacies of Miles Davis and James Brown keep the rhythm kicking, but it is all cut up by the rich indulgence of the Royal One’s own electric guitar.
Prince earned majesty through his matchless talent. The lyrical poetry of “Seven” and “When Doves Cry” screamed his wild creativity – unselfconsciously. He has nothing to prove, but he should remember his past finesse.