Out There

The Artist
Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic
(Arista/NPG Records)

The Artist Formerly Known releases more albums in a year than most artists do in a lifetime -- and, as he told MTV just last week, there's plenty more in the vaults where that came from. Like a survivalist, the man hordes tapes, among them his Miles Davis jams, some Revolution-ary tracks, and his hardcore pornfunk, the likes of which is said to make The Black Album sound prude by comparison. If only The Producer Still Known as Prince would dust off those tapes instead of releasing this expiration-date funk-rock, the likes of which he's been making, oh, ever since Around the World in a Day.

His apologists may forgive him his banal backsliding, but whatever happened to the genius who was supposed to render Hendrix, Wonder, J.B., and -- oh, yeah -- Lennon-McCartney moot points by now? Likely, he's trapped in a studio somewhere, forever spending his platinum-and-purple days wondering how to top masterpieces that came so early in a young career. If so, then all we're left with is this pop product Prince, whose sign of the times reads "yield." He's been running in place so long, all you can hear is a man out of breath. And out of time: Only Prince would write songs claiming something's "the bomb" since he's, like, "the Mack Daddy" and shit.

Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic couldn't break new ground with a sledgehammer, if only because so much of it sounds like the excised cuts that turned up on Crystal Ball. Only this time around, he's brought a posse of all-stars and small-stars with him: Sheryl Crow, Ani DiFranco, Gwen Stefani, Chuck D, and Maceo Parker, no doubt the last to prove once and for all he's the heir to J.B.'s cobwebbed throne. The Chuck D guest spot is the saddest ("high trees catch a lot of wind," growls the P.E. frontman, who no doubt meant "break a lot of wind"); the Crow cameo is the most noxious (it was done in trade, since he also covers her "Every Day Is a Winding Road"); and the DiFranco and Stefani stints barely exist at all, since Prince is a duet unto himself most of the time anyway. At least Ruff Ryder Eve doesn't sound like she recorded her joint from a pay phone in Burbank.

Shocking that in 1999, the best Prince can come up with is a post-Lionel Commodores record, but what else can you expect from a man who long ago shut out the rest of the world and not only believed his press, but probably wrote half of it? "Some days I feel tangerine / Some days I feel blue," he sing-squeals at one point, though it's no less a low point than that thing about how "baby loves this funky joint in the city where freaks come out 2 play." Tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1992.

Robert Wilonsky


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