When it comes to the illustrious career of Prince, you can pretty much divide it into three sections. The first section (which is also the longest) is the portion that everyone loves. It encompasses Prince from his start in the late ’70s until about the early to mid ’90s. This is the section that brought us classic albums like 1999, Purple Rain, Sign ‘O’ The Times, and the Batman soundtrack. All your favorite Prince jams come from this section. For most people, this section is the only section they know or remember.
The second section of his career starts after the album Diamonds And Pearls and goes all the way until around 2004. This is the section where Prince started using that silly male/female combined symbol first as the name of an album (which actually wasn’t that bad) and later as his name. This is when he got incredibly mad at Warner Bros., started painting “Slave” on his face, and released album after album of unusual material to get out of that WB contract. This is also when he went kind of underground and catered mainly to his hardcore fan base although he tried to become relevant again with albums like Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic.
Towards the end of the second section, Prince became a Jehovah’s Witness and regained his name. However, he also did stuff that mainstream audiences still didn’t really care for like n.e.w.s. and The Rainbow Children. In 2004, the third section of his career began as he made a “comeback” with the Musicology album and tour. His videos got airplay on MTV again and he happily played his old hits again. This third incarnation of Prince continues on the album 3121.
3121 sounds more like first section Prince than second section Prince. He still has some tricks up his sleeve. “Black Sweat” is a wonderful song that hooks you the minute you hear it. The combination of a funky electronic grooves and the high version of his voice is deadly in the best possible way. “Fury” is also a very good song and is reminiscent of earlier rock-tinged Prince jams.
Beginning with Musicology, Prince has toned down his act and 3121 continues that trend. However, more so than Musicology, 3121 also shows that he’s reconciled the new, wiser Prince with the wilder Prince of old. The chorus of the album’s title song begins with the line “Don’t you want to come.” You might be fooled into thinking that line is meant to be racy, especially since Prince actually has an album entitled Come.
However, the very next line is “3121″ and then you realize that he’s referring to the house that is pictured on the front of the CD booklet. The song title “Lolita” automatically conjures up images of tawdriness but on the song, Prince tells the girl that she’ll “never make a cheater” out of him. The kinkiest thing they do is dance.
Other songs make references to sex but there’s always a line or two that gets him out of the woods. “Black Sweat” contains the line “I don’t want to turn anybody on/ ‘Less it’s you.” “Incense And Candles” cleverly combines sex and godliness in the course of two lines: “I’m gonna make you scream my name as if it was divine/ But we both know that we gotta praise the one who made ya.” Prince even clarifies himself on “Satisfied”: “I ain’t talking about nothing physical/ ‘Cause foreplay starts in the mind.”
3121 is Prince’s best album in… well, a long time. Most of the songs are good, the beats are suitably funky, and Prince sounds like he had more fun making this album than Musicology. This album is not one of his career best, but it succeeds in reminding you why you became a fan of Prince in the first place. It gives me hope that third incarnation of Prince just might rival the superb original.