With Prince being the amazing musician and talent that he is, the mundane and decent typically equates to a disappointment amongst his fans. With the announcement of Lotusflow3r, three albums worth of new material, legions of Prince fans were psyched. There was the potential for either an amazing experiment in music (queue memories of the classic Sign O’ The Times) or a whole bunch of decent but potentially forgettable Prince songs to add to the long list of others.
As more information was released to the die-hard fans, a new official website (www.lotusflow3r.com) popped up with promises of great content and exclusive videos and material. Prince even did a few interviews and TV appearances to perform parts of the album. He also leaked a few of the tracks out for preview promising a return to “the axe” as well as a return to the classic Minnesota sound.
Two of the three tracks released early included a cover of the Tommy James & The Shondells classic, “Crimson & Clover,” and an original, “Colonized Mind.” Performed at a concert held for an LA radio show, Prince showcased these energetic rock songs with some memorable, bluesy guitar solos that could stand up to a number of his past classic efforts. While he rendered “Crimson & Clover” in a way both sweet and sweeping, he played the latter as a haunting blues song that warned of placing too much faith into governments that seem to value wealth over spiritual law. The response and buzz over this quick taste was high with a typical dose of “but we’ve been disappointed before.” The stage was set for another return to the hearts of his faithful with a possible tour to end all tours!
As the veil was removed and Target was given exclusivity to the sale of the album, his followers bore witness to the guitar solo heavy Lotusflow3r, the drum machine plagued MPLSound, and the completely surprising new vocalist Bria Valente and her debut/linked release, Elixer. Stunned and shocked, fans still went out in droves and pushed the release up the charts to peak at Number Two in the US with almost 170,000 in sales. Though the sales hinted at a hit, the reality was not quite the same.
Listening to Lotusflow3r one can understand why he didn’t release a number of these songs with his previous release, Planet Earth, despite a number of these being recorded around the same time of its release. While the previous album held funky and soulful efforts that looked to be an upgrade of the funk-devoid 3121, Planet Earth was to be an upbeat reunion with past musicians along with slight pieces of the sound they used to create. Instead, Lotusflow3r is a riff-less homage to the blues-rock solo. At times, Prince leaves the spirit of the lyrics to a song to merely wail upon his beloved guitar. For some, this may be enough but it comes off more like a collage of good music that just doesn’t fit together within one song.
That said, Prince still manages to have fun with this album and creates some amazingly diverse music. Songs like “5“ and “Feel Good, Feel Better, Feel Wonderful” still showcase Prince’s desire to pay respects to artists that influenced his unique rock-funk-blues-soul style that made him a star (James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and others). Thankfully, Prince manages to use “Crimson & Clover” and “Colonized Mind” to truly demonstrate his skill. Both of these cuts feature Prince doing what his fans love and what he does best. His signature Purple shredding on both tracks forge two memorable performances that fans should not miss. As stated before, “Colonized Mind” also is one of his message pieces. As he’s done time and time again in his career, he merges spirituality and the ills of America’s culture into a brilliant piece of memorable Purple music.
Now, MPLSound is a bit of an enigma. True Purple aficionados will recognize the so-called signature Minneapolis production style that influenced Prince’s style. “Another Like Me” has shades of his New Power Generation days and just seems to be a random pick out of the purple vault. Meanwhile, “No More Candy 4 U” is an electronic version of an old school Chuck Berry styled rock ‘n’ roll song. Through most of the efforts Prince uses the signature drum machine kicks that patented his sound in the 80’s when he churned out hit after hit. Somehow, the delivery on MPLSound falls short of interesting. Prince’s Minneapolis-sound songs in the past were crafted in a way that to this day remain timeless. These efforts just sound dated.
Once you get through all that Prince has to offer, the real treat is actually the amazing sound of his recent protégé named Bria Valente. Prince’s total lack of quality slow jams on the previous two albums are made up for with Bria’s effort entitled Elixer. With a smooth R&B delivery to a majority of the tracks, Elixer returns us to the Purple sound that made Diamonds & Pearls and The Gold Symbol such great albums. Bria’s voice is sweet and polished, delivering the sexy appeal and delivery that Prince should have required of his previous vocal protégés. Starting things off with “Here I Come,” Prince backs up her beautiful delivery with a funky bassline smoothed out with a mellow groove that fleshes out a canvas for both Bria’s voice and his occasional guitar licks. An excellent icebreaker to set the mood, this song prepares you for a treat of an album.
Bria’s attempts to take you to the dance floor are Prince flavored pop songs that seem to date back to his Emancipation days in the mid ‘90s. Still enjoyable efforts, I doubt any of these will be staples in the Rihanna or Beyonce infested airwaves. Where her talents definitely shine are the slow and mid-tempo jams. For example, “Kept Woman,” originally intended for forgotten protégé Tamar Davis, is a fantastic and soulful mid-tempo jam that has that pleasurable Prince production all over it. Meanwhile, the title track is a beautifully seductive duet with Prince that is the icing on the cake for a great debut album.
All in all, this three-disc effort is an admirable platform for Bria Valente disguised as a Prince three-disc experiment. Even though Prince still is mired in the shadows of Planet Earth sound-wise, there is enough in this effort to at least satisfy a casual Prince fan. Unfortunately, this will ultimately go down as another lackluster effort in his extensive discography. As for Bria Valente, I hope this Purple springboard doesn’t sink her in the deep end like the rest of Prince’s protégés.