CD Review of 3121 by Prince

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starstarstarstarhalf star Label: Universal
Released: 2006
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After releasing a decent effort in 1999’s Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, the purple one produced 2001’s disappointing light jazz-flavored message album, The Rainbow Children, a live record in 2002’s One Nite Alone… Live, and an instrumental effort in 2003’s N.E.W.S. before delivering a very good album in 2004’s Musicology. That record was good and the hugely successful tour supporting the album reminded the public what a superb and dynamic live performer he can be. 3121 is a better record than Musicology, so ladies and gentlemen, the little man who wrote ‘slave’ on his face is back on a roll.

His production is very basic, focusing on the bottom end of funky bass lines complemented by drums (or drum machine), guitar, harmonies and some horns when needed. He allows space for each and doesn’t overcrowd the range with any excess. It’s a simple recipe, but the beats and melodies are freakin’ catchy as heck (note, I am trying not to swear in acknowledgement of Prince not swearing because of his conversion to the Church of Jehovah).

3121 borrows riffs, sounds and constructs from his back catalogue and mixes them expertly into this solid set of songs. The title track’s big bass and drum sound are reminiscent of “Get Off” and “Thunder” from Diamonds and Pearls. Prince’s helium sounding alter-ego Camille (featured on Sign of the Times) lends harmony vocals on the track. “Lolita” also features a heavy keyboard synthesizer riff and solo reminiscent of “I Feel For You” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover” from 1979’s Prince. “Love” features harmony vocals between Prince and new protégé Tamar that remind me of “Take Me With U”, although Tamar is exponentially more talented than Appolonia vocally, she probably does not look as good soaking wet in the body of water that played the role of Lake Minnetonka. “Black Sweat” is reminiscent of “Housequake,” and Sheila E. adds percussion to the album closer, “Get on The Boat”. Along with new wrinkles like the Latin flavored “Te Amo Corazón,” in combination with the borrowed elements, makes 3121 one heck of a listen.

Lyrically he is still fixated on God and sex, and although nothing is as explicit as “Darling Nikki,” he lays down a double entendre or two but is more interested in the dance floor then the bedroom. “Satisfied” hints at more than physical relations to reach happiness. His religious rapture is loud and clear in songs like “The Word” and “Beautiful, Loved and Blessed” and he behaves himself around a young temptress in “Lolita”:

U're tryin' 2 write checks Ur body can't cash
U can't hang with this, girl
Lolita, U're sweeter
But U'll never make a cheater out of me

His catalogue is undeniable in range and in containing groundbreaking records. 3121 doesn’t break any new ground, it just funks up the place, and that boys and girls, is a good thing.

~R. David Smola