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Album Review

Prince's 3-CD set two too many

Prince's new CD set is available at Target and on his website www.lotusflow3r.com. Prince's new CD set is available at Target and on his website www.lotusflow3r.com. (FRED PROUSER/REUTERS)
By James Reed
Globe Staff / March 30, 2009
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Here's an in-store announcement you won't hear on the PA system. "Attention, Target shoppers. In the electronics department you'll find Prince's latest albums, bundled together as a three-CD project that should have been boiled down to a single disc."

The albums, which went on sale exclusively at the retail store yesterday and are also available through www.lotusflow3r.com (assuming you have the patience of a saint needed to navigate it), are being sold together at the budget-friendly price of $11.99. Even so, it's hard to think you're getting a good deal on a product when the quality doesn't match the quantity.

Prince has had a long history of blazing his own trail, and his reluctance to record for a major label is admirable. He gave away his last album, 2007's "Planet Earth," via a newspaper promotion in the United Kingdom. And his decision to distribute through Target, whose headquarters are based in his hometown of Minneapolis, suggests he's open to new business models.

One can't help but wonder, though, if his absolute creative control would have benefited from some third-party supervision and/or editing.

The three albums - "LotusFlow3r," "MPLSoUND," and "Elixer" (his misspelling, not mine), the last of which is credited to Prince's new protégé, Bria Valente - were obviously made with little regard to what's fashionable in Top 40 and hip-hop formats, and they smack of self-indulgence. His progressive business acumen makes the new music - which sounds dated and stale - all the more disappointing.

"LotusFlow3r" is perhaps the most palatable of the three albums, a guitar-driven collection of rockers and slow jams. There's a lot to like here, from the simmering blues-rock of "Colonized Mind" to the James Brown vibe of "Feel Good, Feel Better, Feel Wonderful." Brawny funk numbers "Dreamer" and "Wall of Berlin," shot through with Prince's electric-guitar assaults, are among the tightest songs he's written in years.

Still, they can't save the album from its turkeys. "The Morning After," "Love Like Jazz," and "4Ever" are just a synthesizer away from parroting low-budget jingles for your local furniture store.

Meanwhile, "MPLSoUND," presumably short for "Minneapolis Sound," is Prince's continued exploration of cosmic funk on the order of George Clinton and Bootsy Collins. "Dance 4 Me" cribs the throwback electro beat of "Erotic City," while "Here" should be served with a tall glass of wine to wash down all the cheese: "How beautiful are you?/ There's more than a thousand replies."

"Valentina," the album's most unintentionally hilarious song, is a musical valentine to actress Salma Hayek. (Valentina is her infant child, and Prince seems to be jealous of those, um, "late-night feedings."). The chorus - "Hey, Valentina, tell your mama she should give me a call/ When she gets tired of running after you down the hall" - could be straight from a "Flight of the Conchords" episode.

Last (and certainly least) is Valente's disc, "Elixer." Throwing it into the mix is the equivalent of super-sizing your meal: You're still a little hungry, and hey, it's included in the bargain price tag, but you really don't need it. Polite and polished, the music amounts to little more than R&B lite with washes of bossa nova and strings.

Like its companion albums, "Elixer" might have been a big hit - if we were still partying like it's 1999.

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.

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