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Prince - The Rainbow Children
When Prince announced his conversion to the Jehovah's Witness religion, many of his remaining fans wondered aloud whether this would be the final nail in his creative coffin.  How could the man who built a career flouting conventional beliefs suddenly refuse to say even "damn"?  Was this the final outcome of Larry Graham's much-maligned influence over the Purple One?   Coming off the disappointment that was Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, Rainbow Children is the album that will determine whether Prince remains a viable artist or, like Michael Jackson, is a badly aging caricature of his former greatness.

Luckily, he acquits himself pretty well on Children. Rather than give in to the pressure to make another Purple Rain (which he's consistently claimed he could do if he desired), this album is the sound of a man comfortable with his position and still interested in challenging himself musically.

It must be said that the most striking thing about the album is the quality of musicianship.  While band members are credited in the liner notes, much of the album is Prince multi-tracking himself, and he delivers some of his most powerful playing in some time.  "1+1+1=3" is prime 1985-era Prince, and "Everywhere" is reminiscent of his Parade period.  Elsewhere, there are enough jazzy flourishes to suggest to some that he's playing neo-soul, which isn't quite accurate but not totally wrong either, considering his impact on D'Angelo, Alicia Keys, et al.  He even name checks Macy Gray and Common on "Mellow," the only likely choice for a single. 

Finally, about the lyrical content.  Prince himself tried to hype the album by claiming its words were controversial, but for the longtime fan much of it will not come as a surprise.  Throughout his career, he's made a habit of preaching to his audience ("Let's Go Crazy," "The Cross," the end of "Let's Pretend We're Married"), as well as releasing difficult-to-interpret songs like "The Ladder" and "Anna Stesia."  At least with his conversion, there's no doubt as to what he is talking about, although it's a bit weird that his most freeform music is supporting a very conservative ideology.  Plus, with the spiritually-oriented bent of the world since September 11, it's entirely likely that the religiously driven lyrics will be appreciated in a way they would not have been had this been released last year.  True, hearing him announce "there's a theocratic order" may make you squirm, but now you understand why none of the women he's worked with have ever been too successful.

Furthermore, longtime critics of his who have noticed his reluctance to identify himself as black will be surprised to learn Children contains some of his most potent racial statements.  Chief case in point is "The Work," where he talks about the biased slant of news coverage about blacks and others.   Another example is "Family Name," where he addresses slavery.  Ironically, these lyrics may marginalize him even further, as many of his hardcore fans are whites who object to him playing "the race card" after they've supported him all these years.   

While it's not the record that will return him to the level of adulation he once enjoyed, Rainbow Children is the beginning of what could be a very interesting next phase of his life.  Whether he'll have any fans to preach to in the future is a different matter.  

Copyright 2001 B.Graff.  All rights reserved.

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Released 2001 on Redline Entertainment

Selected Tracks:

Muse 2 The Pharoah
1+1+1=3
Family Name
Mellow

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