Prince fans rejoiced when it was announced that his royal highness would be putting out a budget-minded musical trifecta at Target -- three brand new CDs packaged together for only $11.98 -- but after hearing each album in its entirety last night at an exclusive press listening event, we're thinking the artist came a bit short of a bull's eye. There are some exhilarating exceptions, particularly off the funk-laced "old skool" style bumper called MPLSoUND, but those expecting to boogie or get revved for romance (two areas where Prince reigns) might be disappointed with the other two albums, LOtUSFLOW3r and Elixer (featuring his new protégé Bria Valente), both of which are more appropriate for smooth jazz stations like 94.7 The Wave (and elevators) than the fervor of the dance floor or bedroom.
LOtUSFLOW3r, which is also the name of Prince's trippy, new intergalactic-themed Web site, sees the artist immersing himself in gentle grooves, slinky-slick vox and psychedelic riffs. Cuts like "Boom," "Colonized Mind" and "Dreamer" have moments of otherworldly, instrumental genius that beg for headphones and a good buzz, but even after two glasses of wine (the gathering was at The Crown Bar) and fully preparing to take a journey, we felt like aliens in a strange land listening to his soundscapes. It's telling that the most beguiling cut on LOtUSFLOW3r is a cover: Prince's frothy-sweet take on "Crimson and Clover," which trades Joan Jett's edgy come-hither cover with a more tender seduction, infused by Hendrix's version of "Wild Thing" in the chorus. Jimi comes to mind a few times while listening to the new album, but this purple haze is too new-agey and esoteric. We wanted fire.
Elixer, featuring Valente, had a couple hot spots, but for the most part, it's also more about chilled tempos and languid rhythms. That can be a good thing when the vocals are emotive or distinct (think Sade), but Valente's smooth, airy -- admittedly pretty -- croons are more on the generic Janet Jackson tip. Unfortunately the material lacks the hooks or sexual tension of either of the above's hits. Which is surprising, especially if rumors about a relationship between Valente and Prince are true. Now that Prince is more religious, we're obviously not gonna get "Sex Shooter" or "Sugar Walls," but a couple of cuts here veer way too close to Disney animated soundtrack balladry. There is one very big hum(p)dinger, though, the infectious, techno-driven "2 Nite," a jam that recalls Vanity 6's freaky-femme anthem, "Nasty Girl" and Miss Jackson's sassiest. This one smolders and we can't wait to see what the remixers/DJs do with it on club decks.
Prince definitely saved the best for last, and the exuberant tunes on MPLSoUND (an acronym for "Minneapolis Sound") are absolutely worth the price of the entire CD trio. "There'll Never B Another Like Me," boasts the beats and bravado fans know and love, while "Chocolate Box" has a flirty fun "Controversy" feel with buoyant keyboards and soulful chants. "Valentina" and "Dance 4 Me" have a subtle sauciness and synth-driven stomp (plus more giddy guitar work) and "Ol' Skool Company" closes out the collection with a bang, channeling a P-Funk zest and party vibe that shows our Prince hasn't lost his bodaciousness. The only thing missing from MPLS (and all three discs), is the enticing falsetto that gave his early material, and a few later hits, so much mojo.
All three releases will be represented on the new website as different "worlds," where music can be downloaded from each (the recordings are only available at Target and via the site). A virtual playground and 3D visual feast, the site was developed with web gurus Scott Adison Clay and Anthony Malzone, and it seems very video game influenced. Clay was on hand for a preview surf-through last night, and while there were some glitches and some of the ways to acquire content were convoluted, it should appeal to tech-heads and Prince die-hards with exclusives including lyrics (not the on Target package), never before seen photos and even video footage dating back to the '70's. Members pay $77 for access, and the biggest perk is definitely advance info and preferred seats for Prince's live shows.
As was announced a few weeks ago, Prince will be playing three consecutive nights on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (March 25-27) and again on May 28, Leno's second to last show in the 11:30 time slot. Though Prince alluded to L.A. gigs in a mysterious message to fans earlier this month, info on the shows was just announced this morning. He'll be doing three sets in three different venues all in one night (!) on March 28, taking place at downtown's L.A. LIVE spots -- the Nokia Theatre, the Conga Room and Club Nokia -- all with different bands (which will surely save a lot on set-up time). Let's hope he mixes in material from the new recordings with old stuff and unexpected covers, like he did at his amazing post-Oscars bash.
Details on the multiple Saturday, March 28th concerts are as follows:
*Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE - Doors open at 5:30 p.m.
*Conga Room - Doors open at 8:00 p.m
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*Club Nokia - Doors open at 11:30 p.m.
Tickets for each of the three performances are $77.00 plus applicable fees and service charges. Separate tickets for each venue are required for admittance. Prince will perform a full length concert at each venue. A two ticket limit per purchase will apply for the Conga Room and Club Nokia shows; a four ticket limit per purchase will apply for the Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE show. Tickets go on-sale this Sunday, March 22nd at 12:00 p.m. (noon). Tickets are available online at www.ticketmaster.com, via Ticketmaster charge-by-phone lines at (213) 480-3232 or (714) 740-2000. Members of LotusFlow3r.com will also be able to get select premium seats beginning Tuesday, March 24th.
The Target 3-disc package will be in stores and available through Target.com, on March 29.
LotusFlow3r.com launches March 24.