March 29, 2009
NPG Records

Album Review

Left to his own devices, Prince will indulge in his peculiar vice of releasing triple-albums. He celebrated his freedom from Warner with Emancipation, following that with another triple-disc in Crystal Ball, which just happened to be the provisional title of the scrapped three-LP iteration of 1987's Sign o' the Times, he had a triple-live set in 2002, and now he's navigating the rough waters of online distribution and exclusive contracts with big box retailers in 2009 with another triple-disc set called LotusFlow3r. Technically, one of the three discs here isn't a Prince album: Elixer is the debut of Bria Valente, the latest in a long line of sultry soul protégés. Many of Prince's hand-picked singers have been largely ignored even by his loyalists since about 1987, so Prince pushes Bria by bundling her record with his own LotusFlow3r and MPLSound, even going so far as to list Elixer first among the three on the back of the CD's slim cardboard sleeve. This attempt at old-fashioned star-making might have worked if Bria Valente had a smidgeon of star charisma, but she's merely a pleasantly breathy crooner, slipping easily into Prince's shimmering, quiet storm production. Her slight personality shifts the spotlight to Prince's versatility, which is part of the point of the whole set. Each album serves a different function: Elixer is his smooth soul exercise, LotusFlow3r his guitar showcase, and MPLSound a revival of his '80s funk. By its very nature, the Bria Valente disc winds up as the most consistent and least interesting of the three, never straying from its seductive template, but that doesn't mean it's the worst; it just lacks the highs of the other two, but it also lacks the lows. Of the three, MPLSound winds up with the greatest number of both highs and lows, while LotusFlow3r is constrained by its guitar-heavy concept, offering great moments instead of great whole songs. This suggests that LotusFlow3r has moments of fury akin to the closing solo of "Let's Go Crazy" or the glorious passion of "Purple Rain," but apart from the Hendrixian "Dreamer," the album is nearly as smooth as Elixer, with even the clenched, pumping riff of "Feel Good, Feel Better, Feel Wonderful" soon giving way to an amiable funk work-out. Amiably pretty much defines all of LotusFlow3r, which winds up being all about groove and fleeting bits of six-string color which may be enough for the faithful, but not many others. Those less-dedicated listeners -- i.e., those who prefer tightly written songs and varied production -- will be drawn to MPLSound, where Prince takes his retro-mission seriously enough to offer up a few songs nervy enough to be singles, even if the synthesized thrill of this handful of tunes is undercut by a bunch of slow-burning ballads that do their best to rival "The Arms of Orion." It's best to focus on such tight, funky electro grooves as "(There'll Never B) Another Like Me" and "Ol' Skool Company," two songs that spotlight Prince's impish humor, a quality that's largely absent on the rest of the triple-disc set (it's not entirely a coincidence that these are the only cuts that address the modern digital world, either). But as good as these two cuts are, they're not as imaginative or as vigorous as the best of 3121 or Musicology, a flaw that illustrates yet another strange fact about Prince: after all these years, he's now far weirder when he knows people are paying attention than when he's off pursuing his own surprisingly earth-bound flights of fancy.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Here Eye Come
  2. All This Love
  3. Home
  4. Something U Already Know
  5. Everytime
  6. 2nite
  7. Another Boy
  8. Kept Woman
  9. Immersion
  10. Elixer
  11. Dreamer
  12. ...Back 2 The Lotus
  13. From the Lotus...
  14. Boom
  15. Crimson and Clover
  16. 4ever
  17. Colonized Mind
  18. Feel Good, Feel Better, Feel Wonderful
  19. Love Like Jazz
  20. 77 Beverly Park
  21. Wall of Berlin
  22. $
  23. Dreamer
  24. ...Back 2 the Lotus
  25. (There'll Never B) Another Like Me
  26. Chocolate Box
  27. Dance 4 Me
  28. U're Gonna C Me
  29. Here
  30. Valentina
  31. Better with Time
  32. Ol' Skool Company
  33. No More Candy 4 U
  34. Elixer