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PRINCE - Planet Earth   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Saturday, 21 July 2007

"If Prince released merely the cream of his crop every four or so years, we'd find that his records would be as good as, if not better, than his Eighties heyday.."

Being his 47th album , it's difficult to work out ways to keep being interested in the Purple Midget. Having long ago disappeared from commercial relevance, his albums still sell 80,000 a time in the UK - albeit always to people who've liked Prince for years. Sidelined by the media except as an eccentric, unplayed by radio or TV, Prince is an enigma who merely is, in many ways, beyond the music. Prince is a celebrity, and his music is almost invisible.

 

No more. Controversially, "Planet Earth" has debuted by being issued free with a newspaper in the UK. The question is not about the ethics of such a release - to be frank, "Planet Earth" will reach about 30 times more homes than his last album ("3121"), and cost about 1/8th of a usual retail CD : the old model of retail and the music business is long dead and buried, and it's about time the record companies realised that music is, these days, practically free. The days of owning music through purchasing physical commodities is extinct. Tours used to promote records : now records are merely an advert for the tour, and as Bowie predicted half a decade ago, artists will make their money from performing in future.

 

And is "Planet Earth" actually any good? Is it only fit to give away? Is it not worth paying for?

 

Well, Planet Earth is OK. Critics say, as indeed they always do, that this is the best Prince album since Sign O The Times. They forget that Prince has never been particularly good at quality control. His albums were always best viewed as a collection of songs with at least one duffer, and that the albums were always too long, released too often, made of what seemed to be a random selection of songs in a nonsensical order. Basically Prince writes great songs, but doesn't have a clue how to make a good album anymore : it was with Graffitti Bridge that Prince records started to get dodgy, and he hasn't made a truly good record since "Chaos And Disorder" in '96.

 

That's about 20 years of not very good albums. "Planet Earth" won't buck that trend. With a critical resurgence in recent years, one would think that Prince has returned to form. And in some ways he was : "Planet Earth" has the best single song prince has recorded in decades - "Guitar". Build from swooning U2esque chords and a wonderfully daft lyric, "Guitar" is pop at it's best : knowing the artificial construct of pop music, playing with it, and thoroughly thrilling at the same time. Similarly, "the 1 U Wanna C" is equally memorable and exciting.

 

Elsewhere though, "Planet Earth" is a bit of a dirge. There are generally two types of Prince songs, upbeat slices of thrilling pop life, and generic slabs of formless R'n'B. "Somewhere Here On Earth" and "Future Baby Mama" are forgettable exercises in exploring the horizontal angles of love and lust that Prince has done better decades ago. "Mr.Goodnight" is actually possibly the worst song Prince has ever written : prince offers limousines and silk dresses and private jets and hotel rooms and all other manners of slavish bribery to try and persuade some unworthy bling-impressed suitor to accept his advances. In fact he sounds like The Onion's Smoove B :

 

"A limousine about 2 pick U up, And then took U 2 a private jet, And then U gonna meet a little Spanish man, Who will offer U wine and Moet, In an hour or 2, u'll be taken to a suite, That will rock all ur wildest dreams, And on the bed 3 dresses 2 choose 1, pick 1, Then U get a call from me, Tell me which dress U chose, So I can put on, put on my matching suit.."

 

Yes, Prince, we get it. U're the World's Gr8est Lover 4Ever 2 U. But sadly, this type of material - self-aggrandising, self-parodying nonsense about being Mr. Goodnight - undoes the rest of the work. Overall "Planet Earth" is a damn fine Prince album by Prince standards, and has 3 or 4 of the best songs he's written in the past decade on it including in "Guitar" his best single track since the Eighties. Normally I wouldn't advocate an artist releasing less, but if Prince released merely the cream of his crop every four or so years, we'd find that his records would be as good as, if not better, than his Eighties heyday. On the evidence of what is in these particular grooves though, Prince still has the mysterious X Factor that makes him so special. 

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