In fact, the conversions have come so frequently that most of us missed at least a few. Here’s a not-so-quick recap: In 1981, a year after releasing one of the raunchiest albums in pop history (Dirty Mind), Prince struck a blow for the Almighty with the fatally weird “Annie Christian,” declaring that until the song’s evil subject is crucified, “I’ll live my life in taxicabs.” In 1984, he snuck spirituality into “Let’s Go Crazy,” advising us to not “let the elevator `code language for Satan` bring us down.” Of course, on that very same album, he also sang of watching Darling Nikki pleasure herself in a hotel lobby. So the next year, with Around The World In A Day, he decided to get really serious about the God thing, describing his search for “The Ladder,” and assuring a vengeful Deity that he’d learned from his sinful ways: “I’m sorry/I’ll be good/This time I promise/Love is more important than sex.” He even retired from music, for about a minute-and-a-half.
From that point on, Prince would conveniently forget that love was more important than sex (“U Got The Look,” the Black Album, “Gett Off,”) and then remember again (Lovesexy), with major fanfare. But his latest conversion seems to have stuck. On his new album, 3121, he advises a hot young thing that she’ll “never make a cheater out of me.” And with the song “Love,” he’s way past his old need for sexual conquest. Sex is taken for granted here. Now he’s trying to untangle the suspicions and petty cruelties that destroy a marriage.
Prince is not the sonic innovator he was 20 years ago, but you don’t sense that he’s complacent. The spare, sultry funk of “Black Sweat” owes more to modern hip-hop than to anything Prince recorded at his commercial peak (with the possible exception of 1986’s “Kiss”). And the album’s spiritual centerpiece, “The Word,” is ultra-idiosyncratic, with acoustic guitar rubbing up against programmed beats and a four-note saxophone hook that takes it home. This is as funky as salvation is likely to get, at least until the next Kanye West album.
- Gilbert Garcia