Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Review: Prince's 'Planet Earth'
Well, here we are. A little over a year since the release of 3121, and a new Prince album is released. I wasn't all that anxious about this release. Surely, I knew I would pick it up first thing in the morning, but I guess there just wasn't much buzz as opposed to previous albums. They played it over the PA while were waiting for Prince to play at the Target Center a few weeks ago, but it was hard to really listen to it under those circumstances. Other than that, my only exposure was "Guitar" and "The Once U Want 2 C," both of which he played that night.
So anyhow, I picked up the album this morning. Let's go step by step.
Although I think the photo on the cover is a bit silly, I'm a sucker for gimmicks, and was pleased with the hologram cover. Hours of amusement! As Matt and I opened our respective copies, we were befuddled at the lack of a booklet, or even a damn tracklisting. Brilliant. Jokingly referring to the Crystal Ball fiasco, I commented that "maybe there will be liner notes online." Har har. Imagine my shock when I found a pdf of lyrics, etc. on Prince's website. Come on now, what's the logic?
Anyway, on to the music.
Upon hearing the opening title track, my heart sank. It's not the kind of song that grabs your attention at the beginning of an album. I'm ashamed to admit that I agree with this, but a friend of mine said it reminded him of mid-1990s MJ songs like "Childhood" and "Earth Song." They lyrics are also uncomfortably preachy. Maybe things will pick up.
When Prince released "Guitar" on his website this winter, I hated it. It sounded horrible, and lacked the energy that a song called "Guitar" should have. Luckily, he revamped it for the album, thickening up the production a bit, and pushing the guitars to the fore. It's an ok song, but not particularly interesting musically or lyrically.
"Somewhere Here on Earth" takes the tempo back down, with Prince in falsetto seduction mode. Another ok song, but nothing that Prince hasn't done numerous times before (and better, for that matter).
I first heard "The One U Wanna C" at the Target Center show. It was much different there, being played only by Prince and Wendy. I liked it there. The album version is alright, but in comparison, this arrangement lacks the pathos of the live version. I like it because it's uptempo - there are far too many slower songs on the album. But other than that, it is fairly unremarkable. My buddy Mike likened it to a Sheryl Crow song. Sadly, I can see the similarities.
You know what? To hell with this. I don't even have the patience to do a track-by-track analysis. As a whole, Planet Earth is utterly disappointing. It ranges from bad to mediocre. It's uncreative and uninspired. I've subscribed to the belief that even the bad Prince albums have a couple of hot tracks on them. I can't find one on this disc that makes the album worthwhile. I can tell you right now, nothing from Planet Earth will be on my 2007 mix, and that breaks my heart.
I've said it a million times - I've resigned to the fact that Prince will not put out any more mindblowing albums. He's done being creative, period. And I'm okay with that. Despite lack of innovation, I thought Musicology was a tight pop record. And there are a handful of songs on 3121 that I find legitimately interesting, although the album as a whole is not. But there are really no merits to Planet Earth. It seems rushed, the lyrics are trite, the music is uninteresting. The first record in 21 years to feature Wendy and Lisa, and this is the best we can do?
Today I came to the conclusion that Prince has entered Rolling Stones territory. He'll continue to put out lackluster albums, some might be more competent, some might have a few good tracks, but nothing touching their peak years. But he will maintain his reputation as a live performer. I'm ok with that, but then what's the point in putting out such bland material? Why not just devote yourself to performing and producing?
One final observation - there isn't a single song on here that another artist couldn't have done. That is, there isn't anything about the music here that makes me think "Ah, Prince - only you could pull this off."
In closing, I'm severely disappointed in the album, and I didn't even have high expectations for it. I made the statement to Mike that "I think it's at least better than the Stooges record." But I think I'm recanting that statement. Because my problems with the Stooges record stem from Iggy's lyrics and vocals. Musically, it's pretty good. I can't say the same for Planet Earth. Furthermore, Mike noted that I should consider that the Stooges hadn't put out a record in 35 years or so, whereas Prince has been releasing albums continuously. So we can give the Stooges some leeway for being out of the game. But Prince, what's your excuse? Why is it that while under contract to Warner Bros., Prince claimed his creative freedoms were restricted by the company, yet now he's making the most explicitly commercial pop music of his career?
(sigh) I don't know. I've listened to it two full times through, and can't bring myself to do a third right now. It's one of those rare cases that I listen to the album, and seriously feel as though I'm wasting my time in doing so. But you know I'll buy whatever he puts out next anyway.