a purple rose by any other name...

(Warner Bros.)

Prince and the New Power Generation

By Mark Clark

First off, what's up with the name of this thing?

Prince elected to designate this album with a rune, a modified version of the combined male/female symbol he stamped all over his 1999 album ten years ago. Because the rune can't be duplicated here, and for the sake of convenience, I'll refer to the album generically. That's easier than calling it Funky-symbol/what-the-hell-is-that-thing?, as it will commonly be known by future generations.

Of course, there are other potential names for the disc. Based on its contents, it could be known as Amazing, Superb, Slammin' -- choose your superlative. In any case, it marks a major comeback for His Royal Badness.

After having popular music follow his lead throughout the 1980s, Prince has had to chase the Top 40 in the '90s. With this album, he has finally caught up. This is a well-conceived, sure-footed effort, unlike the scatterbrained, stumbling Graffiti Bridge and Diamonds and Pearls. It's his best outing since 1986's underrated Lovesexy.

It boasts some of Prince's best dance tunes since 1999, funky and furious cuts like "My Name Is Prince," "I Wanna Melt with You," and "The Continental." "Sexy MF," which has been bouncing around on bootlegs for years, also turns up here. (Now if only he would release "Wonderful Ass.")

While the return to dance-floor-packing jams is certainly welcome, hardcore fans will appreciate that Prince hasn't abandoned the experimental, neo-psychedelic ballads that have provided the best moments on his other recent works. In fact, the finest moments here remain his slower, more introspective works -- "Blue Light," "Sweet Baby" and "And God Created Woman." The latter-most of that trio is as good a song as Prince has ever penned.

The resulting amalgam of styles recalls his brilliant Sign O' the Times, though it lacks that album's thematic complexity.

The disc boasts 16 songs, over 70 minutes of music in all, including a few cuts that wouldn't have made the cut in those pre-CD days of 45 minute LPs ("The Max," "Arrogance" and "Three Chains of Gold").

The New Power Generation, Prince's latest backing band, sounds much tighter here than on Diamonds and Pearls. The NPG boasts a greater number of gifted musicians than, say, the Revolution, and is finally beginning to develop the kind of rapport that made that band special.

As for Prince, he's in routinely stellar voice -- although a preponderance of rap-ish numbers like "My Name Is Prince" don't always allow him to truly sing. And he remains among the best -- and least recognized -- guitarists in the business. (The lack of recognition is mostly his own fault. Here, again, he is oddly reluctant to record extended solos.)

By any other name, this disc would still kick.