Title: LotusFlow3r

Artist: Prince

Label: NPG

Catalog No.: 09549

Release date: March 2009

Prince Rogers Nelson is a multitalented musician who plays a variety of instruments and has written hundreds, if not thousands of songs. He has won seven Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe, an Academy Award, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004, the first year he was eligible. Rolling Stone ranked Prince #28 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. He has had a very long and illustrious career and therefore is no stranger to danger. Therefore, with his bona fides well-established, the focus of this review will be his latest release, LotusFlow3R.

Like all Prince Fans, I was very excited to hear that Prince had a new 3-disc CD coming out. I thought, it’s about time for some new dew from his Purple Majesty. Sadly, the songs and music on LotusFlow3R are very disappointing and not what I expected at all. I started with great anticipation but I was left confused and wondering with great frustration. First of all let me say I am a big Prince fan, have been for years. With that bias admitted, let me review the new album as objectively as I can. LotusFlow3R is a three disc set, with two discs dedicated to Prince and one disc called “Elixir” by a Rihanna-type artist named Bria Valentine. This review will not discuss the latter.

Prince has always played many different styles and genres of music, from rock to funk and blues to R&B, which demonstrates his musical genius. Of the two discs by Prince, “LotusFlow3R” has twelve tracks all played in the “rock” genre. When I say rock genre I mean soft rock, hard rock, punk rock, head banging rock and of course rock and roll. Prince is rocking the block on this CD; however, it doesn’t sound like a block party. In fact, it sounds like some neighborhood kids rocking out in their dad’s garage. That’s right folks, this sounds just like kid-rock and I don’t mean the artist.

The first track, “From the Lotus,” sounds like Prince is waking up out of a deep sleep after listening to some inspirational relaxing music before getting ready to play. And though it is an instrumental piece, with lead electric guitar played throughout, it has no punch, no kick; it’s just noise and not a joyous noise either. The second track, “Boom,” musically pays homage to the master, Jimi Hendrix, but is lyrically naïve. The third track is a cover song. Prince has done covers of other artist songs before, such as 1995’s “Emancipation,” but honestly there is very little to cover in this remake of “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and Shondells except for the repetitive line “Wild thing / I think you move me / but I want to know for sure / You move me” that he took from the Troggs’ hit song. It doesn’t take much genius to sample a great hook and then exploit it on a cover.

Prince always felt that he was a slave to Warner Bros. and sought his emancipation “from the chains that bind me” in a 1993 legal battle (he often appeared in public with the word “slave” written on his cheek). This somewhat explains track five, “Colonized Mind,” a social commentary on the revolution against the master race who, according to the lyrics, are “genetically disposed to rule the world / down low a future full of isolated boys and girls.” Such is the flavor of the LotusFlow3R disc.

The second disc is called “MPLSsound” and if that’s true then it must be the “early” MPLSsound. As opposed to the rock oriented Lotus disc, this is a return to Prince’s hip hop and funk flavor that we all used to savor. However, I am sorry to disappoint you because there is not one “jam” on this collection. What is a jam? “Ole’ skool” definition of jam is grooves that can make you move, a beat that makes you tap your feet, a sound that is down that will make you snap your finger if you can’t clap your hands. I am sorry to report there is not one jam in the entire collection. Great Prince jams of the past include “1999,” “Head,” “When Doves Cry,” “Sign O the Times,” etc. There is not one track that moves me or grooves me, sorry.

MPLSsound begins with “(There Will Never B) Another Like Me,” which is pure hip hop flavor with the same bragging rights as all the other rappers. Then there is the track “Chocolate Box,” with Prince singing as this sweet thing. “Dance 4 Me” is reminiscent of the group Cameo, while the track “Ol’ Skool Company” sounds just like George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadeli version of “Star Child and the Mothership Connection.” I know Prince is a musical genius, but what is the genius of sounding like someone else, and where are the jams?

I am sorry, Prince fans, but this LotusFlow3R is not the real deal. It sounds like a very young, immature Prince searching for his sound and looking for his identity. This can’t be the latest mix of music composed by an artist over 50. Prince released Crystal Ball in 1998 (a 5-CD collection of unreleased material) and in 1999 released The Vault Old Friends 4 Sale. This material also sounds as if came from the vault, perhaps more of the previously unreleased material that Prince has had stashed away for years. It sounds like retro vibes rather than something from NPD the “New Power Generation.” It does not sound as if this is the latest and the greatest body of work from the creative mind of a fifty year old music genius. Wake up Prince, we want the funk!

Reviewed by Clark D. Whitlow

Editor’s Note: This review is part of our ongoing examination of rock in preparation for “Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music,” a two-day conference organized by the Archives of African American Music and Culture to be held on November 13-14, 2009, on the Indiana University-Bloomington campus. Visit the conference website.

I’m Rick James: the Definitive DVD

Title: I’m Rick James!: The Definitive DVD

Artist: Rick James

Label: Hip-O

Format: DVD (135 min.); all regions; NTSC.

Catalog No.: B0012655-09

Date: 2009

Rick James was a “bad boy,” an anti-hero who rebelled against societal norms by singing of the wonders of marijuana (“Mary Jane”), sex (“Give It To Me Baby”), and of “Super freaks.” This so called Definitive DVD can’t touch what the real Rick James represented live and in concert, it doesn’t even come close. Culled from various TV appearances on shows such as Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, Soul Alive, Dinah, and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, most of the “performances” are lip-synced, with James merely mouthing the words of the song while giving a subdued and controlled performance where he never lets his hair down and never breaks a sweat. Everyone knows Rick James wore his hair plaited with beads and braids, and when he preformed he sweated like someone poured a bucket of water on him.

James came to Motown in 1978 and released his first monster album Come Get It!, which had two mega hits including my all time favorite “You and I” and “Mary Jane,” which was a prelude to the formation of the Mary Jane Girls Band. James broke many cultural taboos by flaunting his extravagant lifestyle. As an icon of drug use and eroticism, he went further than anyone had ever gone before. A womanizer who by his own admission bedded “thousands” of women, James was also a heavy crack cocaine user who, by some reports, spent $7000 a month for five years on drugs. He made a living rebelling against the establishment by touting sex, drug, funk and roll. On I’m Rick James, however, it seems like society and TV not only tamed the notorious musician, but dammed near defunked the mighty self-proclaimed “king of punk funk.” In fact, during his performance of “Love Gun” on the Dinah show in 1979, Dinah introduces James as a “very nice guy.”

Still, if you are a true Rick James fan you will want to add this DVD to your collection for two reasons. The first reason is, of course, the music, because it’s all good; the second is for the visual images of a long gone creative music master. But again, I must say buyer beware because this not the “definitive” DVD and in most of the performances James is just going through the motions. There is no real fire or power in the delivery as you would expect from his soulful, funky live performances.

Some of the best performances, though I hesitate to call them that, are “You and I,” “Mary-Go- Round,” and “Fool on the Street,” all with thumping bass lines, hypnotic rhythmic grooves and funky percussive horn lines. Other good songs that either address or express his rebellious nature are “Give It To Me Baby” (which has a nice rock guitar solo), “She Blew My Mind (69 Times),” “Fire It Up,” and of course the ubiquitous “Super Freak,” which everyone knows MC Hammer covered as “U Can’t Touch This,” the biggest hit in the rapper’s short-lived career.

There are a few special treats in the “Bonus performances” section of the DVD. Once again, these are not live performances but Motown promotional videos, which give a deeper insight into the man and the song. Of special note is another renditon of “Standing on the Top,” this time performed with all seven of the Temptations, as well as additional performances of “You and I” and “Super Freak.”

Another one of my favorite songs performed on I’m Rick James is the autobiographical “Glow,” where James is in a dialog with his woman who talks about his drug and alcohol use and abuse. The woman says she can’t watch him throw his life away and self destruct. And he says “I don’t need anybody, I’m Rick James and I don’t need anybody,” all the while dinking from a fifth of Jack Daniels. Then he staggers out on the stage and falls flat on his face. The very same way he fell flat on his face in life. Art imitates life, and in 1993 James was sent to Folsom Prison until 1996, and on August 6, 2004, he died of a heart attack at the age of 56, although the autopsy report stated that he had Xanax, Valium, Wellbutrin, Celexa, Vicodin, Digoxin, Chlopheniramine, methamphetamine and cocaine in his system.

In the performance of the song “Big Time” Rick James sings, “I was born to funk and roll in the big time,” and he did for awhile. Therefore I still await the “definitive” collection of his work.

Reviewed by Clark D. Whitlow