I Don't Know the Artist, But I Know What I Like
IT WASN'T JUST an unwillingness to settle for a fine Artist's market share that lured the Twin Cities' most deliberate(d) auteur into the open arms of well-known humanitarian-slash-Arista Records ringleader Clive Davis. As Our Hero pines on "Man 'o' War" [sic], one of the more lugubrious confessionals spiking his scattershot Arista debut, RAVE un2 the JOy fantastic [sic], "I need 2 feel wanted again." And by whom? Why, of course, by U--the abbreviated pronoun he has long employed exclusively as a second-person plural, the symbol of the universal admiration that the Artist craves and that only major-label distribution can broker.
Some of U remain aflutter at being included in this harem of listeners. For others, his media volleys and diarrheic output make him as intrusive as Pepe le Pew, prancing along with lascivious insistence, declaring, as the Artist does, "Eyedisintegratemythoughtsfromursucanfeelmecum- inoutaeveryoneofurporeswhereeyeamunderstoodandadored [sic]." After all, the difference between an ardent lover and a creepy stalker often lies in the perception of the beloved--or the bestalked. How long can U tolerate being so intensely desired by the gaze of the "I" (transliterated still and always as an eye) when U no longer seem to exist as an individual? What if we don't want to be U anymore? Can't we just B friends?
Well, in most of the world, you could simply take a few albums off until infatuation filters through annoyance to fade into casual affection. But to be a jaded fan dwelling within PR range of Paisley Park is as tricky as amicably ending a real-life relationship in our cozy metropolitan dyad. The weekend after the breakup, you're already seeing the dumpee around town, shopping at the Wedge, browsing at the Hungry Mind. Or, in his case, cordoning off a hunk of Hennepin to receive a key from the mayor, inviting you to his crummy garage sale, or asking you over for an after-hours party at his country estate. Just as friends, of course.
Not that many pre-flyers were sent out for this Rave--the Artist's liner notes generally hoard the "all instruments and vox" credit (with production coyly given to "Prince"). Of course, he has crafted much of his best work by his lonesome, but here his solipsism corrupts his lip-serviced communal vibe. Even his most distinguished guests act as symbolic mirrors--fellow cottage industrialists such as Chuck D (still mistakenly brandishing rhetoric as the truest enemy of injustice) or Ani DiFranco (as determined to flood the universe with reams of redundant product as her host). Chuck raps perfunctorily, Ani strums desultorily; no collaboration is audible.
The Artist is more adept at sweeping less intimidating partners into straightforward bacchanals. On the .38 Special-ized thump of "So far, So pleased," the heretofore useless Gwen Stefani proves no less surprisingly useful than the near-useless Sheena Easton did on "U Got the Look." Even better is Sheryl Crow's backup vocal (and harmonica splutter) on the giddily slobbering "Baby Knows." Incidentally, both songs employ drummers who are not the Artist (Kirk Johnson and Michael Bland). Surely he who believes in a divine order knows there's no such thing as coincidence in this thing we call life: Like freaky sex, virtuosity sounds best when there's some interactive spontaneity involved.
Of course, how seriously you're able to take the Artist now is inversely proportional to how seriously you took Prince initially. For me, the new album's unlisted coda "Prettyman" is a relief. Staring in the mirror, he serenades the true object of his desire, suggesting that maybe he'll yet learn to tweak his gigoloso self-involvement as "Little Red Corvette" and "Sister" once did his faux naiveté. I'll take him most seriously when he knows the joke's on him.
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