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Prince – 3121 – CD Review and comments

Starting this month, I’ll be periodically giving you some random CD reviews. 9/10, it’ll be stuff I own and listen to regularly. This will include both Holy Hip Hop as well as secular artists. I hope these give you a bit more insight to my thought pattern as well as show that being a Christian does not mean being removed from the culture around you, nor does it necessarily mean not being able to appreciate something or enjoy something other than the sacred.

That said, let’s begin. :)

3121….Oh yeah, he’s back.

If you’re an old school Prince fan (from his weirder days)…..

He’s back.

No, him. The 1989 – 97 Prince that put funky things together like ‘Daddy Pop’, ‘My Name is Prince’, ‘Housequake’ and other tight tracks of that sort. The one who spoke about weird stuff and you were wondering what in the world he was talking about. Not the weirdo who did Rainbow Children a while back in an attempt to indoctrinate everyone via music.

Then again, even the man who wrote RC was a genius. The Everlasting Now is still a jam and a half. In fact, I can’t even say that Prince is really a ‘weirdo’, all things considered. His spiritual journey is usually reflected in his music – and in many respects, he’s just as ‘normal’ as most people today.

Of course, he’s still a Jehovah’s Witness, so the album isn’t explicit, contains no cursing and is adult-friendly. I say adult-friendly and not kid-friendly simply because there are songs like ‘Incense and Candles’:

Come into my room of incense and candles
I got something that you won’t know how to handle
You can tell me ‘uh-uh’ but you know how this man do
Imma want it all night long

The album’s sold right below the original projections of 200k in the first week – roughly 187k copies. And it debuted as the #1 album on the Billboard top 200. Prince hasn’t been there since Batman in 1989.

I’m glad for him in one way. While the rest of the world was calling him a commercial failure after Diamonds and Pearls, I was jammin’ (and still am) off of Gold, Chaos and Disorder, Emancipation and Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic. I even LOVED New Power Soul, although even some die-hard Prince fans hated that one. No, I don’t have the Black Album or Crystal Ball – I missed em’. :( I’ll catch up eventually.

Well, let me start from the beginning of the CD.

Let me also state I have a weird ‘theory’ about this entire album. It’s developed a bit more in my head since I’ve first started listening to it – and that theory is simply that a lot of songs on here (minus the obvious ones) have something to do with his JW interactions. Not all of them, but some of them. And they’re masked in stuff that we wouldn’t assume to be the case otherwise.

3121 opens up in classic Prince fashion with some weird sound effects to Prince’s voice so he sounds like he’s singing in octaves. I’d absolutely love to be in the studio with him when he puts these vocal arrangements together.

A bit funky, a bit weird. The usual guitar, and one of those ‘what in the world is he talking about’ songs ? The horn arrangements are tight.

Don’t U wanna come ?

gonna be so much fun
that’s where the party b
you can come if u want to
but y’all can’t never leave

Why can’t I leave ?

Maybe I’ll get it in a few dozen more spins. Still makes my head bob. It’ll make yours bop too. Theories abound on what 3121 means…. the favorite is 3+1+2+1 = 7. And you know 7 is his number (Y’all must remember 7even from the symbol album back in the mid-90’s….right ?).

Going back to my ‘theory’ earlier, 3+1+2+1 all added together equals 7. Biblically, the number seven is associated with God. Perhaps, Prince is simply presenting a ‘hedonistic’ view of God in 3121 where our hearts’ delights are satisfied (John Piper anyone ?).

Or maybe I’m reaching….
7/7/06 update: I wasn’t reaching at all. See my short commentary on his performance at the BET 06′ awards to see why.

Next up is Lolita. Another ‘driving down the highway with the top down’ song, in the same spirit as many of his other up-tempo jams (i.e.- little red corvette, soft and wet). There’s some organ on here. As usual, Prince’s vocals are tight. A bit of old school Prince from the old ‘Symbol’ album here. If everyone remembers the ‘crown princess of cairo’….seems that Lolita is in the same boat (underage and tempting). Don’t worry – Prince says she’ll never make a cheater out of him. Tempting, but no. Writin’ checks that her body can’t cash. Sounds like students I’ve taught at the high school level.

We slow down to a Latin bassa nova feel with Te Amo Corazon. Beautiful love song. Classic Prince “I love you let’s dance together” song. You can’t hate on this song, like or hate Prince.

Whoah. We’re back to party jams. Black Sweat is just that – straight party jam. And a GOOD one too. Classic Prince again. It’s a club/party song. There’s even a video for it here along with one for Te Amo Corazon. Very tastefully done. I have a feeling though, that if it wasn’t for Brooklyn, NY (WTBS), this video would be a lot more….off the hook (and not in a good way).

Out of nowhere…..and featuring his new protege Tamar, Prince hits us with Incense and Candles. The track just screams with eroticism and makes you wanna move. Prince even drops 12 bars in a rap in the middle of the song….and sounds good. The song’s tasteful though – and it doesn’t even explicitly talk about sex – it just hints that way…. which is something that the good old school songs used to do. Again, I’m a vocals and horns person. I’d love to be in studio when Prince lays down vocals.

Next up is Love. Up tempo. More classic Prince, in the tradition of Housequake, Daddy Pop and with a bit of a message like Sleep Around from the Emancipation CD. Prince waxes eloquent on love, what it is and what it ain’t. I been singin’ this one for a while, too.

My theory pops back up again. There’s plenty of stories from ex-JW’s all over the web about the manipulation and mind control in the Watchtower, yet a huge proclamation about how everyone in the organization loves each other.

Check the lyrics:

Stop telling me what U want me 2 hear

Stop telling me what U want me 2 fear
Stop trippin’ on something U overheard
Love is winning without a word
Stop giving me Ur “wish list”
Love is free from all this

Like a bird flyin’ over the hilltops
Love is like the sky, U know it never stops
From the abudance of the heart the mouth speaks

Love is whatever… whatever… U want it 2 b

Some of this sounds like a personal altercation with folk tryin’ to ‘control’ him…. but being very unsuccesful. Of course, again, I could be reaching…. you check the lyrics and be the judge:
The Lyrics

Next up is, Satisfied. And at first listen, it sounds like a classic Prince slow-jam with a 12/8 feel…. but he’s not talking about what you think he’s talking about. “I ain’t talkin’ bout nothin’ physical, cuz foreplay starts in the mind.” ;) Good track, O Purple One. Falsetto and all.

I’m absolutely loving the way you think his tracks are headed one way, but they’re not.

We’re up tempo again with Fury. There ain’t no fury like a woman scorned. It’s one of my favorites – probably because it sounds like something a marching band would play. Classic Prince-Pop-Rock feel. This is probably his weakest track, vocally, though. But still good stuff.

I like The Word. Obvious religious overtones to it. But overall, it’s just a tight track to bop your head to. Interesting lyrics (again). Here’s a clip:

What is this new xhaltation
That eye just can’t explain?
What r these new inspirations
That eye can’t get out my brain?
How am eye gonna sleep with this feeling
Rushing all through my veins?
Get up, come on let’s do something
Don’t u wanna go get saved?

The night is calling u 2 act
Act upon every urge
U can’t get no satisfaction
If u ain’t got the courage
Eye don’t know what u’re afraid of
Eye don’t know what u’ve heard
Get up, come on let’s do something
Don’t u wanna know the word?

Who’s gonna save us when them spiders get next 2 u?
Spinning their sticky webs around what u do
We gotta safeguard against 4ked tongue and the treachery of the wicked 1
Get up, come on let’s do something

Don’t matter how far u have 2
The truth has got to be told
Don’t matter how shiny ur lips
They’ll never b streets of gold

They might try 2 get us crazy
Cuz they don’t know what eye’ve heard
We got this new xhaltation
Eye’m talking about the word

Prince and his new protegee Tamar team up again on Beautiful, Loved and Blessed. Apparently, this is also her lead off single for her solo project. It’s a good one. Classic 70’s soul sound – good music and a good message for those with a low view of themselves – especially girls.

Okay, The Dance is one of those tracks starts off smooth and ends with Prince screamin’, pleadin’ at the end that really builds you up to a fever pitch – kinda like Darlin’ Nikki and Purple Rain did back in the day. Heavy guitar at the end and it’s completely on point.

and of course, Prince has to pull you back up-tempo with the last song – Get on the Boat. Done a bit different from the rest of tracks, the entire thing is played live with a full band (not synthesizers), featuring Maceo Parker and some other folks. I am simply amazed at how long Maceo Parker has been around. I’m listening to him almost 40 years ago in studio with James Brown on Doin’ It to Death and I’m like “WOW – that’s a heck of a career.” I’d like to meet him one day (since I also play sax) and sit and talk with him about his music career. I may have to go get some of his CDs and listen through.

Anyway, Get on the Boat is a Watchtower Tract set to good music.

Check a few of the lyrics (again):

Look outside Ur window
Tell me now what U c
Coming up the mountain
4 a new philosophy
Every single color
Every race and ever creed
Lookin’ 4 the truth ya’ll
That’s gonna set somebody free

Get on the boat
Get on the boat, people
Get on the boat now
We got room 4 a hundred more
Get on the boat
Get on the boat, people
Get on the boat now
We got room 4 a hundred more

All across the nation
People doing what they can
2 avoid the tribulation
That will b great throughout the land
Everything in darkness
Must come out in2 the light
When we love each other
That’s the only way that’s gonna be right

Overall – this is a great CD. Prince seems to be ‘back’ in the mainstream of music. I’m glad he’s getting the props he deserves as an artist. I am worried, however, about his attempts to indoctrinate via music…. but then again, isn’t that what most musicians do ? Everyone’s programming you with music to do something, love something, think something or be something.

Fortunately, Prince is a bit strong-willed and an independent thinker. A guy at my old church actually works with him a bit, so I would always get little snippets of what’s going on in MN. I wonder how long his ‘trek’ through JW land will last…..

Keep him in prayer. He’d make a really good Christian.