I can’t claim to know Prince’s catalogue that well, especially since the ’80s. So you can’t take what I say as gospel. But, listening to this, I’m inclined to agree with the critical consensus that says it’s his best record of the ’90s (or one of them). There may well be better ones, of course, but, listening to this, I understand why people think that.
Prince has embraced hip hop on this record to a degree I’ve never heard before. Now, I’ve heard very little of his ’90s music, but I don’t know how much he’d ever done it before. It mostly works – though it does sound super awkward at times – and it seems to reinvigorate him. As others have noted, this record is pretty damn funky. And it’s like listening to hip hop has reignited his sense of musical dynamism. Whatever you might think of the (very loose) concept or the material, Prince and his band do an excellent job of playing this.
The material isn’t completely there, though. Some of the songs rank among his better material – and at least one feels pretty new for him – but other songs sound way too much like rewrites of his classic material. (Albeit very good rewrites, I should say.) And then there’s “Dolphin” a song that I just detest. It’s one of the worst songs of his I’ve ever heard. It definitely feels like he is coasting by on his amazing musical abilities and getting lazy in the songwriting department at times.
But the record really does sound good. Some of Prince’s ’80s records are oddly produced and that is not the problem here. One of the reasons Prince and the band sound so good is that he’s done such a good job of producing this one. It’s not always the case.
Yes, some of the songwriting is lazy, the concept is dumb and the album is too long. But there are moments when he’s at his absolute best and when he succeeds at incorporating hip hop into his sound – which he does more often than he fails – it feels like he’s got new artistic life. And there are vocal and guitar performances on this record that rank among his best.