Three has become the new purple.
Remember when Prince did three hometown shows in one day on 7/7/07? Now he's releasing a three-disc album Sunday, exclusively via Target, for the thrifty price of $11.98.
To promote the new three-pack, he is performing three consecutive nights on "The Tonight Show," starting tonight, and three concerts Saturday in Los Angeles with three different bands.
About the only promotion missing is a trio of fragrances (how about Mplscent?), though Prince does talk about cologne in two -- but not three -- songs on the new set.
Enough about the marketing. How's the music?
In short, the two Prince discs -- "Lotusflow3r" and "Mplsound" -- are hit-and-miss, with enough good stuff to justify one must-have CD. The third disc, "Elixer," by his Minnesota protégé Bria Valente, is marginal. But there is no breaking up this threesome; all the discs come in the same purple package.
Prince loyalists will dig parts of "Lotusflow3r" and Mplsound," both of which echo familiar 1980s Purple sounds. But some of the topics are current: Wall Street bailouts, "Ugly Betty" and a reference to "the White House is black." In moments that evoke "Sign o' the Times," the Minneapolis icon sings about issues of race in "Colonized Mind" and "Dreamer," inspired by Martin Luther King.
He also rails about radio, record labels and stars who can't sing -- three Prince themes older than his fabled Minneapolis Sound.
When it comes to romance, this former libertine has become hopelessly "old-fashioned," as he sings in "Ol' Skool Company." In fact, his seductions seem too tame for today's urban and pop radio. With lines such as "Ooh baby baby/ when u walk thru that door/ eye am gonna give u what u're waiting 4" (his spelling, of course), he's not going to score with listeners weaned on, say, The-Dream's "Rockin' That Thang."
Actually, Prince seems to be admitting to his age (50) and accepting the fact that he's not making music for horny teenagers anymore. In the dreamy ballad "Better With Time," he tells his lady: "Like wine, u get better with time." In "Valentina," he talks about hitting on a girl's mom.
While he may strike out with his romance language, Prince definitely connects with his party tunes. The first three selections on "Mplsound" will get the party started: the spare funk of "(There'll Never B) Another Like Me," the sassy synth funk of "Chocolate Box" and the good groove of "Dance 4 Me," which sounds like old Prince with a new computer-manipulated voice. This disc -- a one-man-band affair -- concludes with more funky fun: the free-wheeling "Ol' Skool Company" and the speedy, playful "No More Candy 4 U."
"Lotusflow3r," which was recorded with a band, parties with more eclectic sounds, sort of like George Clinton lost in the early 1970s. There's guitar work that suggests the jazz-rock fusion of Jeff Beck, the Latin rock of Carlos Santana and the heavy psychedelia of Jimi Hendrix. Prince even finds a Brazilian groove on "Love Like Jazz" and an unexpected Italian vibe on the instrumental "77 Beverly Park." "4 Ever" sounds like a Gavin DeGraw pop song but it, like everything else here, probably won't fit into any of today's radio formats.
Just dance to "$," a club celebration smothered with New Orleans seasoning, and "Feel Good, Feel Better, Feel Wonderful," a terrific piece of Prince-meets-Sly-Stone "purple rock 'n' roll" (his lyric) that begs for an extended club remix.
All that excitement makes Valente's "Elixer" hard to swallow. A Twin Cities native, the tall, almond-eyed brunette has a pleasant, breathy voice but can't compete with the powerhouse vocals of Shelby J or Tamar, two of Prince's other recent discoveries. Moreover, this newcomer is saddled with generic romantic R&B material. "Elixer" seems like a throwaway, done as a favor for a friend, or maybe just because Prince needed something to complete his threesome.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719