Prince

Prince’s Planet Earth – A Review

This Tuesday, Prince’s new album, Planet Earth, will be released in the U.S. This past Sunday, British fans could pick up the album by buying an issue of a newspaper, The Daily Mail. Thanks to a fine, upstanding Brit, I got a copy. It’s been on steady rotation here this week, and I thought I’d share my initial thoughts. As with all albums, opinions shift over time. I could feel differently in 2 weeks, 2 months, or 2 years. But this is how Planet Earth sits with me after a few days. Here’s a song by song review….

“Planet Earth” – I take my Prince album openers seriously. Take a look back to the golden era: “Dirty Mind”. “Controversy”. “1999”. “Let’s Go Crazy”. “Around the World in a Day”. “Christopher Tracy’s Parade”. “Sign o the Times.” All became classics, and gave you the feel you were in for something special.

As Prince has done with most of his studio albums, he kicks it off with the title track on this album. It has an ominous, apocolyptic feel to it. Not a feel-good opener, but then again, there’s an ominous, apocalyptic feel to the state of our planet today, right?

“1999” had its apocalyptic message, but the way Prince dealt with the end of the world was different then, when he wrote the song in his early 20’s: “Everybody’s got a bomb / We could all die any day / But before I’ll let that happen / I’ll dance my life away.” It may be the end of the world, but damned if he’s not gonna party until his dying breath.

On “Planet Earth”, the party’s over, and it’s time to get serious: “Just like the countless bodies / That revolve around the sun / Planet Earth must now come into balance with the one that caused it all to be / Then we’ll see His kingdom come / So shall it be written, so shall it be sung” – Sheesh, too heavy for me. The teachings of Jehovah hath crept into Prince’s pen. Sure, he’s always thrown his brand of religion into the mix, but he used to serve us with equal portions of sex (“Erotic City” vs. “God”). Yeah, I’m one of those who misses dirty ol’ Prince. Not a bad opener, though.

“Guitar” – This song was first offered as a download on Prince’s site (for a fee). Then, another version soon showed up on Verizon’s TV commercials. *sigh* We lose another one. Oh well, we still have Springsteen, who will never sell his art to the advertisers. I have to admit I’m not crazy about “Guitar”. It’s a funny, silly song (“I love you baby, just not like a love my guitar”), but just seems a little bland for my taste.

“Somewhere Here on Earth” – Now we’re talking. This one quickly became a favorite. A classic old school vibe, complete with the sound of a needle hitting the record at the onset. It’s soft, it’s sweet, with muted horns right out of “Adore”. For fans of Prince’s slow jams (‘Insatiable”, “Scandalous”, “Adore”, “Damn U”, etc.), you’ll like this one. Odd lyric: “in this digital age, you could just page me”. Isn’t “paging” more 80’s / 90’s? I guess he couldn’t work “text message” into the mix.

But this is classic falsetto, slow jam Prince. Excellent song.

“The One U Wanna C” – A killer Prince pop song. My other favorite on the album. He has a cool effect going in this one where the guitar sounds like it’s being played underwater. Our boy is back:” U don’t need 2 fix your hair / 4 somebody u don’t care 4 / U don’t need 2 shave your legs / If it ain’t me that’s knocking at your door…. If u wanna get creamy / I’m the one U wanna C”. My only gripe is the fade out during a guitar solo, which just begs for a classic 12″ extended remix.

“Future Baby Mama” – Another slowed down, old school Prince vibe. Sure to make all the future baby mamas swoon. Nice.

“Mr. Goodnight” – “All over the world they call me Prince, but you can call me Mr. Goodnight.” Prince brings back his seductive rap for this one. Another fun one with some interesting lyrics. Case in point: “I got a mind full of good intentions / And a mouth full of Raisinets”. Alrighty.

When I first heard the “rap”, my instincts said “Uh oh.” But I enjoyed it, and it grows on me more each time I hear it.

“All the Midnights in the World” – If you’ve waited for the day you’d hear Prince sing the words “prickly-fingered scallywags”, then your day has come. This one clocks in at under two and a half minutes, the shortest song on the album. The lyrics show this tune has great potential (“Amethyst and rubies / Crystals and black pearls / I’d trade them all, just to spend with U /All the midnights in the world). But in the end it sounds to me like it was thrown together at the last minute.

“Chelsea Rodgers” – The Chelsea Rodgers hype continues to build (her official web site is “coming soon”, but already it’s quickly evolving into an ad for Prince’s new perfume). Is this song another one of Prince’s clever marketing ideas? To announce a new protege with a song written about her? Well if she’s gonna live up to the hype, the song better be funky, right? And funky it is. Cool drum intro, retro-funk bass line, horns. But Prince doesn’t take the lead vocals on this one. There’s a female lead that I’m assuming is Shelby, who joined up with Prince and his gang at the end of last year. She overdoes it on the vocals, particularly during the opening part. It doesn’t ruin the song for me, but it distracts me from what could have been a standout tune on the album. Leaving her out of the mix would have taken this track to the next level.

“Lion of Judah” – The opening guitar chord sounds like “Purple Rain”. The rest of the song is reminiscent of Musicology‘s “A Million Days”. More religious imagery in this tune. “Like the Lion of Judah / I strike my enemies down / As my God is living / Surely the trumpet will sound”. Can you picture a concert crowd singing along to this? Me neither. But this one has the potential to grow on me.

“Resolution” – I remember when the album closers used to knock me out. “Temptation”, “International Lover”, “Sometimes it Snows in April”, not to mention the granddaddy of them all, “Purple Rain”. Yeah, I know it’s not the 80’s any more, but Prince is still Prince, he’s still capable of a solid album closer (and a solid album, I just know it!). But a knock out closer this ain’t. It’s more of a yawn than anything else. “Dropping bombs on each other / In the act of saving face / Tell me now people, how is that resolution?” You get the idea. A noble effort, but just ho-hum to me.

As someone who’s been an avid devourer of Prince’s music since 1984, it’s hard for me not to compare every new Prince album with his 80’s output, the “golden era” of Prince, as many would agree. And it’s ridiculous to think anything Prince puts out will ever rival those albums. It’s a different time, and we’re all different people. But I’ll continue to follow Prince down any path he decides to wander down. He’s still creative, prolific, and at 49 – still one of the very best live performers around.

Speaking of his live performances, he’s been all over lately. This past weekend he played for the rich folks in the Hamptons (“Lovey, did he just say masturbate with a magazine? Egads sweetie!”), then zipped over to the Montreaux Jazz Festival. Funny thing is, the only song he has played live from the new album is “Guitar”.  [Update: he also played “The One U Wanna C” at the Target Center on 7-7-07] What is he waiting for? He has some savvy marketing ideas, but this is one of the things that makes me go “Hmm.”

BUY Planet Earth.

10 Comments

  • Gonzo

    I’m not gonna lie – I’m skipping over this post until I get my copy on tuesday. I know, I know, it’s been leaked, and it’s streaming on MSN. Call me a purist, but I’ll wait until I pick it up on tuesday. But I’m anxious to hear it, as always!

    This is actually one downfall of being a music lover in the Internet age (and really, there aren’t many). Everything gets leaked before release! I don’t have a problem with that from a legal standpoint – free the music, I say. But I like to revel in the anticipation, at most hearing a single that was released ahead of the album. Going to the store on tuesday morning, ripping off the cellophane in the car, and hearing the release for the first time. Remember the old days when that was just the way it was? 😉

  • jazzmaster

    I listened to this for the first time yesterday, so it hasn’t had a chance to grow on me. Overall, though, it sounded pretty vanilla… I mean, it wasn’t ‘bad’, but it didn’t blow me away.

    I agreed with a couple of things you said, though, Pete…

    * The guitar solo at the end of “The One U Wanna C” should NOT be fading out. Damn, it was just getting good!!!

    * “Chelsea Rodgers” has so much potential… Especially with that thumping bass line. Shelby really overdid the vocals. And, just like with Tamar, if I wanted to hear HER, I would get HER album, not his.

    * The last song is b-o-r-i-n-g. I didn’t even make it to the end.

    On a more positive note, I’m glad that Prince is still putting something out. Not only does it show that he isn’t ‘washed-up’ or a ‘has-been’, but it also reminds the youngsters what true musicianship is all about. Forget about all these sampling, over-processed wanna-be pre-teen popsters… Dig the ‘real’ thing!

  • Pico

    Prince: proudly sporting chest hair on album covers since 1979.

    But seriosuly:
    I have it, only heard the first two tracks thus far and think you pretty much nailed it; for those tracks, at least.

  • Pete

    Gonzo – You have amazing will power. I just can’t resist when new music is dangling right in front of my nose (or ears, I should say). Especially when our friends overseas already have it. I can’t let them get a head start!!

    It’s like my work neighbor’s giant vessel of chocolate at her desk. NO WILL POWER! *gobblegobble*

    This is actually one downfall of being a music lover in the Internet age (and really, there aren’t many). Everything gets leaked before release! I don’t have a problem with that from a legal standpoint – free the music, I say. But I like to revel in the anticipation, at most hearing a single that was released ahead of the album. Going to the store on tuesday morning, ripping off the cellophane in the car, and hearing the release for the first time. Remember the old days when that was just the way it was?

  • Pete

    Ah, that’s right, back at the Vegas Rio shows right?

    But you all see my point. Full concerts with little attention paid to a brand new album.

    jt Says:
    just for the record, he’s played somewhere here on earth live also.

  • Bongo Masta

    PE is yet another coaster to add to the pile of post-1995 releases. Hell, even Prince agrees: just like with his previous releases, he isn’t even bothering to play songs from it. And no, occasionally playing one song isn’t making up for that. We’re talking about the man who toured behing SOTT when it had barely hit the shops, a man who once upon a time dedicated plenty of time to unreleased songs (1995 Gold-era concerts).

    Most of this album sounds like Prince woke up one day, realised he had to turn in an album to whatever record company was crazy enough to had him money this time, and grabbed some tracks from his vault. Dumb lyrics, at times awful production, uninspired music that only references stuff he’s made in the past decade or so, and artwork that induces barfing. This isn’t a Prince CD, this is a cheap knockoff.

    If Prince has any sense he’ll stop peedling this crap and instead focus on his glory years. All of his 1980s albums deserve a super-duper re-release with tons of extras. But the way he’s going, people will forget that once upon a time he was required listening.

    And no, his concerts aren’t great either. I don’t think endless soulfunkrockjazz jams are worthy of my time. I know plenty of bands that can play that bland crap, I want to listen to SONGS. And I want PRINCE to sing those songs, not some random fam he pulls on stage. And would it kill him to rehearse his band? Rehearse a set list? Remember when Prince concerts were memorable and not just endless marathon sessions of jams?

    Thankfully there are bootlegs of those great times, so I can just listen to a recording from one of his show at The Park (like the one with Sly’s “In Time” and that killer version of “Days Of Wild”) or the infamous 1988 aftershow (“Just My Imagination” just slays me).

  • Bongo Masta

    Re: “This is actually one downfall of being a music lover in the Internet age (and really, there aren’t many). Everything gets leaked before release!”

    In the old days radio often got to play new music a week or so in advance. I recall taping D&P tracks off the radio a week or two before release and listening to them on my walkman — and realising that I was listening to a seriously bad album. I’d only had 1/2 of the tracks, so I was hoping the rest of the album bould be better, but that wasn’t the case.

    And no, not everything gets leaked.

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