Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Prince's New Sensation

The Purple One makes religion sound supersexy

****

PRINCE
3121
Universal

The baddest song on the second consecutive album to reassert Prince's funk bona fides is arresting in part because it's so unassuming. Spare bass and drums, then an acoustic-sounding guitar, catchier synth and a conversational vocal with a devilishly hooky street-chant shape--not futuristic, but definitely not trad. The rad part is a lyric that explicitly invites us to "get saved." Christ is never mentioned, but Prince's talk of "new exaltation" and "streets of gold" can't be rationalized away as sex talk. More than any Kirk Franklin or Stevie Wonder number, "The Word" makes religiosity sound hip.

Doing his best to reassure fans who think their souls are fine, thank you, Prince doesn't abjure sex talk on 3121. But the famed Lothario turns down the ID-needing "Lolita." "What do you want?" "Whatever you want," she saucily replies. "Then come on, let's dance." She's shocked: "Dance???" The greasy organ R&B of "Satisfied" "ain't talking about nothing physical." And "Incense and Candles" turns on an unusual entreaty: "I know you want to take off all your clothes/But please don't do it."

As Prince well knows, however, these songs are erotic regardless--more recognizably than those on 2004's Musicology, where he turned down yet another hottie in "What Do U Want Me 2 Do?" That's because lyrics always come second for the most gifted popular musician of our era--amid the keepers are bad poetry you ignore on tracks you can't get enough of. As on Musicology, it does emphasize speedier tempos and, two nods to Zapp aside, more conventional sonics. Guitars and synths tend toward the middle registers: "Fury" is a slightly grander rewrite of the indelible "U Got the Look." This is all reassuringly normal for fans put off by the artist's recent forays into jazz and such. Anyway, Prince leaves no doubt that he's still interested in sex. He can resist temptation, if that's what gets him through the night. We don't have to. And we can still dance together. Right?

Rolling Stone, Apr. 6, 2006