Prince's new album reviewed.

Songs you've got to hear.
March 31 2009 7:47 AM

Prince's New Album

A new protégé and a lot of love for Salma Hayek.

"Lotus Flow3r" by Prince.

Attention, Target shoppers. The new release by Prince, a three-CD package titled Lotusflow3r, is now on sale exclusively at the discount retailer for just $11.98. It's a bargain, especially when you consider the alternative: Those wishing to download the records— Lotusflow3r and MPLSound, a pair of Prince solo discs, and Elixer, the debut by Prince's new protégé Bria Valente—can do so at lotusflow3r.com for the not-so-low price of $77.

I'm not sure what to make of this pricing scheme. At age 50, Prince has reached the curmudgeonly stage of his career; on the new album, he declares himself "old-fashioned" and spends several songs proving it, inveighing against DJs who don't play his records, "the freax in the magazines who never paid no dues," and other whippersnappers who are sending the world to hell. One wonders: Is Prince rewarding fans who, after the 20th-century fashion, troop to the store to buy physical product while punishing downloaders by charging them $2.38 per song? I wouldn't put any capriciousness past him, but it's probably best not to search for logic in Lotusflow3r. It is a messy and bewildering (and, frequently, thrilling) mix of sensuality and theology, stitched together with some staggeringly virtuoso musicianship. In other words, it's a Prince project par excellence.

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Elixer serves mainly as a reminder of Prince's spotty record as a Svengali. Valente is Appollonia redux: a beautiful woman with little personality, musical or otherwise. Her plush, precise slow jams will doubtless sound better when Prince covers them himself in concert. More bracing are Lotusflow3r, which foregrounds Prince's Hendrix-esque guitar heroics, and MPLSound, a tribute to the synthesizer-propelled funk that Prince established as Minneapolis sound in the 1980s. The orientation is retro, but Prince's innate weirdness steers the music far from nostalgia and genre clichés. The songs take curious twists: The funk workout "Chocolate Box," on MPLSound, disassembles into a symphony of guitar screeches, keyboard beeps, and heavy breathing; on "$" (Lotusflow3r) and "Ol' Skool Company" (MPLSound) Prince revives his helium-voiced alter ego Camille, a precursor to the autotune vocal distortions that dominate today's Top 40.

Prince's influence can also be detected in the weird, funny boudoir pop of R&B stars like R. Kelly and The-Dream. But where, for instance, Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" is a bit of a sweat act, kinkiness comes naturally to Prince; he remains a sui generis libertine. In the middle of MPLSound is "Valentina," a deliciously perverse Princely come-on. The song is a lustful ode to Salma Hayek—addressed to the actress' 18-month-old daughter. Prince sings: "Hey Valentina tell your mama/ She should give me a call/ When she get tired of runnin'/ After you down the hall/ And she's all worn out/ From those late-night feedings." On the off chance that the song fails to produce the desired effect, Prince includes an insurance pickup line, figuring that the infant Valentina has access to all of Hollywood's A-list Latinas. "If Penélope wants to Cruz," he sings, "there ain't no way that we ain't gon' dance."

Jody Rosen is a Slate contributor.