Music News

The Other Purple Dinosaur

Chaos and Disorder
(Warner Bros.)

The appropriately titled Chaos and Disorder, the latest in a flush of new releases by the Artist Formerly Known As Prince, sounds a lot like what's currently known as slop. It's a sketchy piece of work, overblown in spots, half-baked in others, a generally disjointed and dispirited collection of songs.

The album's blatant slapdash would make for a major disappointment if not for a blurb typed out on the back of the CD booklet: "Originally intended 4 private use only, this compilation serves as the last original material recorded by (symbol) 4 Warner Brothers Records." The message regards (acronym alert) TAFKAP's long-running feud with Warner Bros., one in which the artist claims the label hasn't released or promoted his music properly, with the label responding that a contract is a contract, especially one that pays said artist a reported $100 million for six albums.

As the finishing touch in the contentious deal, Chaos and Disorder's crazy quilt makes sense. This isn't a life's work or a recording to stand for the ages. Prince put those kinds of albums out from 1978 to 1982, back when he was remaking pop, rock and soul in his own transracial, gender-twisting image. Chaos and Disorder is instead the sound of an artist waving bye-bye to a record company. In that light, the disc becomes a different beast. It morphs into a sneaky, caustic and more interesting animal, something smart enough to get its message across without ever having to say it.

Check out the subtle stabs on the title cut, which opens the disc in a flurry of heavy guitars and jumpy keyboards. The former Prince wastes little time in setting the ground rules for his WB swan song, describing himself as "just a no-name reporter/Wish I had nothing to say." He turns out to have a lot to say and does so with force and more than a little funk on songs like "I Rock, Therefore I Am," a killer jam in which TAFKAP and co-singer Rosie Gaines pronounce, "If the whole world buys your bullshit/I don't care/I'd rather put on something that you won't dare."

It's one of the more spirited cuts on Chaos and Disorder, surpassed only by the funk whipped up on "Dig U Better Dead," a bouncy slab of cynicism that rides a jumped-up beat and slippery bass lines straight outta the Stevie Wonder '70s. The Unnamed One lets the spit fly as he relates a thinly veiled parable about how "first they offered up the buck . . . then right in the middle they stuck," later warning that "whatever you do, don't make somebody happy. . . . You'll find out how deep the valley truly be." The righteous vitriol is further blessed by Gaines, who again puts in a stunning performance.

But that kind of energy is the exception on Chaos and Disorder. Most of the music seems like cast-off material gussied up no more than necessary. Not helping matters is The Purple One's predictability in tossing around random, goofball sexual references. We get one song, "I Like It There," referring to his "emotional ejaculate on the floor." We get another song, "Zannalee," from the point of view of cartoonish police spying on a pair of actively engaged lesbian sisters. And on "Dinner With Delores," the former Prince croons tenderly about trying to shake an insatiable suitor, someone who spends her free time "showing dirty movies like some kinda whore" and who, in our hero's mind, needs to "introduce the carpet to something other than (her) knees." The casual sex talk, refreshingly unbound and even liberating when it spiced up Prince's early albums, now comes off as tedious, especially from someone who's said it all so many times before.

The only message of interest on Chaos and Disorder is the one TAFKAP sends to WB. He ends the CD with "Had U," a moody, long-ranged bookend to "For U," his debut album and the disc that started his 18-year, 20-album marriage with Warner. The final lines of the song are like a litany of quick memories that put a close to his Purple Badness' WB experience: "Wanted U/Asked U/Thanked U," he sings, finally wrapping it up with, "Fuck U/Had U."

Despite the tough talk, the Artist Formerly Known As Prince and the label that formerly paid him have reportedly reached enough of a truce for TAFKAP to promote the CD with videos and appearances on the likes of the Letterman show and Good Morning America(!). This from a guy who not long ago stood up the MTV Music Awards and Saturday Night Live with last-minute snits. Perhaps the onetime Prince is starting to mellow. Or maybe he's just looking ahead to a rumored deal with another label (Virgin), where his top priority is reported to be a combination children's book and recording project in honor of his and new wife Mayte's "little Prince," expected in November.

Whatever TAFKAP does and wherever he does it, the results should be better than the mess he left on Chaos and Disorder. They have to be. Prince used to be a god, but with his increasingly self-absorbed antics and inconsistent sound, he's turning into a minor league Michael Jackson. The artist, musician and innovator formerly known as Prince is better than that. At least he formerly was.

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Ted Simons