The Artist Formerly Known As PrinceEmancipation (NPG...

CD REVIEWS

November 28, 1996|By J.D. Considine

The Artist Formerly Known As Prince

Emancipation (NPG 54982)

Now that his long fight with Warner Bros. is finally over, the Artist Formerly Known as Prince has shaved the word "slave" off his face and announced his own "Emancipation." To say that he has been waiting for this moment would be something of an understatement, given the wealth of material on this 36-song, three-CD set. Even more amazing than the package's size, though, is its consistency. There may not be much in the way of great material here, but neither is there anything that's truly terrible. Instead, what we get are solid grooves, interesting sounds and well-crafted arrangements framing capable (if only mildly catchy) melodies. As always, there are plenty of songs about sex and dancing, as well as a couple of cyber-life numbers (including the gloriously loopy "My Computer") and a few none-too-subtle swipes at the recording industry (the most pointed of which is "White Mansion"). Longtime fans will be fascinated by the cover material (a first for TAFKAP), particularly the falsetto-heavy "La, La, La Means I Love You" and his semi-industrial take on the Joan Osborne hit "One of Us." Perhaps the most beautiful and affecting moments, though, come as TAFKAP moves from "The Holy River" to "Let's Have a Baby," a segue that merges the sacred and profane more perfectly than he ever has.

Space Jam

Music From the Motion Picture (Atlantic 82961)

Of course the soundtrack to "Space Jam" is good -- with contributions from Coolio, R. Kelly, the Quad City DJs, Salt-N-Pepa, Seal and an all-star rap quintet, it ought to be. But given the star-power on hand, "great" is what we ought to expect, and the great moments here are few and far between. Coolio's "The Winner" is one, thanks to its buoyant beat and interpolation of the Impressions' "Keep On Pushing," while "Hit 'Em High," a rap round-about featuring B-Real, Busta Rhymes, Coolio, LL Cool J and Method Man, is blessed with both sharp writing and one of the album's strongest hooks. But Seal's remake of "Fly Like an Eagle" barely flutters, Salt-N-Pepa squander the Diana Ross hook they borrowed for "Upside Down," and R. Kelly's treacly "I Believe I Can Fly" manages to make Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone" seem positively edgy. Even the funny bits falter, as with Barry White and Chris Rock's remake of "Basketball Jones," which will leave many listeners longing for Cheech and Chong. And how often does that happen? Live Art (Warner Bros. 46247)

It's hard to know what, exactly, to call the music Bela Fleck & the Flecktones make. Although it includes many of the improvisational elements of jazz, it also draws too heavily from folk, funk and foreign music to make merely calling it "jazz" seem adequate. That's especially true of the double-CD "Live Art," a collection of concert recordings that finds the three Flecktones working with a galaxy of stellar guests. Still, it isn't the guest list so much as what those guests do. For instance, the rap-meets-jazz-meets-new acoustic crossover that springs out of "The Message" -- which adds Chick Corea's piano, Jerry Douglas' dobro and Stuart Duncan's fiddle to the Flecktone mix -- literally must be heard to be believed. Add in the occasional odd solo tune, such as bassist Victor Wooten's awesome rendering of "Amazing Grace" ("Amazing Bass?") or Fleck's fairly psycho take on "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," and you're left with an amazingly lively concert recording.

Greg Kihn

Horror Show (Clean Cuts 7716)

It used to be that folk music was a fairly simple thing, just a couple of people sitting around and singing with minimal, acoustical accompaniment. These days, though, folk is more a matter of attitude and material, which is why Greg Kihn's "Horror Show" works so well. Rather than play to the listener's expectations, Kihn follows the melody, letting the inner logic of the tune dictate how each song is performed. So Eric Von Schmidt's wistful "Kay Is the Month of May" is remade as a funky reggae tune, while the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" is given a lean, subtly colored arrangement that brings out the sadness beneath its evocation of English urban life. Kihn's own songs are equally impressive, particularly the dark, spooky "JFK," the lovely, Gauguin-obsessed "Noa Noa," and the haunting, reflective title tune. But in many ways, the album's best moments are its most understated -- the well-sung simplicity of "Trials, Troubles, Tribulations," for instance, or the quiet beauty of "Come Back Baby." Nothing horrible about that.

Pub Date: 11/28/96

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