His last album, 2007's Planet Earth, was bundled for free with Sunday papers in London (the first single, "Guitar," was a Verizon exclusive). It's something of a shame that this is the only thing the album is remembered for because it was as good -- as distinctly Prince-like -- as he's sounded in years, stacked with languid funk jams and, like the song says, guitar.
So it's with equal parts surprise and, well, not, that the artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known As Prince picked ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones' radio show on L.A.'s 103.1 to debut four tracks that may or may not appear on his next album, which he may or may not release himself.
And fitting, then, that the songs generally skew towards the rock end of the Prince spectrum. Most notable might be the frisky cover of Tommy James' "Crimson and Clover," which opens with the familiar chords in that warm, "Purple Rain" tone before getting thick and crunchy, with a dash of "Wild Thing" in there just to bring back those long-dormant Hendrix comparisons. The frenetic, "Crosstown Traffic"-biting"Wall of Berlin" should keep those coming.
"Forever" -- sorry, "4ever" -- is pure mid-tempo pop that doesn't really stick to the ribs after a few, admittedly perfunctory listens.
"Colonized Mind" is the resident slow jam, pondering spirituality and the skewering the music industry in the same verse, then climaxing in a frenzy of overdubbed guitar solos.
A fifth subsequently leaked track, the six-minute "There Will Never B Another 1 Like Me," is solid dance-funk Prince, although the line "checked my e-mail to see where the party be" might be the most patently unsexy of his career. The mundane vision of our purple minx logging into gmail is countered by the revelation of his hair-grooming secret. (Olive oil!)
Worth noting: This sneak preview comes courtesy of Jonsey's on-air cohort Mr. Shovel, and there's no official word as to where these songs might eventually materialize beyond the low-fi radio rips floating around right now.
All in all, these feel like refreshing throwback tracks -- but that's what we said about Planet Earth and even Musicology before that. There's something about Prince's willful iconoclasm that seems to get in the way of his reaching the Revolution-era glory we all seem to want from him. As if it were what we wanted that counts.