The omens are good. First of all, 1999 is a favourite year of Prince's. Second, he has a new major label deal. Third, Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic features a host of guest stars, including Chuck D, Ani DiFranco, No Doubt and Sheryl Crow. TAFKAP even teams up with himself: according to Rave's sleevenotes, the songs are written by the Squiggly Symbol but produced by Prince. Sadly, neither half of the split personality is on inspired form. The Squiggle could have dashed off these 15 underwritten songs in a day. In almost every case he has stretched one verse's worth of chat- up lines over a whole song. As for Prince, his plastic funk production is horribly dated. The mystery of why he changed his name is as nothing compared to the mystery of why he keeps using saccharine synthesiser and bass sounds that should have been left in the 1980s where they belong. The best track, "I Love U But I Don't Trust U Anymore", gains much by being accompanied by the comparatively timeless combo of piano and acoustic guitar. What's most depressing is that, every now and then, the singing and playing are fantastic - and completely wasted on such a negligible record.
IAN BROWN: GOLDEN GREATS (Polydor)
Ian Brown has promoted his optimistically titled second solo album as a happy, positive record. He must be getting mixed up. These days his blank-eyed, sotto voce drawl can't convey anything beyond vague nocturnal menace, so it's lucky that his collaborators have grasped his vocal limitations, even if he hasn't. Dave McCracken and Tim Wills, the main co-writers/ co-producers/ musicians on Golden Greats, combine driving rock riffs, uneasy Eastern percussion, ominous strings and buzzing synthesisers to make a hypnotic, techno-noir backing for Brown's persecution complex. It's an effective formula. Particularly spooky are the urban broodings of "Set My Baby Free" and the trip-hop/ blues finale, "Babasonicos" (shame the lyrics are a feeble protest against the judge who sent Brown to jail for threatening an air hostess). In the end, Brown comes across as neither a spent musical force nor an essential one. McCracken and Wills, on the other hand, could have lucrative careers scoring thriller soundtracks.