Rock: The artist still known as a genius
Sunday 30 August 1998
His latest album, Newpower Soul (RCA), warned us that we were in for more of the same. There are so many squeaky, weightless Funkadelic grooves on it that the 10th track, "(I Like) Funky Music", will hold the record for Most Obvious-Stating Prince Song, at least until he composes one called "(I Am) Short". Not that I'm in the Prince-has-lost-it camp. He hasn't lost it, he's just hidden it. If you count the soundtrack to Spike Lee's Girl 6, and three albums which are his in all but name - one by Mayte (Mrs Artist ...), and two attributed to his band, New Power Generation - the Artist has put 15 CDs on the market since 1994. Fifteen! None of these is exactly Sign O'the Times, but they all contain their diamonds and pearls. If he edited them down to the strongest three or four discs' worth, there'd be less talk of his puzzling deed poll and more talk of his genius.
On Wednesday, he was content to promote Newpower Soul by broadcasting it over the PA before the show, and concentrated instead on the songs that made his (former) name. If anything, he tried to squeeze in too many of them, chopping each down to one verse and/or chorus, and transforming the gig into a Prince-on-45 Megamix. "So, you want the oldies this time?" he must have been thinking. "Right. Take this! And this! And this!"
It was sacrilegious, but how can you hold it against the world's best pop performer? As far as visuals were concerned, this was a low-key, low- budget show. Yes, there were lasers, confetti bombs, Perspex speaker- stacks, and statues of Chinese dragons, but next to 1995's theme-park scenery, this counts as back to basics. It meant that we could focus on the Artist himself, and he is a living special effect. Despite attacking his guitar and singing with a gutsiness that crushed Newpower Soul under its Cuban heel, he none the less kept moving all night, from the moment he strutted onstage in frilly red pyjamas (his purple ones were in the wash). "London, I just got a new piano," he announced, pointing at a violet grand with "Beautiful" painted around its side. "Can I play that thing?" Yes indeed, we replied, and we were correct. The Artist played that thing, pirhouetted on its lid, pretended to have sex with it and skipped on and off it so nimbly that I expected to spot wires on his back.
We weren't quite so unanimous in response to the question "Do you love God?" during the customary evangelical interlude, but the Artist was unfazed. "I guess you ain't worried about that accident on the way home," he smirked, demonstrating a quality which no one who has seen the Purple Rain sleeve photo would have believed he had: a self-mocking sense of humour. When an ad-libbed blues prompted some unrequested audience participation, he stopped and pouted: "Who asked you to clap?" He's long boasted about what he can do with his tongue. Tonight at any rate, he had it in his cheek.
And that's another myth quashed: that the Artist is a few strings short of a guitar. The evidence of his supposed madness is that he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, and pencilled SLAVE on his cheek. But these were both tactics in his battle to escape his Warners contract. They hardly compare with - oh, I don't know - bleaching your face and sleeping in an oxygen tent, for example. Given a choice between the man who doesn't want to be called Prince and the man who does want to be called the King of Pop, I know who I'd rather listen to.
Nicholas Barber's Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedy coverage has just won him the inaugural Allen Wright Award for young critics.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre