The Rainbow Children
As one ages, s/he finds themselves in a truly centrifugal relationship to pop music. Growing up, you are the center of the music world; then you start seeing things you like being too cool to be played on pop radio; then nobody plays what you like and you think Britney Spears is a trollop and Creed is something you’re not supposed to discriminate against; and then you’re an old fogey. Reviewers, like anyone else, go through a crisis when they see their music idols — and themselves — grow older and out of the spotlight. In response, they praise anything their heroes produce with superlatives that should be reserved for religious text. In the hopes of giving those heroes present-day relevance, we’ve all read or heard embarrassingly effusive praise for crap produced by Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, and other Baby Boomers’ icons.
Well, Gen Xers, it’s our turn. Michael, Madonna, and Prince are now well into their forties, and we’re seeing 30 and are now finding interesting programming on VH-1. And, yes, the young’uns have no clue how big Thriller or moonwalking was. Despite that, the Big Three are all out with something this holiday season.
Madonna, the most successful of them in terms of aging with popularity, has another greatest hits compilation out. Michael has gathered more manpower than the pharaohs to help him build a hit album. And Prince has taken a totally different tact, eschewing his brief relationship with Arista, returning to his own label, and reaching deep within himself to create his best album in over a decade. I don’t know what it was: a mid-life crisis, the realization that every “The Artist” album was as forgettable as a Wings Hauser movie, the return to the birth name, or listening to D’Angelo basically channel him to multi-platinum effect. Whatever it was, I want to thank he/she/it for inspiring The Rainbow Children.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I realize that now a whole new generation will not be brought to realize the genius of Prince, nor will The Rainbow Children, especially without the publicity machine of the majors, be smashing sales records. It doesn’t need to. This album is simply brilliant. Prince avoids all the cliches that were becoming way too burdensome under the symbol. It’s as though you’re listening to an artist shed himself — shredding all the security blankets he’d accumulated in his 23-year career.
This concept album is a peculiar, millenarian vision where the Rainbow Children (people of color, I think) battle and overthrow the Banished Ones (white corporate multinationals) in the Digital Garden for the paradisiacal Everlasting Now. A lot of Genesis (the book of the Bible), Revelations, and miscegenation, I’m not exactly sure of the message. I do know it’s funky, though. Ever since Come and Prince’s battle with Warner Bros., it seems like first, he was simply producing albums to get out of his contract, and then couldn’t escape the shoddy production mode once he was out of it.
With the beginning (the title track), one realizes that a true adventure’s about to begin. A “Bob George” narrator chronicles the demise of the Technicolor kids, and then we are served an acid-jazzy progressive R&B song that ends 10 minutes later in a Santana-esque jam. “Muse 2 the Pharaoh” is a ballad that continues in that D’Angelo/Erykah Badu/Jill Scott/Angie Stone milieu. Then Prince dips his feet into electronic waters with “Digital Garden.” While one speculates that no musical terrain has been left untouched by this demonically prolific artist, you can tell that he has planted trees on the land he’s trip-mined to finally go off to fresher territory. Even though “The Work” is a bit reminiscent of “Licking Stick” and “Last December” is unmistakably Prince, you can tell that he is reaching for a certain creativity and adventurousness he hasn’t tapped since his Camille (Sign o’ the Times, The Black Album, Lovesexy) days. “Digital Garden” and “Family Name” come from a man possessed.
So, maybe I’m a bit guilty of what I accused other reviewers of earlier. So, sue me. This is definitely Prince’s best work since 1987, and, while it won’t be as commercially successful as anything from that decade, The Rainbow Children will most definitely stand out in the only meritocracy pop art really has: Time.
NPG Records: http://www.npgmusicclub.com