The Rainbow Children
Redline Records CD 70004, 2001
Does anybody still care?
Dan Macintosh, 18 February 2002
His record label brags about this being the first new Prince album in ten years, but as we all know, the diminutive one has been releasing albums for a decade, known only as a symbol. But an eccentric artist by any other name (or sign, for that matter) is still an eccentric artist, and "The Rainbow Children" has all the indisputable markings of a weirdly wonderful Prince album.
Like so many other artists from the '80s (such as Michael Jackson, for example), every new Prince album is measured against the music he created during his heyday. And while this one is not even close to as bad as some of his desperate attempts to weave in hip hop and stay current over the past few dry years, it's not anywhere close to the majesty of his groundbreaking 1978-1988 reign. It's a serviceable offering, but not an extraordinary one. Prince is capable of so much more than this.
"The Rainbow Children" as a semi-concept album is a thinly disguised quasi-religious recording. It was obviously inspired by Prince's recent dabbling in the Jehovah's Witnesses religion, and it presumably describes the better world that would result if everybody followed this particular belief system. Naturally, Prince makes this religion seem a lot hipper than the one we all surmise from those dullards who spoil our Saturday morning sleep-ins.
The swinging jazzy opener "Rainbow Children" speaks about a generation "flying upon the wings of the New Translation," which is how the JW translation of the bible is called by its followers. Later, on "1+1+1 Is 3," a mouse-y synth led funk romp, he sings about "a theocratic order," which is the JW doctrine of a government by God. This belief, by the way, is the reason why members don't salute the flag. The "1+1+1 Is 3" title itself serves as an argument against the Christian doctrine of the trinity, which teaches that God is revealed in three persons who are all also God.
As a part of Prince's newfound belief system, he's also sworn of swearing. In "1+1+1 is 3" he sings, "We don't give a duck what u got on," for example, but it sounds more like one of those bad TV versions of an otherwise profanity-laced movie.
But look a little closer, and you'll find out that a churched Prince is not all that much different from the formerly fleshly one. In "Mellow," which is a song that is not all that different from the foreplay turn-on music Barry White (and Prince, too) has made a career out of, he sings, "If u desire I'll shed my attire/anything 2 get u wet...." I'm not sure how that one would go over at the old Kingdom Hall, but I suspect it won't be reprinted in the literature distributed door-to-door.
But what if you don't give a flying duck about Prince's current religious persuasion, and only want to hear the music? Well, this album sounds pretty funky cool, heathen friend.
On "The Work Pt.1," Prince breaks out a few of his best James Brown vocal shouts, as he proceeds to throw these down over a JB groove that is supported by Larry Graham Jr. on bass and is colored by a honking horn section.
"Everywhere" combines Latin percussion with a gospel chorus, and ends up sounding like an updated "I Would Die 4 U" from the "Purple Rain" days.
Sly Stone's legacy is conjured up with "Family Name" through a partly spoken-word Black history lesson. This social commentary is served over a one of Prince's best funky bass lines since "17 Days" (also "Purple Rain" era). When Prince does finally begin singing on this one, it's with his great falsetto. He then proceeds to challenge the educational system for its suspect rendering of Black history, before taking a shot at wealthy TV preachers for stealing money from viewers.
The song may sound like Prince is taking spontaneous shots at random targets, but its scattershot lyrical logic is ultimately saved by its irresistible groove. It's also not hurt by a mad electric guitar solo and a spoken drop-in from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the very end.
Prince creatively fills this disc with a wide variety of musical colorings, which are mostly old school soul and jazz-related. The mood is nearly ruined by the deep throated voice of God narration that appears between tracks. This is a trick he used back in the "Around The World in a Day" days, and it's as cheesy now as it was then. Also annoying is the pseudo-operatic singing on "Wedding Feast," which does nothing positive or listenable to sell its sentiments of celebration.
No way is this album ever going to go up on Prince's musical trophy shelf any day soon, but it's nothing to hide in the basement when guests come to visit either. Too bad it didn't sound like "The (Purple Rain)bow Children," instead.
performers Prince, damn near everything; Najee, "soprano sax appeal & flute"; Milenia, Kip Blackshire, Mr. Hayes, Femi Jiya, "backing vox"; Mr. Larry Graham Jr., "bazz" on two songs; John Blackwell, "drumz"; Group Hornz: Hornheadz, "group hornz"
songs Rainbow Children · Muse 2 The Pharaoh · Digital Garden · The Work, Pt.1 · Everywhere · The Sensual Everafter · Mellow · 1+1+1 is 3 · Deconstruction · Wedding Feast · She Loves Me 4 Me · Family Name · The Everlasting Now · Last December · and several short hidden tracks