Prince returns to his funky roots

At long last, the artist has made another consistently strong album.
We knew Prince had it in him. It was just a matter of time.
"3121," the Minneapolis star's Motown Records debut and full-fledged return to the major-label world, is a phenomenal work from front to back, a record that should immediately deliver him to the mainstream stage after years in the creative and commercial wilderness.
Cool, funky and teeming with hooks, the album reprises the vintage Prince sound and style without any forced retro clumsiness. It's the culmination of a re-energized career overhaul that's been at least two years in the making.
Prince released plenty of good music after his notorious 1996 split from Warner Brothers, but often you needed a little luck and a lot of digging to find it amid what became a sprawling mass of uneven releases. "3121," tight and cohesive, quickly eliminates the dilemma.
That cliched complaint about contemporary pop albums with "only one or two good songs"? Not applicable here. Each of these 12 tracks stands strong on its own; any could have fit comfortably on a Prince album circa '84-'87.
What you'll get
With the throwback funk-psychedelia of 2004's "Musicology" as its launching point, the new record dives even deeper into Prince's roots -- and into the nether regions where sexy, slinky tunes come soaked in double entendres.
It's clear from the opening title track, with its lusty chorus and "Black Album"-era groove, that the 47-year-old artist isn't letting his new emergence as a Jehovah's Witness stop his old-school carnal urges, and the musical ambrosia is all over "3121."
Creative experiments are all well and good, but it's been ages since Prince put together a collection of material this aesthetically consistent, and that's refreshing.
Much of his '90s work was either congested with sound or minimalist to a fault; here he's judicious with the layering, crafting distinctive soundscapes while letting the arrangements breathe.
He has achieved the balance once so distinct to his work, creating sounds that are interesting for the sake of being interesting, but without overwhelming the songs themselves -- in this case such melodic, dance floor-ready standouts as "Lolita," "Fury," "Black Sweat" and "Love."
As the disc rolls into its closing tune, the delicious '70s-styled soul-funk of "Get On the Boat" with sax man Maceo Parker, you realize just how easy Prince has made all this look.
He tosses out the classic Prince material so easily, it's as if he's deliberately taunting a decade's worth of naysayers: "See, I could always do this stuff with my eyes closed."
But that doesn't mean he seems bored. Far from it: On "3121," to the benefit of all involved, Prince sounds like he's having more fun than he has in years.

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