Fans Wait And Wait And Wait For Ex-Prince's Crystal Ball

New album from The Artist is a long time coming.

Mention Crystal Ball to most fans of the Artist Formerly Known As

Prince and they'll tell you that it's the title of His Royal Badness' next

album.

More than a few, however, will wish they had a crystal ball themselves to

discern just when that album -- which is being sold exclusively by mail

order -- will be released.

An announcement on the Artist's "Love 4 One Another" Web site on Tuesday

promised "The moment u've all been waiting 4" when it proclaimed that the

Artist himself had received the first pressing of the three-CD set. The

brief note then piqued fans' excitement further by telling them to expect

delivery of Crystal Ball by Christmas.

But phone calls on Wednesday to 1-800-NEW-FUNK, the Minneapolis phone

service operation handling much of the ordering for the Artist, painted a different

picture. It seems fans may have to wait a bit longer for the moment

they've all been waiting for.

One operator said Wednesday that not only have the albums not been

shipped, but that "We haven't received any in yet."

He added that "It's

not necessarily true" that purchasers would receive Crystal Ball by

Christmas. Another operator said there is "no way" fans would receive the

set by the holiday.

Frances Pennington, spokeswoman for the Artist, did not return phone calls

by press time.

Anticipation has run high for Crystal Ball since it was

announced earlier this year. A source close to the Artist said this past summer that the collection will consist of three CDs

packaged in a clear plastic sphere and will contain unreleased and

often bootlegged material from the Artist's Sign O' The Times (1987)

and Diamonds and Pearls (1991) periods. Among the tracks confirmed

for the set are "Crystal Ball," "Dream Factory," "Lovesign (Shock's Silky

Smoove Mix)," "Movie Star," "18 & Over," "Make Your Mama Happy," "Days 'O'

Wild," "Da Bang" and "Calhoun Square." In addition, the first 100,000

people to pre-order the $50 set are slated to receive a copy of the

Artist's unreleased acoustic album The Truth.

Rodney Fitzgerald, 27, of Philadelphia, ordered his copy of Crystal

Ball back in July. He said he's grown a bit impatient for the set,

which was being held from production until the first 100,000 orders were

received.

Nonetheless, Fitzgerald said he appreciated the Artist's efforts to release

the album directly to fans rather than through a traditional record label.

"It's trend-setting to have someone sell exclusively through the Internet a

triple-CD album -- which is rare in its own right -- and have it done with

no middle man or major promotion," Fitzgerald said. "It's amazing."

But asked if he would prefer that the Artist release all his albums in the

manner of Crystal Ball, Fitzgerald replied, "Not really."

One reason that fans are growing impatient is that while 1-800-NEW-FUNK is

billing itself as a revolutionary step in record production, the operation

seems to be run in a manner more akin to a lemonade stand than a record

distributor.

One operator -- none of whom, as company policy, may reveal their names --

told Addicted To Noise Wednesday that orders for Crystal Ball were

being taken by hand. Computer inputting for the data involving 100,000

orders began only two weeks ago and is expected to require another two

weeks for completion. Only then will the album be sent, by Federal

Express, to customers.

Another operator said that the Artist himself is the only person who knows

how many copies of Crystal Ball have been ordered -- and thus she

could not confirm whether someone ordering now would receive a free copy of

The Truth for being among the first 100,000 orders.

Jane O'Brien, director of operations for the

Minneapolis Better Business Bureau, said

1-800-NEW-FUNK is listed with her organization

under the name New Power Generation, the title of the

Artist's band and record label. She said the company

has had two complaints filed against it, one related

to timeliness of order fulfillment, the other concerning the wrong product

being sent.

Fitzgerald said he began ordering from 1-800-NEW-FUNK a year ago. "They

were a little slow," he said. "Sometimes the voice mail didn't work. You

couldn't get through, and when you got through you had to wait. I guess it

was growing pains, basically."

But no matter when he receives Crystal Ball, Fitzgerald said he's

still excited about the collection. "It'll be worth the wait. Most of the

stuff, I'd say 60 percent of the tentative track list, I already have in

bootleg form. But this is supposedly redone or remastered. It'll be an

excellent copy." [Thurs., Dec. 11, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]