Rave Review

Guests include Chuck D, Ani DiFranco and Sheryl Crow.

I said it earlier this year when I reviewed Prince's Old Friends For

Sale and I say it again now that I'm faced with The Artist's Rave

Un2 the Joy Fantastic: If you're considering buying this and haven't

already picked up Emancipation or Crystal Ball, you'll be

doing yourself a favor by going for those multidisc sets released in the

wake of The Artist's separation from Warner Bros. Both are packed with

essential songs that are crying out to be heard by a wider audience.

Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic is a solid album with few lulls, but

there isn't much on it that approaches the majesty of Emancipation

songs such as "Joint 2 Joint," "I Can't Make U Love Me," "Let's Have a

Baby" "Sleep Around" or Crystal Ball's "Sexual Suicide" and

"Crucial."

The dilly-yo with Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic is that The Artist

is taking a stab at getting his music out to a wider audience by inviting

some collaborators on board, producing the disc using the name Prince

(a.k.a. the guy who knows how to make hits) and paying Arista Records to

market, manufacture and distribute the results. What Arista gets to market

is an enjoyable romp through the many styles The Artist has mastered:

sexy ballads ("The Greatest Romance Ever Sold" [RealAudio

excerpt], "Man'O'War"), funk workouts ("Prettyman," "Every Day

is a Winding Road"), quirky pop ("So Far, So Pleased") and artsy-fartsy

excuses to keep the NPG Orchestra off the dole ("The Sun, the Moon and

Stars"). Interestingly enough, the most naked grab at reestablishing

popularity is the sound of the instruments — the synths all sound

like they haven't been reprogrammed since 1999 (especially on the

title track and "Hot Wit U") and the guitar solos are mostly meditations

on the scorchers from Purple Rain.

The Artist has done good work in the past with other musicians —

Sheena Easton, Apollonia, Tevin Campbell and Rosie Gaines did some of

their best work by his side — but here the guests' contributions

are strangely minimal. No Doubt lead singer Gwen Stefani sings on the

chirpy-pop "So Far, So Pleased," but she sings along with The

Artist instead of with him. As a result, she is little more than

a backup singer with good billing. Same goes for Sheryl Crow on the sexy

rocker "Baby Knows," though she does Stefani one better by blowing some

killer blues harp. Ani DiFranco plays acoustic guitar on the killer ballad

"I Love U But I Don't Trust U Anymore," but it's The Artist's piano and

voice that dominate the affair.

Balancing things out are Public Enemy frontman Chuck D and former James

Brown saxman Maceo Parker. Chuck D's rhyme is the best thing about the

otherwise dog-chasing-its-own-tail electro-funk of "Undisputed." When he

roars in, the groove finally shows up and things begin to fall into place.

Parker, on the other hand, is all over the hidden track entitled "Prettyman,"

and thank goodness for that. If James Brown had Morris Day's ego,

"Prettyman" could've been one of his greatest hits.

Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic is far from the guest-star bonanza that

Santana's Supernatural (also from Arista) was. At its heart, this

album belongs to The Artist. Hell, he makes Crow's "Every Day is a Winding

Road" (RealAudio

excerpt of Artist version) his own, transforming it from a blues-rocker

into a funk-stomper with a techno beat. "Man'O'War" (RealAudio

excerpt), on the other hand, is one of his classic falsetto ballads

fueled by rock guitar, a formula for which he basically owns the patent.

Speaking of patents, "Silly Game," "The Sun, the Moon and Stars" and

"Strange But True" should also sound familiar to long-time listeners;

namely, they are the maudlin ballads that end up being too experimental

to comfortably reside on the same album as the rest of the songs.

In ranking The Artist's catalog, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic lands

squarely in the middle. It certainly isn't Sign O' the Times or

Purple Rain, but it also isn't Graffitti Bridge. It ranks

among the more solid of his lesser works, standing alongside Diamonds

& Pearls and Come as a testament that even his off days are

better than anyone else's good days. I guess every day is a winding

road, after all.