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
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
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.