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Prince

Musicology (Columbia)

Following Prince's show-stealing performance at the Grammys, some who remembered his fabled past wondered whether he could heal the fractured music scene with another shower of Purple Rain. Despite the hopeful signs -- from his return to a major label to the dial-flipping montage of old singles that closes the title track -- this is not that album. It is, however, the next best thing: a rethink of Prince's late-'80s, early-'90s period, when he'd traded pop flash for organic funk, but hadn't yet lost the plot and exchanged it with abstract symbolism and allegations of slavery.

Prince remains unwilling to offer an obvious hit; the closest thing here is the soulful power-pop of "Cinnamon Girl," which alters the DNA of smashes like "When You Were Mine" with jagged guitar lines and inscrutable antiwar sentiments. But Musicology is Prince's most coherent and enjoyable set in at least a decade and a half, a single disc of effortlessly entwined rock and classic soul that replaces willful weirdness and excess with the reflections of an older, wiser artist who can finally acknowledge past glories, yet isn't ready to clone them. If it doesn't quite match his masterpieces, the sound of Prince's exile ending is still undeniably sweet.

 
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