hat a damned shame that basically every critic in the universe used up their “Prince is back!” headlines two years ago, on his can-we-all-admit-now-that-it’s-not-really-that-great, er, “comeback” (at least to sales, and the general pop-cult consciousness) Musicology. Where that album didn’t really deserve all of its attendant ink—c’mon, how many of those pieces were projections of how much we wanted it to be a great album?—his new platter (which is his first #1 pop album since 1989’s Batman!) does. This is the Prince album we wanted Musicology to be.
Admittedly, my hopes for this record weren’t stoked by its first single, “Te Amo Corazon” (which my boyfriend immediately tagged “Te Amo Cortisone,” and by which we’ll forever refer to it). It’s a pretty enough ballad, but we expect more from the first single from a Prince album. This is a case, however, in which context is all—and this song’s context greatly improves it. Sandwiched between the sexy synth-fuzz groove of “Lolita” and the “Kiss” redux of current single “Black Sweat,” “Te Amo” is a lovely Latin-tinged kiss done as only Prince can. Lyrically, ballads generally aren’t his strong point, and this isn’t so different, but it’s all too simple to forget how well he pulls songs like this off musically.
“Black Sweat” is easily his finest single since, what, “Sexy MF” maybe? Yeah, it’s really that good, a sleekly streamlined, stripped-down track whose opening line—“I don’t want to take my clothes off / But I do”—pretty much works as a statement of intent, not just for the song but the whole damn album. Prince has rediscovered, or just decided to sing again about, sex, and it suffuses all of 3121. No one, no one sings about sex the way the Purple One has over the course of his nearly 30-year career (can you believe it?), and here he’s back to his old tricks. From “Imagine me on the tip of your tongue” (“Lolita”) to “I’m gonna make you scream my name as if it was divine” (“Incense and Candles,” and I didn’t even mention the lyrical mention of “Prince’s candle”—really), Prince can claim all he wants that he’s singing about something higher, but the reality of it all is inside his—and your—pants.
No matter if “Satisfied” is about sex or more, ahem, spiritual concerns, it’s a slow-burn ballad of the kind that no one does better. Added bonus: a horn section including Maceo Parker and Candy Dulfer. The album’s opening title track works despite Prince’s odd Roger Troutman-esque vocal effects, and “Fury” harkens to live boots from his 1987 European Sign ‘O’ the Times, absolutely sizzling, with Prince’s guitar (yes, he remembered) the cayenne in this spicy skillet. By the time 3121 closes with “Get on the Boat” (his best J.B. rip since, what, “Sexy MF” maybe?), you should be good and satiated. Welcome back, our saviour from Mpls. What took you so long?