Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

Maybe Prince called his new album Lovesexy (Paisley Park) to make it sound hotter than The Black Album, announced last December as his X-rated Xmas gift to the world and then withheld or suppressed for reasons some think unclear. Well, it ain't. I know because I own a bootleg of The Black Album, and unless Warners quashes a flourishing black market, you can too. Seduction-as-subtlety theorists might argue that Lovesexy is sexier, but for damn sure it never gets on it like Le Grind, which establishes The Black Album's fuck-funk from beat one. And for damn-me-to-hell sure it ain't hotter.

Both records trade a powerful P-Funk ambience, long on whomping ensemble grooves and wild-ass asides, for the strong songs and related persona-play of last year's Sign "O" the Times, and neither comes close to topping that tour de force. The difference is that Lovesexy then trades a whole-hearted commitment to the funk for dollops of message. The official album is the thoroughest explication to date of Prince's basic belief that sex equals God equals love, and as such it's as confused as you might expect. Not in an especially dangerous or offensive way, though I wish some musical antidrug propagandist would create a setting for the slogan "Just say let me think about it." But when Prince reports that there's a heaven and a hell, he doesn't mean here on earth. There's only so far the secular humanists in his audience can go with that "metaphor."

What makes Lovesexy go anyway is the joke-mechanical angularity of the music--good to dance to and good to reflect on, like all prime Prince. But musically, The Black Album is altogether deeper, heavier, and more unrelenting. It's also the most unmistakable bid for the black youth audience Prince has made all decade. That's why it wasn't released, I guarantee you. And this being funk, it's also why it has more to give. Consume creatively--you'll be glad you did.

Playboy, Sept. 1988

Aug. 1988 Oct. 1988