The Artist Formerly Known as Prince
Chaos and Disorder
(Warner Bros.)

Spite is often overlooked as a spur to creativity, but it's as capable of providing artistic inspiration as love and beauty--something that Chaos and Disorder amply demonstrates. Prince, you see, has been sniping at his mega-label for years--but rather than simply breaking his contract, a la George Michael, he's instead fulfilled it by releasing substandard product (e.g., 1994's Come) or archival pieces (such as the oft-bootlegged The Black Album) that he's refused to support by touring. On the surface, Chaos seems another link in this chain. Described in the exceedingly slight liner notes that accompany it as "the last original material recorded by [that silly symbol] 4 warner brothers records," the album is allegedly a compilation of ditties that Prince initially intended "4 private use only." But it's hardly a throwaway; rather, Chaos is more consistently accessible than anything he's put out since the soundtrack to Purple Rain, in 1984. (Other masterworks, like 1987's Sign "O" the Times, have required more effort to appreciate than many listeners have been willing to expend.) In contrast to Prince's most recent compositions, which have been marked more by meandering than by innovation, the tunes here are concise, melodically impeccable and as catchy as ever. The title cut merges grinding guitars, a soulful organ riff, subtly utilized scratching, cheeky sound effects and a straightforward vocal that ties everything together. Later, "Dinner With Delores" ventures into seductive pop; "The Same December" builds to a hook of epic proportions; "Right the Wrong," which kicks off with an intro spoken by Prince in a ridiculous Southern accent, eventually reveals itself to be an energetic raveup; and "I Rock, Therefore I Am" tosses together persuasive funk, a strong rap interlude and lyrics that speak volumes about the singer's persistent individuality: "If the whole world buys your bullshit/I don't care/I'd rather put on something/That the world wouldn't dare." None of these elements are particularly startling--Prince has dipped into all of them at one time or another--but he hasn't done so with such openness and absence of attitude in years. Chaos and Disorder is in part an obscene gesture to Prince's corporate masters. ("Here's what you're losing," he seems to be saying. "These were songs I was going to throw away.") But the disc--which Warner (predictably) is putting absolutely no effort into promoting--is also an indication that this guy should not be written off as a onetime genius who fell victim to his own eccentricities. Get him angry enough and he'll make another great record, just to prove to you that he still can.

--Michael Roberts

Urban World Music
(Qwest/Warner Bros.)
Kinda puts you in mind of atomic bombs, doesn't it?

Billy Squier
Reach for the Sky: The Anthology

That a Billy Squier anthology merits two CDs is clearly a subject for debate, although not one that's apt to be addressed by The McLaughlin Group during this millennium. Likewise, any Squier-philes who still care enough about his work to express even the slightest displeasure at the selection of songs represented here are probably members of the singer's immediate family. For those of you whose emotions were indeed set in motion by the originator of the Michael Bolton hairdo, however, this collection hardly misses a stroke, from its sycophantic sprawl of liner notes (written by a former high-school chum of the artist who obviously never developed a life of his own) to a generous assortment of Squier's trademark vocal shrieks, many of which make an ovulating housecat seem a more welcome companion by comparison. On a positive note, I must confess with no small amount of shame that hearing early-Eighties cuts like "You Should Be High Love" again inspired brief bouts of air-guitaring in this reviewer's apartment (no mirrors were employed, though). And what pud-pounding pubescent male--a prime component of Squier's demographic--could doubt the timeless wisdom of such utterances as "Lonely is the night when you find yourself alone"? Other listeners (anyone who originally found Squier's hits putrid, for instance) will be less impressed--and the cuts recorded before and after his "golden" period won't change their minds. The presence of a Freddie Mercury vocal cameo on 1986's "Love Is the Hero" suggests Michelangelo lending a hand at the neighborhood Earl Scheib's, while "Lady With a Tenor Sax," from the same year, is every bit as execrable as the title suggests. "Don't Say You Love Me"? No problem, Bill.

--John Jesitus


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