It's difficult to pinpoint quite when Prince went definitively off the boil, although for me it was roughly around the time of the song he recorded for Tim Burton's horrible Batman film. This was annoying as I'd always been partial to the occasional dollop from the Prince spigot, certainly since Sarah - my girlfriend of the time - gave me the Purple Rain soundtrack album for Christmas - and if you hold the sleeve to the light you can still read the biro indentation of her festive greeting written on the wrapping paper: how can you listen to this crap, you sexist swine? To finally answer Sarah's question, I found it quite easy to listen to Prince because, aside from anything, his records sounded nothing like those of the feckin' Birthday Party, which was more her department. More recently, I was coaxed into seeing himself perform at the Millennium Dome, a gig coinciding with that album he gave away with the Daily Mail. I was sat about five rows from the stage and, as anticipated, it was all very watchable regardless of the material, most of which was derived from Planet Earth. He eventually played the hits, but solo as a sort of karaoke set with backing tracks when the band went off to have a rest, which was a bit disappointing, but never mind. It was still a pretty good gig.
Planet Earth, the Daily Mail freebie album, a copy of which also came with the tickets for the aforementioned live recital, isn't terrible, but it's definitely post-crap Batman song Prince, one of those doubtless hailed as a long-awaited return to form by an ever dwindling oxbow lake of die-hard Prince obsessives, long-awaited return to form here amounting to not quite as bad as you might expect; see also Bowie, David. I'm not even sure how I came into possession of 20Ten which must presumably have been given away with Exchange & Mart, or Railway Modeller or something of the sort. I've a feeling it arrived in my hand by the same route as Kiss's Double Platinum, but couldn't say for certain. Anyway, it's here now, so let's get on with it.
Initial impressions aren't entirely favourable, and give rise to the feeling that New Power Generation might be more accurately rebranded Sexy Retirement Community; and in places it sounds as though the band is now just ol' man Prince fiddling about with his laptop whilst perched on the toilet so as to reduce the risk of not being able to make it in time. Compassion and Everybody Loves Me in particular could almost be Go-Kart Mozart, and I'm not saying that as a positive thing. However, once you're over these particular humps, the remainder just about does enough to cast them from your thoughts, and to be fair the same rinky-dink soundcard ambience never bothered me on any of those rap albums built up from the same sort of squelchy synthetic p-funk. Thus allowing the Charlie Chaplin of sexy songs the benefit of the doubt and forgiving him for Batdance, repeated plays reveal the majority of 20Ten to be decent at least above and beyond not quite as bad as you might expect. The second track, Beginning Endlessly raises the tone, reminding us of a time when every song on a Prince album sounded different, and we continue in roughly that spirit. He seems to have reigned in the more lurid excesses of songs about gussets, and the social commentary of Act of God may not hit quite so hard as Sign o' the Times once did but still manages quite a slap. In other words, not only is 20Ten not shit, but it's actually pretty decent - maybe not so immediate as Purple Rain, Parade, or any of the biggies of yesteryear, but it pisses all over Planet Earth.