He went back to using his given name in 2000 after seven years of referring to himself with an unpronounceable symbol, but the artist who has returned is not exactly the Prince of the past.
His first collection of new material in two years, "The Rainbow Children," is the definition of uneven, a concept album that shines as his most cohesive musical package in years but falters beneath the weight of the nonsensical religious philosophizing stuffed into its lyrics.
The unity of sonic vision throughout the set is impressive, yielding a smartly produced whole that is dense and cohesive but not cluttered. Drummer John Blackwell is as important to that end as Prince, powering the dynamic jazz of the title track and the smooth calypso groove of "She Loves Me 4 Me."
Prince adds most of the rest of the music himself, from the blistering guitar tacked on to the rousing and angry statement on racial injustice, "Family Name," to the keyboard chitter of "1+1+13" copped from the dance funk of his classic B-side "Erotic City." Many songs on the collection meander past the point of being captivating, but over 70 minutes there is plenty of time for occasional diversions.
Although his melodies and still-lush falsetto vocals will draw diehard fans in for a listen, the truth is that Prince is clearly no longer addressing those who warmly remember his lascivious past. Once gleefully vulgar, he has completely eliminated swearing from his lyrics ("Let me see you shake your pants?" From Prince?) and pushes his newly modified religious beliefs in a tale that is less a parable than a preachy soapbox turn.
The disc comes with a sticker that declares it "controversial," but, despite an engaging sound, it's too banal and conceptually muddy for anyone to bother creating any real stir about.