Ball of Confusion

The more recent material also does the Artist proud. There's "Hide the Bone," a single-entendre rocker recorded with the NPG; "She Gave Her Angels," a lovely ballad that the Artist performed on the Disney Channel's new Muppet Show; and "2morrow," an Emancipation outtake that rolls gently over the bass line from Parliament's "Turn That Mutha Out!"

Those are the highlights. The lowlights? Well, a few songs simply don't warrant inclusion. Given that Crystal Ball will end up mostly in the hands of hard-core fans, it doesn't make sense for Prince to pawn off "Tell Me How U Want to Be Done" as a new song, when anyone with any Artist cred knows that it's merely the second half of 1992's "The Continental." The dragging blues-rock composition "The Ride" and the bombastic "Strays of the World" have been bootlegged for years, and they're not improving with age. And there is a quartet of previously released Glam Slam Ulysses songs ("P Control," "Days of Wild," "So Dark," and "Get Loose") represented here either by superfluous live versions or anemic dance-club remixes.

Crystal Ball is clearly a major statement of sorts, Prince's attempt to prove that Warner Bros. screwed him out of better promotion, or that he's too much for any label to handle. But it's also his second disorganized, leviathanic release in a row, and these displays of virtuosity are beginning to have a faint tinge of desperation about them. It's reminiscent of the mid-Seventies fate of Stevie Wonder, who threw out his ability to edit himself on the double album Songs in the Key of Life and then sent much of his talent after it on the double LP Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. To date, Stevie has not been able to recapture the driving power of early-Seventies albums like Talking Book and Innervisions. No matter how interested he is in giving free rein to his creativity, Prince should take this example as a cautionary tale, and he should also look back to the concision and unity of albums such as Purple Rain and 1988's LoveSexy. In pop music, finally, genius is juggernaut.

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