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V/A - Controversy: Classic Covers of Prince

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Artist: V/A

Album: Controversy: Classic Covers of Prince

Label: Rapster

Review date: Feb. 11, 2008

Think of this as an artless mixed CD. The whopping majority of these tracks (including the obvious standouts from D’Angelo, Stina Nordenstam and the always agonizingly haunting Susanna and the Magical Orchestra) have been in circulation for years. A lot of them appeared on If I Was Prince, an ’02 comp that must’ve promptly disappeared. New or rare Prince covers would’ve been more interesting, of course, but showcasing new or rare material would not have been the Rapster way. If you’re going to regard this, you’ll have to regard it as it is, not as it might’ve been.

Listen to a cynical imitation (Sly Fox’s “Let’s Go All the Way”) or the work of an honest descendent (Justin Timberlake’s post-Perlman career) and it’s obvious: no one else’s pop music sounds like Prince’s. His work might not even be “pop,” strictly speaking, depending on whom you ask. Since the beginning, he’s had a pathological darkness, a painful erotic edge and a surrealistic humor that have made him more a contemporary of David Lynch than of Michael Jackson. Any Prince cover will say more about the artist doing the cover, and their own stake in the material, than it could ever say about the Purple Majesty himself. So the least one can expect is variety.

There is variety here - Controversy begins with heavy electric R&B (D’Angelo’s “She’s Always In My Hair”) and closes with a space-dub rendition of “Sign O’ the Times.” But it dwells largely in the realm of… what do you call this stuff? Glossy, European-flavored air-pop? Contemporary bachelor pad music for the recently engaged? In 2002, I thought of a lot of these folks (LB, Hefner, my beloved Blue States) as Future Kitsch, too-suave first-world exotica that will only sound more endearingly ridiculous as the years pass. Their time has not quite come. While many of these covers are exquisitely easy on the ears (particularly Hefner’s martini-dry “Controversy”), they swap Prince’s cutting personality for… nothing much to speak of. It’s hard to see kitsch in front of us, and early-aughties VW commercials aren’t that cool, yet.

A few cuts probably don’t have a future, even as kitsch. It may have been funny in 2002, but after years of Hollertronix and ironic 2 Live Crew worship, a protracted “Sexy Dancer”-based skit from 7 Hurtz, Peaches and Bitch Lap-Lap now sounds weightless. Soulwax’s “Starfish and Coffee” sounds as bland as Matchbox 20 – I wanted to spread mayo on it.

In another decade or so, when this strain of Future Kitsch sounds unexpectedly smooth and charming enough to get the panties moist, I will be ready. I have tons of this stuff. And, even then, actual Prince albums will be, if packed with terrific ideas, still too intense to spin during intimate encounters.

By Emerson Dameron

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