“Crystal Ball” By Prince Reviewed
Perhaps, now that Prince is dead, he can fulfill an ambition that seems to haunt 1998’s Crystal Ball: his desire to release every single thing he ever recorded. My bet is long after I am dead, there will be more Prince releases, maybe forever, maybe at the end of the world there will be one last album of new material to be heard and then bang -the little death will become the big death. And then there will be no more reason to sit through four and a half hour, 5 CD albums like this one. Considered his 20th and 21st official release, there are three albums of previously released boots, a really good acoustic 4th album, and an instrumental # 5. I bought it off the internet and it was thrilling, getting it in the mail, with that really cool round cover. and I had a 50 CD shuffle, and I took out everything but the five albums, and listened to them and… once the thrill of the new was gone all that was left was “One Of Your Tears”. True “One Of Your Tears” is one of his greatest songs but even still.Crystal Ball isn’t all that. For all his greatness, it just goes on and on,
Oh, alright dig in deep and you’ll find “18 Or Over” -a Q Tip inspired A Tribe Called Quest sounding piece of, you know REAL rap. Go sideways and “What’s My Name” isn’t what you expect but rather a techno jigger two turntables synth piece of weirdness. Somewhere else, “She Gave Her Angels” is not “One Of Your Tears” but it has its moments for sure. “Cloreen Baconskin” has the Timeless Morris Day on board and is a fun funk workout and the title track is ten minutes of dance stuff. “Pussy Control” is back with a pretty awesome remix. So let’s say it is a quintuplet that would make a pretty good single album.
But it just goes on and on, and I listened to it a lot when I first bought it, and I listened to it a lot in the past two weeks: I was in London and I was listening to it, waiting for the unwieldy album to shift into shape, to become clearer. You know what I mean, that moment you can feel the contours of an album, It didn’t. It isn’t. It has no center of gravity, it has nothing to connect you to it. The songs are OK, even all the ones I haven’t mentioned, are OK, but take a listen to CD One, which spins itself in decreasing waves, even Nona Hendrix seems to drift it the background of its relentless saminess: all that sing speak chants plus beats. After awhile it is as though you are listening to ambient music, it works as background at a disco, it just beats and doodles away. Worlds of declarations over beats. I can’t concentrate, I nod off. I can’t hear the hooks at all.
And then there is “One Of Your Tears” -a song which, if he had cleaned up the lyric a little, would have been a huge hit: such a strange and perturbed song of infidelity and desire, from the used condom the girl has sent him, to the images of her with another man, to still wanting to her so bad: “If you don’t want me I’m not worth the air that I breathe” is such a devastating assault on the emotions, and death and then reincarnation: sometimes I wanna die and come back as one of your tears. I consider the acoustic album part of Crystal Ball, though it was later released as a standalone, called The Truth… of the five CDs, it is the best, “Animal Kingdom” is pretty good, “Man In Uniform” is pretty good, and while nothing is as singular as “tears”, still, it is a pretty good album. But when played as part of Crystal Ball your brain begins to melt.
As I said, it is as if he was in the process of releasing EVERYTHING and the process may never end.