Artist: Prince Title: Diamonds And Pearls Year: 1991 Tracklist: Thunder 05:46 Daddy Pop 05:17 Diamonds And Pearls 04:45 Cream 04:13 Strolliní 03:47 Willing And Able 05:00 Gett Off 04:31 Walk Donít Walk 03:07 Jughead 04:57 Money Donít Matter 2 Night 04:46 Push 05:53 Insatiable 06:39 Live 4 Love 06:59

PRINCE HAS NEVER SOUNDED SANER than he does on Diamonds and Pearls . After his obsessive struggles -- in terms that were deeply insular and allegorical -- with spirituality and sexuality on Lovesexy and Graffiti Bridge , Minneapolis' resident genius has refocused his attention on his first love: pop songcraft. The results are hardly Prince's most monumental work, but they do reveal a long-buried subtlety and -- dare I say it? -- modesty.
Range is the name of the game on Diamonds and Pearls , but not the sprawling stylistic hybrids that characterized such masterworks as Dirty Mind and Sign o' the Times . Rather, Prince limits himself to fleshing out a carefully bound pop formalism. His creative madness -- a chorus of car horns in the delightful "Walk Don't Walk" or the interlocking keyboards of "Daddy Pop" -- is strategically women into (relatively) conventional structures. The album is packed full of irresistible hooks, though some -- like the dreamy chorus of the title track -- seem hastily pasted onto unfinished songs.


The album introduces the New Power Generation, which proves fully capable of jumping from the sly garage rock of "Cream" to a light ska groove in "Willing and Able." Drummer Michael B. is an especially impressive anchor, helping give Diamonds and Pearls the most band-oriented sound of Prince's career. It is telling, though, that the hardest rocker on the album -- "Thunder," a roof-raising plea for salvation -- is the one track Prince handles all by himself.
Less successful are the attempts to integrate rap into Prince's pop universe. A verse or two by N.P.G. rapper Tony M. in "Willing and Able" is a fine addition, but giving him an entire song -- "Jughead," a silly attempt at a new dance craze -- is simply a waste. Tony's rapping style, also featured on "Push," is functional, but his rhymes are insubstantial. "Housequake," on Sign o' the Times, was a great dance "instruction" song because Prince so clearly loved the James Brown funk he was aping; in contrast, "Jughead" sounds like an obligatory effort at including a genre with which Prince has never been comfortable.
The recurrent themes of Diamonds and Pearls are lighthearted self-motivation and positive thinking -- "Push until U get 2 higher ground" or just "walk on any side U like." Most ambitious is "Live 4 Love," a grinding seven-minute internal monologue of a troubled fighter pilot, while "Insatiable," the requisite seduction ballad (still Prince's most underrated style), is simply gorgeous, highlighting his effortless to great effect. But only the bass-heavy first single, "Gett Off," includes the loopy lewdness we have come to expect from Prince. "Slip yo dress down like I was strippin' a Peter Paul's Almond Joy" may not make a whole lot of sense, but it's got the demented excess that much of Diamonds and Pearls seems to be missing.