Artist: Prince Title: Newpower soul Year: 1998 Tracklist: Newpower Soul Mad Sex Unti U're In My Arms Again When U Love Somebody Shoo-Bed-Ooh Push It Up Freaks On This Side Come On The One (I like) Funky Music empty 4 sec. tracks Wasted Kisses

We live in a golden age of one-named, soulful lovemen. The radio is full of their heavy breathing: Seal (he wants a kiss from a rose), D'Angelo (he wants some brown sugar), Usher (you make him wanna) and Babyface (king of the world). All of these artists owe a lot to Prince. Back in the Eighties, when hip-hop was dropping the bomb, Prince showed everybody how to be a soulman in a hip-hop world, proving that soul could groove on tradition without going retro. Now that hip-hop and R&B are sharing bodily fluids all over the radio, making this a dynamite soul era, many artists are trying to live up to the Prince legacy -- and that includes the Artist Formerly Known as Prince himself.
Maxwell is a one-named, soulful loveman who is definitely working the Prince style: sensitive, cerebral, glamorous and loaded with sex-mystic pretensions. Sometimes he sounds as if he spent his formative years on a desert island listening to nothing but Side Three of Sign o' the Times . He's always had a wildly ambitious reach; on 1997's Unplugged , he turned Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" into a sticky slow jam and put an absurdly soulful twist on Nine Inch Nails' "Closer."

 

He also once told MTV that he idolizes Bryan Ferry, which explains the clothes. But Embrya is where Maxwell takes his pretensions to the bank. Check out his song titles -- "Everwanting: To Want You to Want," "Submerge: Till We Become the Sun," "I'm You: You Are Me and We Are You." (Come back, Terence Trent D'Arby, all is forgiven.) Lucky for him he has the voice and the passion to get away with it; he flexes his charm until over the top feels like the place to be.
Embrya is full of long soft-focus vamps that don't bother much with chords or verses or choruses; the music sets a mellow mood, while Maxwell spends a good many minutes making sure you understand that he respectfully requests the pleasure of your booty's company this evening. The songs are pretty wonderful, even though they're impossible to tell apart or to remember after they're done. (If you're concentrating that hard, you're clearly not making out while you listen, and that would hurt Maxwell's feelings.) Maxwell purrs through his lush musical backdrops, occasionally singing in Spanish or breaking out his trembly falsetto, and the grooves linger like a pair of velvet pants that takes forever to hit the floor. So it's pointless to complain that the tracks go on way too long or about lyrics like "Tell me what you thought I thought you thought I thought." Maxwell is just trying to cast his own eccentric kind of seductorama spell. If you're looking for company in your bathtub or boudoir, Embrya is the next best thing to having Maxwell there.
As for the Artist Everybody Still Calls Prince himself, he's back with another pocketful of Trojans, some of them used, on Newpower Soul , his first all-new album on his own label. Despite this hard-won artistic freedom, Newpower Soul follows the same basic formula as the Artist's other Nineties albums: two great tunes and a buttload of filler. He obviously didn't waste much time on either the songs or the recording -- his real gig these days is on the road, where his recent shows with funk bassman Larry Graham and soul virtuosa Chaka Khan are already the stuff of rock & roll legend.
Newpower Soul (which is credited to the Artist's band, New Power Generation) works mainly as an ad for the live show, sort of like a Grateful Dead studio album. One of the two keepers is the unlisted final bonus track, a moody three-minute ballad about two lovers wasting their kisses. The other is "Mad Sex," which proves yet again that women, not girls, rule his world. Over tinkling piano and an obscene bass line, the Artist promises to go "dirty-up another room" with his paramour: "Do it till your tattoo's dizzy/And the stud in your mouth turns gold."
After that, the songs are just competent throwaways; the musicians sound bored, waiting to rip it up onstage, and the ballads are flimsy coming from the man who once sang "Adore," the six most blissful minutes of sex ever captured on tape.
Newpower Soul also recycles the clunky hip-hop and stale jamming that have cluttered most of the Artist's recent work. As he self-consciously evolves from radio star to cult funk hero, the Artist doesn't see the studio as the place to prove himself. He's still a uniquely vivid cultural presence, showing up in the strangest places - squeaky-clean country teen LeAnn Rimes even sings "Purple Rain" on her new album. In his own music, though, the Artist is just one of many trying to carry on the Princely tradition. The catch is that other people -- Maxwell, for one -- are making better Prince records than he is.
ROB SHEFFIELD