This doesn't mean Planet Earth sucks, however. One of the best axemen of his generation, Prince cranks through a Coldplay/U2 riff on "Guitar," an ode to loving his instrument more than his lady.
Ditching the synth drums that define his '80s work, Prince follows the full-drum lead established on 1991's Diamonds and Pearls. Tracks like "Lion of Judah" and "The 1 U Wanna C" are his first collaborations with Wendy and Lisa in 20 years, and they're better for them.
But the problems here aren't technical. Once upon a time, Prince strutted around, strumming G-chords in a G-string, screaming about blowjobs and incest. But along came the shock and awe of hip-hop, something Prince could never match. As a result, he turned syrupy in the '90s, with tunes like "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World."
Planet Earth's "Future Baby Mama" comes in that model, an easy-listening ballad passé by anybody's standards, much less his. More successful is "Somewhere Here on Earth," a slow jam with muted trumpet up front, as Prince rues the BlackBerry era: "In this digital age/You could just page me/I know it's the rage/But it just don't engage me."
Until an '80s nostalgic like the Roots' ?uestlove becomes executive producer (assuming Prince will ever relinquish control), we're going to end up with mixed-to-middling records like Planet Earth.