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TERRY GROSS, host:

Prince has always been a pop star who prides himself on doing the unexpected. And his latest unexpected move is to release a triple-album set called "Lotusflow3r" with little advance notice. It consists of two albums of Prince music, plus another disc of Prince songs sung by a protege - singer Bria Valente. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of this sudden avalanche of Prince.

(Soundbite of song, "Feel Good, Feel Better")

PRINCE (Singer, Musician): (Singing) Feel better, Feel good, Feel wonderful, Feel better, Feel good, Feel wonderful, Hey I could tell by the color of your energy field, You thought this game was over chemical appeal, You try to do me like my good brother Steve, But I got another funky trick up my sleeve, Expecting me to freak on you a little bit more, But you get nothing but well-wishers and flowers galore, I mean no harm, I still got your back, You can come and drink my wine, as a matter of fact. Feel better, Feel good, Feel wonderful.

KEN TUCKER: I have got another funky trick up my sleeve Prince sings on last songs, one of 21 new tunes plus another 10 created for the singer Bria Valente. All of them are gathered together in an abruptly generous three-disc set. That's almost three hours of new music with songs that range from raucous full band jams, to precise pop songs such as this one called "Forever."

(Soundbite of song, "Forever")

PRINCE: (Singing) If I never get to hold your hand, If I never get to be your man, That's ok, cause I've got other plans, Right now, right now. If I never get to kiss your lips, If I never get to feel your hips, Close to me, That's ok, I ain't gonna trip, Not now, no how, Cause I've got forever, forever. Eternity is just one kiss away, So they say...

TUCKER: The third disc in this collection, singer Bria Valente's album called "Elixir," is a collection of smooth jams that will sound familiar to anyone who likes the easy listening radio format. As Prince told the Los Angeles Times - I got sick of waiting for Sade to make a new album. And so, using the thin voice of Valente, he made a slick album that doesn't leave much of a residue.

(Soundbite of song, "2Nite")

Ms. BRIA VALENTE (singer): (Singing) Light in the shadow of a darkened room, his face lit under the glow of the moon. Fingers winding circles in my hair hold me in his penetrating stare. I ain't going nowhere...

TUCKER: The business aspect of this release is a contrast of Prince's portrayal of himself here as a trippy party-loving guy. He's selling "Lotusflow3r" at only one retail outlet, Target stores, and on his Web site. Prince is still ambivalent about record companies, trying whenever possible to operate as an independent agent, making his money largely from concerts and Web site music sales.

(Soundbite of song "No More Candy 4 U")

PRINCE: (Singing) To all the punks who believe that life imitates music, no more candy for you, we can't hang with you. To all the punks who want to be rock stars, you do what they do. There's no future for you. That's the life of a fool. No more candy, no more candy for you. It's too funky, you can't handle the groove.

TUCKER: For this triple album, Prince wasn't taking any chances. He chose to showcase his new material by doing a three-night stint on one of TV's most mass-audience, middle-American outlets, "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno. This is the family-friendly Prince who also opted to keep his profile high in 2007 by playing the Superbowl halftime concert with no resulting scandal. He is even into covering oldies for the nostalgia crowd as with this fine cover of Tommy James and the Shondells' old hit "Crimson and Clover."

(Soundbite of song "Crimson and Clover")

PRINCE: (Singing) I don't hardly know her, but I think I could love her, I hope she walks over, I've been waiting to show her. Crimson and Clover, over and over.

TUCKER: Through out this collection, the author offers some his usual vaguely hippyish, easily ignored peace and love philosophy on tracks such as "Colonized Mind" and "Dreamer". Since becoming a Jehovah 's Witness in 2001, he's dialed back the vulgar language and sexual imagery. He's still mixing James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and George Clinton's P-funk with smooth falsetto ballads. The result is Prince Music that will either leave you feeling he's still hitting high points, or that you'd rather dust off your copies of "Dirty Mind" and "Purple Rain." You can certainly debate his ambition at this point. Me, I like the old but I'm also really glad I bought the new stuff.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed "Lotusflow3r," the new triple album set by Prince. You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.

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