It’s nearly impossible to say anything about Prince that hasn’t already been said, and that goes double for things he’s said about himself. At an age where he should — by all rights and rules of rock, funk, and every other genre he decides to will into his domain — be turning out albums that only Sting would buy, Prince is defiantly rebuking the David Bowie syndrome, whereby a youthful genius turns to lounge music. There was a short period where it seemed Prince was going to become yet another self-referential icon who would borrow from himself incestuously until death mercifully released him from his recording contract with God. But then, he no longer needed to be so absorbed by writing about his own career. With Musicology in 2004, Prince returned to tell everyone that despite his name, he is the king of all musical kingdoms. On last year’s 3121, he reminded the world that although he didn’t invent it, he does own the copyright to sex.
Planet Earth, then, is the Purple One’s bid to balance the bounce and pop of his youth with the inevitably ballady-ness of his advanced age. Other artists attempting this would have the odds stacked against them (Paul McCartney, anyone?), but Prince is not any artist. He’s, you know, Prince. The title track of Planet Earth invokes John Lennon’s method in “Imagine”: Take lyrics about questioning the status quo and put them to an undeniably catchy tune. The song doesn’t come near the simplistic eloquence of Lennon’s ballad, but it’s hard not to hum along to “Planet Earth” even before you know the lyrics. Then Prince’s interest in the sociopolitical wanes, and he talks about how much he can love a woman — which, coincidentally, could never be as much as he loves his “Guitar.” He revisits the less memorable, laid-back styles that punctuate classic albums like Purple Rain and 1999 on “Somewhere Here on Earth,” “The One U Wanna C,” and “Future Baby Mama,” although the latter will undoubtedly be the summer’s soundtrack for illegitimate baby-making and not simply because the lyrics toe that is-it-tongue-in-cheek-or-is-it-farce line that R. Kelly usually trips over. Prince saves his get-up-and-move song, “Chelsea Rodgers,” for nearly the end of the album, possibly wanting to bury his admission that “this one goes out to Jersey” before the female-dominant vocals bring the song into full swing. She might as well be singing about Prince when she says Chelsea’s “too original, from her head down to her feet,” because with only the faintest hint of retracing his past successes, Prince is still on top of his game.