It’s 1999, and Prince aficionados know what that signifies: the 12th anniversary of his last great album, Sign O’ the Times. But hope, like numerology, springs eternal. Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic inspires optimism, as [The Artist] has realigned with a major — Arista’s Clive Davis, who might be brave enough to tell the unreliable hieroglyph the difference between wheat and chaff. But while the album’s Santana-like slew of cameos (EVE, Gwen Stefani, Chuck D) may belie the Davis touch, Rave — which has the ex-Prince reverting to one-man-jam mode in trying to recapture the spirit of ’99—otherwise remains a characteristic mix of the kicky and cringe-worthy.
For as lame a song as he’s ever unleashed, proceed to track 2. In ”Undisputed,” he extols his own genius over a dull rhythmic bed that begs a second opinion. The Artiste almost redeems himself with the next track, ”The Greatest Romance Ever Sold,” a silky bedtime story with seductive descending chord progressions. And so it goes. His disco cover of Sheryl Crow’s ”Everyday Is a Winding Road” is a borderline travesty, but later, Crow herself sings on a funny new raunch-rocker, ”Baby Knows,” that nearly atones for the earlier misstep. When he’s really on, almost anything — even that nasty messiah complex — seems 4givable. B- — Chris Willman
[The Artist] Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic Arista