When Prince played a surprise two-hour-plus concert at L.A.’s China Club three years ago, it seemed a sign that he was tiring of his musical deity-like status and was heading back to a more personal approach that would no longer alienate his audience but would still challenge his bored-genius ego. Wrong.
In the interim, Prince, who’d now like to be referred to by the androgynous symbol that graces his most recent Paisley Park/WB album cover, has continued to move away from both his audience and reality, replacing the latter with a humorless sense of absurdity that only serves to propel him further into Wackoville, a quaint, if removed hamlet governed by Mayor Michael Jackson.
So now, hot on the heels of the news that the name Prince will no longer do and that the man will no longer be recording any new material (he’ll rely on a massive collection of already-recorded songs for future albums), we get “Glam Slam Ulysses.”
It is a very loose music-theater adaptation of Homer’s “Odyssey,” complete with seminude dancers, pointless and silly sketches and enough phallic symbols and references to make even Heidi Fleiss blush. Homer-erotica, if you will.
The point of all of this is supposed to be to introduce the world, or in this evening’s case, a half-full club of L.A. industry types, to 13 new songs from old what’s-his-name.
Some of these tunes, like the sensual “Dark” and “Loose,” where he actually plays loud electric guitar (rare for him these days) and the almost-progressive rock “Endorphinemachine,” were solid if unspectacular pieces that provided suitable accompaniment to the spectacle taking place both on and around the club’s stage.
Storywise, “Ulysses” concerns itself with Penelope, a would-be other-world goddess, a character referred to as ‘the fan,’ both played by Prince protege Carmen Electra, and our hero, Ulysses, an unlikely dancing god played by Frank Williams.
Quickly moving from one scene to another, the action, which is basically a bizarre, choreographed love triangle, takes place on the club’s main stage as well as different sets built around the venue and in fantasy scenes shown on a large video screen.
It is a lot to take in, but it all adds up to just so much eye and ear candy.
Which is the problem, not only with this naively boring production, but with the bulk of Prince’s recent releases.
In these cases, there is little, if any, substance. Seemingly more interested in opening clubs (he owns Glam Slam, among others), discovering a bevy of next-big-things (none of whom have gone on to make any lasting impression), and topping his previous public relations stunts, Prince has sacrificed his instinctive musical gifts in favor of disposable, multi-media excesses, like “Ulysses.”
It makes one yearn for a return to “Controversy”-era Prince. A time when we not only knew what to call him, but had good reason to call him.
“Glam Slam Ulysses” plays in L.A. through Sept. 3, then begins a tour of U.S. clubs.