What happened to Prince? There was a time when we could count on just about anything he released to be awesome: Purple Rain, Sign of the Times, Parade, even the third disc of his Emancipation set. But then a strange thing happened. He got hip to the Internet. And he hasn't recovered since.
Case in point: in honor of the new year, the Princely One decides to spread a little love, ostensibly, by releasing two new songs on his unmercifully named Web site, NPG Online Ltd. (www.npgonlineltd.com). Thing is, Prince can't just be easy about this. I suppose he feels obliged to be coy and seductive instead. So he litters his site with cryptic messages like "Follow the sun that hides within these pages/Walk the path and hear the sound that rages." From there, fans are left to click on a little sun icon that pops on several Web pages, then they have to click on the letters that spell the word truth, and then, yes, there are the new songs: "U Make My Sun Shine" and "When Will We B Paid."
In Prince's little cloistered universe, where I'm guessing that everyone around him tells him he's wonderful, this latest Web hunt is probably thought to be cute and spiritual. It's a journey, dig? But really the experiment just shows Prince's utter cluelessness; while he might be cruising his site on a high-speed T1, most of fans are suffering the quest at 56K. Just look at how fat -- not phat -- his site is anyway, bogged down with huge images and flash animations almost guaranteed to crash your browser (and party). I'm slogging through this crap now and I'm on a DSL!
After all those years with the word "Slave" written on the side of his face, it's ironic that Prince is now suffering precisely from too much freedom. He needs a good Webmaster, a good friend, someone who can tell him that he's got to scale things back, way back. Unfortunately, my hunch is that if someone were willing to tell him his Web site or his new albums suck, Prince probably wouldn't listen anyway.
Lesson to be learned: Yes, the Internet can bring out the best in an artist -- see Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, Ween -- but it can also bring out the worst, as it has done in Prince's case. Although Prince deserves props for being one of the first major recording artists to embrace the Net, he's pretty much blown his credibility by heaping so much worthless garbage on his fans ever since. Could we be witnessing the rock & roll equivalent of the dot-com crash? Probably not. It's just the implosion of a giddy few. If Prince wants to lessen the pain, here's what he should do: release a text-only site and force himself to record/release only ten new songs over the next couple years. Better act now b4 it's too late.