While Hurricane Floyd pounded New York City on Thursday, the Artist was whipping up a little storm of his own. Backed by New Power Generation, the Artist gave up the funk and soul to a select audience of label execs and journalists gathered inside the Equitable building's small auditorium.
With his trademark symbol alight behind him and purple lights shining down on his magnificent red gown, the Artist led his eleven-piece band from "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" to Sly and the Family Stones' "Every Day People" to James Brown's "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine." Calling on stage R&B singer -- and recent Lady of Soul Awards winner -- Debra Cox to help out on "Everyday People" and a random man from the audience to dance, the Artist was armed with blistering guitar licks and good humor ("Put down your cell phone," was his dancing advice to his new friend.)
"Mr. Davis has allowed me to put something through his pipeline and still maintain my freedom," the Artist announced. "So I'm cool with that."
Mr. Davis is Clive Davis and his pipeline is Arista Records. Before the show, Davis previewed tracks from Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, the Artist's debut for his new label, due out Nov. 2. "I've been in this business for a long time, and this is a very special day," Davis enthused.
Despite reports that he is set to sign a $70 million deal to continue as Arista's president, Davis repeatedly stressed that his relationship with the Artist is one of music, not money. "To this day, we've never talked business," he said.
Davis played Rave's first single, ironically titled "The Greatest Romance Ever Sold," three times during the show and once afterward, as a recessional. Opening with multi-tracked, a capella vocals, the super-slick dance track promises to return the Artist to radio prominence. The song is a spin on the Bible's first love story: "You're body was designed to respond to mine," he sings, channeling both Adam and Eve.
"That is a hit record!" Davis said, after its first play. "All over the world."
The other previewed tracks were: "So Far So Pleased," a bouncy New Wave number with Gwen Stefani supplying harmonies; "I Love U But I Don't Trust U Anymore," a weepy ballad featuring Ani DiFranco; the funk-inspired "Hot With U," which includes a sassy rap by Ruff Ryders' Eve; "Baby Knows," a honky-tonkin' duet with Sheryl Crow; the tongue-in-cheek, narcissistic jam "Pretty Man," with saxophone legend Maceo Parker; the fist-pumpin' "Undisputed," with Chuck D.; slow, smooth ballads "Man of War," "Wherever U Go, Whatever U Do," and "The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars," in which the Artist evokes the ghost of Marvin Gaye; and the title track, which marries Prince's "When Doves Cry"-like guitar licks to a "Kiss" falsetto and electronic beats.
Yes, we are allowed to utter the "P" word again, as the Artist lists "Prince" as the album's producer. And, as evidenced by the previewed tracks, his "return" means the Artist is again heavy on the party and light on the arty.
"Life is just a party and parties weren't meant to last," Prince sang in 1982's "1999." Now that the prophesized year is upon us, he -- and those who moved to his new beats -- wants the rave to continue.