On the back of the CD booklet is a disclaimer by the Artist Formerly Known as Prince: “Originally intended 4 private use only, this compilation serves as the last original material recorded by (The Symbol) 4 Warner Brothers Records.” His ongoing war of protest and whining against his record label is also reflected in the photos adorning the pages of the Chaos and Disorder booklet: a syringe with a dollar bill rolled up inside, a toilet with a heart floating in the water, and the master-tape vault inside Paisley Park Studios, framed by gold records. Before you hear a single note, you’re prepped for a halfhearted transaction from a self-pitying celebrity.
The whole album — its vibe, purpose and effect — is summarized in the self-aggrandizing “I Rock, Therefore I Am.” Elements from the proverbial kitchen sink — blaring horns, funky, stuttering drums, police sirens, rap-cum-reggae-style toasting — bracket defiant lyrics that flash hints of social commentary to mask what is essentially (The Symbol)’s taunting of his record company. The lyrics gracelessly confuse the personal with the political.
Chaos and Disorder is distinguished by its confusion; even the title admits that the album’s fractured parts never resolve into a thematic whole. At its best, the record sounds like a collection of polished demos. More often, though, it seems like the work of a Prince impersonator — someone who has closely studied the star’s moves and mannerisms but has nothing new or substantial of his own to say. It’s a drag act that becomes a drag real quickly.
(The Symbol) sings the delicate “Dinner With Delores” in a high register, his lead vocals backed by a breezy, softly cooed chorus. Yet the result is still a less attractive twin of Sign o’ the Times’ “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker.” The title track has a searing organ, Rosie Gaines’ fiery backing vocals and wild drumming that suits (The Symbol)’s manic blasts of lead guitar. It’s wildly energetic — but also completely generic.
Whether he’s just distracted by his record-company battles or has truly shot his wad, it’s been a while since (The Symbol) has really had anything important to say in his music. It doesn’t matter what the Artist Formerly Known as Prince calls himself. Chaos and Disorder is the sound of the man repeating himself badly.