In 2004, Prince released Musicology and embarked on a tour with one goal in mind: to make people love him again. After spending most of the '90s in the Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Prince wilderness, Prince clearly wanted it back: The name, the fame, the screaming crowds, and the platinum sales. And he got it, mostly. Lost in the comeback frenzy was the fact that Musicology was nothing special, and a big chunk of its sales came from fans "buying" the album when it came bundled with their concert tickets. But never mind all that: For the most part, Prince had a comeback because we wanted him to have a comeback. Others may come and go, but the universe just isn't right without Prince in it.
So 3121 marks album two for Prince Version 3.0: The Comeback Kid. And while it's not 1999, or even Around The World In A Day, it's a step up from Musicology. Prince sounds genuinely reinvigorated, not just like he's playing at sounding vital again. The title track kicks off the album by joining some old-school Prince weirdness to some unmistakably 21st-century production. "Lolita" keeps the momentum going with, you guessed it, a tale of an underage temptress (who sounds disappointed when all Prince wants to do is dance). "Te Amo Corazon" finds Prince in full loverman ballad mode, and "Black Sweat" brings the funk à la "Kiss."
Those first four tracks make for a pretty satisfying Prince album in miniature. Maybe that's why the rest of 3121 sounds so directionless, bogging down in repeated gestures and endless ballads. It's as if Prince did what he knew he had to do, then decided to let the rest of the album take care of itself. Oh well, a third of a terrific Prince album is better than no terrific Prince album at all. But if he wants the comeback to stick, he might want to try a little harder next time.