Has Prince finally become Elvis Presley? Both icons got their starts as highly sexualized musical rabble-rousers, bided their time during extended periods of confusion and indifference, and re-emerged triumphantly in middle age as national treasures. Nearing 50 and sounding more or less like a safe version of his old self, Prince is well on his way to extending the career Presley lost too soon. But now that the man who inspired Tipper Gore to start the Parents' Music Resource Center can star in the world's most-watched halftime show without (much) controversy, has he lost his old sense of danger? Of course he has, but there's still enough left over on Planet Earth to keep his comeback on track.
Like 2004's Musicology and 2006's 3121, Planet Earth is a self-conscious attempt to create what people expect a Prince album to sound like. In that regard, Planet Earth is an unqualified success. "All The Midnights In The World" is a sweet, simple pop song in the "Raspberry Beret" tradition, and "Chelsea Rodgers" smokes like a lost jam mistakenly left off Sign 'O' The Times. Elsewhere, Prince is still working overtime to prove—as if there were any doubt—that he can master any genre, whether it's jazzy balladry ("Somewhere Here On Earth"), strutting cock rock ("Guitar"), or sultry love jams ("Future Baby Mama").
So if Planet Earth walks like a classic and talks like a classic, is it a classic? Not really. It's unquestionably a fun record, but the pleasures are modest and superficial. The lack of ambition, surprises, and plain old weirdness means Planet Earth is conspicuously un-Prince-like where it matters most.