The Rainbow Children
Record label: NPG Records/Redline Entertainment
Release date: 20 November 2001
"And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them." - Mark 10:16
Never thought that a Prince album would have me scrambling for my Bible, but that scripture appears on the first page of the accompanying booklet. This isn't an ordinary Prince album…this is a mission statement. So much has happened since he announced his Emancipation in 1996, since wiping the "SLAVE" scrawl off his cheek and breaking ties with Warner Brothers. Seemed like the very moment he asked "Who am I?" was the exact moment his life took an interesting turn, one which drove his former label to drink. Do you honestly think that the WB knew that there would be a TAFKAP phase in his future? Or that he would use an androgynous symbol as his namesake (never mind the fact that you couldn't pronounce it)? How could they have possibly taken into consideration that the label would have to burn said symbol onto CD-ROMs, sending them out to media periodicals worldwide just so they could install the font into their computers? All this because His Royal Badness woke up in the middle of the night and asked, "Who am I, really?" Mark my words: if they knew then what they know now, we might have never heard one falsetto note out of "that skinny motherf**ker with the high voice." No "Soft 'N' Wet" or "Sexy Dancer," no 1999 or Purple Rain, no "Starfish and Coffee" or "Housequake." ("Shut up, already! Damn!") No "Ballad of Dorothy Parker"? PERISH THE THOUGHT. Don't even get me started on the remixes and B-sides - we'll be here all day.
The Rainbow Children was released two months after hell knocked on America's doorstep in the form of terrorist attacks. I'm almost tempted to say that Prince has made the perfect post-9/11 album, a shimmering ray of light in an abyss of darkness. Even prior to its release, the mainstream press has constantly referred to this album as "provocative" and "controversial." What could he do that would be more controversial than Dirty Mind or Come or "Darling Nikki?" Mentioning the name of Christ as a source of healing while being 100% dead serious about it usually does the trick in our society.
The key characters of this epic include God, The Wise One, The Muse, The Resistor, The Banished Ones, and The Rainbow Children. The spiritual overtones are intentional, and the story line has direct Biblical parallels. Much like the book of Genesis, God sets the order and certain subjects are given full understanding of that order, namely the Wise One in this case. All is perfect until the Resistor (devil) comes in and tempts mankind out of paradise. Chaos is born into a once perfect world and the Rainbow Children must go about the work of building a new nation.
Prince manages to keep things musically potent even while seeking out revelation knowledge. The title track starts us off on an optimistic note ("just like the sun, the Rainbow Children rise / flying upon the wings of a new translation / C them fly, fly / the covenant will b kept this time"), leading into the warm jazz crush of "muse 2 the pharaoh." The steady, airtight funk of "the work" would be the ideal choice for a single, but it's hard to imagine secular radio giving a track this spiritual a chance, no matter how funky. It's one thing to sing "What if God was one of us?" - it's another to break it down like this: "C we're living in a system that the devil designed / And suffering from this devil's most heinous crime / He's tried to keep us from the reason that we were born / That is 2 b the truth in human 4m."
"1+1+1=3" is that classic Minneapolis funk that has defined Prince's most danceable moments, while "the everlasting now" is easily the foot-stompin' pinnacle of the album, punctuated heavily by the brass bursts of the Hornheadz. "family name" will certainly stir up discussion on racial identity issues. This track rides shotgun with P-Funk's best sci-fi scenarios, featuring an intro that examines the role that technology plays in holding (concealing?) genetic and racial information. A digitized voice says, "First of all, the term 'black and white' is a fallacy. It simply is another way of saying 'this or that.'" Seeing as how this project is called The Rainbow Children, such barrier-breaking ideologies were to be expected. And an insightful Prince throws out a vital answer even before someone has a chance to pose the question for the umpteenth time: "u might say 'what u mad about?' / but u still got ur Family Name…"
No doubt all of this will confound those Prince fans that equate his name with the epitome of sexuality, but those moments appear on the album as well. Examining the Biblical parallels again, one might suggest that "the sensual everafter" and "the mellow" are to The Rainbow Children what Song of Songs is to the Bible. Song of Songs is ultimately a love ballad between a married couple, rich in erotic imagery. To this day, it is still a sore subject with certain members of the cloth as to whether it should even be acknowledged in the pulpit. "the sensual everafter" and "the mellow" musically mimic this intimacy, with the former being one of two instrumental songs on the album. It is arguably one of the most passionate tunes Prince has ever written outside of his large volume of lyrics regarding sex and love. He hasn't lost his sense of humor, either. "Wedding Feast" prepares an eternal union between The Wise One and his Muse. Over a pompous opera, an affected chorus sings "a feast, a feast / a smorgasbord at least / a brunch, a munch / of cake if just a piece / not just a vat of chitlins / or turkey meat, u c / we r what we eat / so we must eat a leaf / we'll dine under a tree / unless it snows!" He even has a laugh at the expense of his fans that are stuck on his old material. During a breakdown in "The Everlasting Now," he mimics a complaint: "u know, this is funky but I wish he'd play like he used 2, old scragglyhead son of a…"
In typical Prince form, he produced, arranged, composed, and performed almost everything. Assistance is provided via the Hornheadz, Najee on soprano sax and flute, Larry Graham Jr. on bass for two tracks, John Blackwell on drums, and a few guest vocalists. Without question, The Rainbow Children is his strongest work in years. If I had to pick one album to listen to in order to restore hope and healing in a time of mental and emotional recovery, this would be the one. If nothing else, the funk will set you free.