Prince – who once scrawled “slave” across his face to protest Warner Bros. Records – is shaking hands with the man once again. On Tuesday, after years of putting out CDs on his own label, he’ll release “Musicology” on Columbia Records.

But this corporate about-face doesn’t mean Prince has stopped rocking the boat. “Musicology” boasts some of his fiercest political statements since “Sign “O’ the Times.”

The title character in “Cinnamon Girl” is an American peacenik of Middle-Eastern descent who gets railroaded in “the war on terror alibi.” In “Call My Name,” Prince asks “The land of the free? Somebody lied.”

And in “Dear Mr. Man,” he’s so discouraged by the sorry state of the underclass he sings “Ain’t no sense in voting – same song with a different name.”

Despite its cynical streak, “Musicology” is also a statement about the power of love. Unabashed mash notes such as “The Marrying Kind” and “A Million Days” are mixed in with darker love stories such as “What Do U Want Me 2 Do?” Prince is so wrapped up in love and politics, in fact, that his trademark lusty side is M.I.A. He apparently recorded songs titled “Tell Me How U Want to Be Done” and “Hide the Bone,” but they didn’t make it on “Musicology.”

Musically, however, the CD covers familiar turf. One listen to the title track’s “Delirious”-style synthesizer and you’re reminded how reluctant Prince is to stray from styles he perfected 20 years ago.

But even when he’s repeating himself, he still whips up a sound to behold.

“Musicology,” the show-opener when he played Dallas two weeks ago, is an intoxicating homage to James Brown, Sly Stone and a half-dozen artists he deems “the true funk soldiers.” And during “On the Couch” – his glorious ode to Memphis soul – he uncorks a gravity-defying falsetto that’s as startling today as it was in 1978.

Andre 3000 and Pharrell Williams may try to duplicate it, but as Prince reminds us here, they’re not even in the same time zone.

Like too many of Prince’s recent albums, the CD is marred by some half-finished songs and chintzy instrumentation. Rather than hire horn players, he fakes the parts on synthesizer.

But for the most part, “Musicology” is prime Prince, full of swaggering rock and dazzling R&B. In “Life “O’ the Party,” when he invites listeners to “smell this funk,” you’d be wise to breathe deep.


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