‘The Sun, The Moon and Stars’ Proves Prince Shines Brightest Alone
Three years after successfully earning his freedom from a major label contract he compared to slavery on numerous occasions, Prince teamed up with another industry giant in an attempt to re-assert his chart dominance while also maintaining his hard-fought independence.
It didn't really work.
For 1999's Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, Prince not only signed with Arista Records, he rather nakedly copied the collaboration-heavy plan that label's legendy mogul Clive Davis used to help Carlos Santana sell 15 million albums and win eight Grammys with his Supernatural album, released earlier that same year.
Just like Supernatural, Rave featured Prince teaming up with a parade of guest stars, including No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani, Sheryl Crow, Eve, Chuck D, and Maceo Parker. Prince was careful to maintain ownership of his master tapes - telling the Minneapolis Star Tribune while holding his forefinger and thumb millimeters apart, "the contract is [only] this thick." As he explained to the New York Times, "now it's like going back to school and knowing that you don't have to stay."
Obviously, Supernatural's success was a rarer-than-a-lightning-strike example of everything happening in exactly the right time and place. But in retrospect, it's pretty clear that the idiosyncratic, highly self-contained Prince wasn't the best host for such a party.
While Prince and Stefani find a nearly perfect middle ground on "So Far, So Pleased," and his chemistry with Parker (the longtime James Brown / George Clinton horn legend) is as natural as you'd expect, most of the other collaborators are reduced to bit roles in songs dominated by Prince's presence.
In fact, the album's enduring gem might be buried square in the middle of its somewhat bloated 16-song track list. With Prince crooning in a silky falsetto over a Latin-influenced groove, "The Sun, the Moon and Stars" effortlessly soars past any earth-bound commercial concerns and directly into the hearts of hardcore fans.
The subject matter doesn't break any new ground – it's a straight-ahead late night romantic plea–but the lyrics are an unheralded example of Prince's magical way with words: "It's late and I'm running out of clever things 2 say / The kind that will bring a girl like U 2 tears / There's only one more glass of this rose / Let's throw it on the fire with our past / And dance the night away / Until the sun, the moon and stars / Don't seem as far as they did yesterday."
Naturally, Prince refuses to confine himself to just one genre, inserting a lovely-and-lighthearted reggae toast referencing the cold winters in his part-time home of Montreal into the song's final minutes.
A track this subtle and sophisticated was never destined for mass acceptance. While Prince understandably vacillated between shunning and courting chart success for much of his post-Purple Rain career, perhaps deep down he knew he was better off chasing his creative muse over all other goals. After all, as he put it in 1992's "My Name Is Prince," "I've seen the top ... and it's just a dream."
Whatever thoughts anybody had of Rave achieving anywhere near the success of Supernatural fizzled out very quickly. Instead of the expected parade of hit singles there was only one, "The Greatest Romance Ever Sold" - which failed to crack the top 50. A promised tour in support of the album never materialized.
Prince's next project – the jazzy, highly religious concept album The Rainbow Children – marked a sharp turn away from commercially minded music. The next time he made a serious (and successful) attempt to conquer the charts, with 2004's Musicology, it was squarely on his own terms.