Unpredictable as ever

February 1, 2007

BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC

Though it ranks far below a question such as how Rex Grossman will perform in the clinch, plenty of Bears fans are wondering about the musical components during the big game on Sunday -- if only to strategically coordinate their snack and beer runs.

It's a safe bet that the ever-hammy Billy Joel will try to wring every tear out of his rendition of the National Anthem at the start of Super Bowl XLI. But in keeping with tradition when it comes to the much-hyped halftime show, the NFL and the Fox network are tight-lipped about what we can expect from the performance by Prince.

The one thing that has leaked out is that the Paisley Wonder will be accompanied for part of the show by the Florida A&M University Marching 100, who also scored a sweet gig in 2006 when they backed Kanye West and Jamie Foxx at the Grammys.

Throughout Prince's long and accomplished career, the one constant has been his unpredictability. Minneapolis' favorite son has embraced myriad musical styles -- from R&B and funk to rap, acid rock and easy-listening jazz -- and he has offered soulful prayers to the Creator (he is now a devout Jehovah's Witness) as often as he has cooed near-pornographic lyrics.

It's been a long time since Prince infamously bared his butt cheeks during a live television appearance, and even longer -- 23 years, to be exact -- since his song "Darling Nikki" scandalized "Washington wife" Tipper Gore, prompting her to launch the Parents Music Resource Center crusade against lascivious rock lyrics.

You'd think Super Bowl organizers would shy away from any musician with that kind of resume, since they are still reeling from the FCC crackdown that followed Nipplegate -- the two-second glimpse of Janet Jackson's right breast during an alleged "wardrobe malfunction" in 2004 -- and the bad publicity prompted by the more minor tempest in a Jack Daniel's bottle when some of the Rolling Stones' sexually suggestive lyrics were bleeped or altered during last year's halftime extravaganza.

But at age 48, today's Prince is a different artist from the one who gave us albums like "Dirty Mind" and "Controversy" in the early '80s:

   After years of steadfastly following his own muse on the periphery of the mainstream music industry, the singer returned to the arena circuit in 2004 with a much-publicized, G-rated greatest-hits tour.

   Just weeks ago he won a Golden Globe for an innocuous ditty called "Song of the Heart" from "Happy Feet," the animated kids' movie about a dancing penguin.

   And like Celine Dion and Elton John before him, he has recently settled in at that new capital of family entertainment, Las Vegas, performing a "multimonth limited engagement" at the Rio Hotel & Casino.

In other words, the Prince we'll hear and see on Sunday is almost certain to be fit for family viewing.

The coolest thing he could do would be to pay homage to one of his idols, James Brown, who died on Christmas Day. But given the pressures from Super Bowl organizers and the FCC and the irresistible opportunity to boost sales of his catalog albums and Vegas concert tickets, we're more likely to get one of those unsatisfying medleys of his tamer greatest hits: "Let's Go Crazy," "Purple Rain," "When Doves Cry" and "Little Red Corvette."

Just don't hold your breath waiting to hear "Horny Toad," "Erotic City" or "Sex."

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