** 1/2; PRINCE, "Come" ( Warner Bros. )
"Don't abuse children, or else they turn out like me," warns Prince on "Papa," one of the darker-themed tracks on the last studio album he recorded before changing his name to the symbol sign last year.
Revisiting classic Prince themes of sex, loneliness and social ills, this musically satisfying but lyrically uneven collection fails to gel into an effective whole the way the similarly themed "Sign 'O' the Times" or "1999" did.
"Papa," for instance, is surprisingly lightweight given the child-abuse theme, and it's further burdened by heavy-handed attempts at poetic imagery. Prince also muddles his way through "Race," a regressive leap from more insightful reflections on racial issues found in earlier albums.
When he steps away from the soapbox and into the boudoir, he is on more solid ground. On the sexy, grinding, classic R&B-flavored; "Dark," a song about romantic rejection, he testifies, moans and wails along with funky instrumentation.
Similarly, his falsetto has never been sweeter than on the mournful, bluesy "Solo," which has the feel of an old spiritual. The libidinous title track, the mellow-vibed "Let It Go" and the honey-voiced "Space" all spotlight the same sturdy funk/R&B;/rock groove that has been his trademark.
Unfortunately, the whole thing ends with the faked moans and groans of "Orgasm," a high-school level giggle-fest. This isn't near being a great Prince album; stricter editing at least could have made it a very good one.
New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).