Poor P.M. Dawn. Having pioneered the whole '80s-new-wave-hit-sampling R&B thing half a decade ago, the duo now find their brand of glazed hip-hop eclipsed -- at least in terms of its sinewy tone and the obvious hooks -- by the R. Kellys and Puff Daddys of the world. Which may explain why on Dearest Christian, Prince Be and crew move more into Prince territory with wiggly R&B, jiggy pop big on silky harmonies and gauzy choruses and, most notably, non-hip-hop song structures. No one can blame the Dawners for lack of ambition here and, if anything, Dearest leans so heavily into cultural commentary and genre-bending that its songs are capable of recalling Prince's finer Controversy-Sign O' the Times moments.

There's the foamy reggae of "No Further Damage," showing just how confidently Dearest can corral fringe-soul genres under its sparkling-pop umbrage. Then there's the snap-to-it, vintage R&B of "Hale Bopp Regurgitations," with its litany of pop culture confessions: "I should have known not to watch 'Jerry Springer,' I should have watched 'The People's Court,' I can't remember my life as a woman, I can't remember five minutes ago." Like some bubble-bathed "Cold Turkey"-era John Lennon, it's rife with a dark sarcasm and poignancy, but musically -- as is the P.M. Dawn blessing and curse -- it's so blissed-out it evaporates as quickly as it makes its point. While purposeful pop is admirable, it's no wonder sweatier R&B icons have copped the Dawn's style and taken it straight to the bank while Prince Be is stuck in an ethereal lecture hall of a record trying to find solid footing for his ruminations.

As a result, Dearest Christian's a better record than it sounds like here, but it succeeds most in painting itself into a corner of its own contradictions. No crime there, of course, but that's also probably why you aren't hearing much about this record either.

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