Like many a cinematic chameleon, Felix Da Housecat has spent his career seeming as though he wanted to slip into someone else’s skin. Now we know why. According to the title of his new album’s lead single, he (and everyone else) wants to be Prince. Which leads me to wonder if he’d be disappointed or thrilled to hear that He Was King sounds nothing like contemporary Prince. My hunch is that he’d probably be okay with it, since the album isn’t called He Is King. Furthermore, aside from namedropping First Avenue and Uptown, “We All Wanna Be Prince” avoids explicit sonic references to the Purple One. He doesn’t even use the synth snare that Prince himself has resuscitated to pathetic extent on his last few albums. At best, He Was King is so stripped down in its songwriting that it could be said to resemble Dirty Mind, if Felix’s Turtle Waxed smooth grooves weren’t the philosophical opposite of that 1980 landmark’s congested demos. Nevertheless, the relentless “Plastik Fantasik” and “Kickdrum” (an exercise in distortion that’s pitched somewhere in between Benny Benassi’s “Satisfaction” and Legowelt’s “Congo Zombie”) are single-minded, tumescent sex preludes, much like “Dirty Mind” or “Sexuality.”
But it doesn’t take too long before Felix loses focus and reverts into the short-attention-span anthologizing that characterized his last album, Virgo Blaktro & the MovieDisco. While I was willing to cut him slack then for at least keeping the pace up, He Was King ultimately accentuates Felix’s possibly deliberate but just as possibly chronic vacuousness as both a songwriter and producer. Felix is capable of pulling, for instance, a remarkably accurate Vitalic impersonation (“Elvi$”), but why does everything he creates seem to convey built-in obsolescence? Why do all of the tracks, even the ones that successfully shift ass, seem so instantaneously disposable, as though they were written on flash paper? He Was King is tasty candy, to be sure. But it’s the sort of candy that only makes you want something more substantial. Like cake.