The last time we paid attention to Prince, it was as much for his increasingly bizarre behavior as for the brilliant rock/funk/R&B fusion that made him one of the greatest artists of modern pop. Changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol. Scrawling the word ''slave'' on his cheek. Releasing half-assed albums like ''Come'' to burn off his contract with Warner Bros. His most notable cultural contribution of the past decade? Carmen Electra. Thanks, Prince. Thanks a lot.
Yet through it all, there still existed the hope that a talent called ''genius'' time and again could return to form. That moment finally seems to have arrived. In February, his electrifying Grammy duet with Beyoncé opened the show, and stole it. That was followed by Prince's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; his guitar heroics were the highlight of the ceremony. His current tour -- on which he's allegedly playing his hits for the last time -- is selling out across the country. Critics are calling his new CD, ''Musicology'' (in stores April 20), his best in years. It's the kind of thing we media types like to call a comeback, though according to Prince, we media types, as usual, are mistaken.