Anyone can plunge into a creative tailspin, or fail to live up to public expectations, or rush off in directions that alienate your fans. God knows I’ve done all of these. I don’t know what happened to Prince in the years 1987 through 1991, but here are some clues.

The Black Album
1987
Prince decided not to release this record, which immediately became an underground bootleg sensation. The aboveground release was in 1994, so I’ll get to it there.

Lovesexy
1988
A concept album from Prince in which his love of lust battles his love of God. I don’t know if Prince ever settled this, but I can tell you he didn’t bring it up again on Batman.

“Alphabet St.” is worthy of the old Prince, but you’ll have to memorize its position on the CD because there are no $#*&^$! index marks. “Dance On,” a protest song à la “Sign O’ the Times,” is remarkable, but good luck finding it on a disc where every FN song bleeds into every other song.

The title track resembles Human League’s 1983 super explosive smash hit explosion “(Keep Feeling) Fascination.” Is that good or bad? To me it’s good, but 1983 was one of my favorite years.

I don’t understand this record.

Rolling Stone’s critics named The Black Album (which didn’t officially exist) and Lovesexy two the 10 best albums of 1988. Midnight Oil’s Diesel and Dust was #1 with the critics; the readers voted for U2’s Rattle and Hum. I’m with the readers on that one.

Batman
1989
Prince’s disco soundtrack is frozen in carbonite. I mean, stuck in the ’80s. You could still get people moving with “Partyman” (the Joker is the party man), “Vicki Waiting,” and “Trust,” but no one would remember them five minutes later. “Lemon Crush” has some zap to it, but only because it resembles “Thriller.”

“The Arms of Orion” is inferior to all existing songs about Orion, including “Orion” by Metallica, Jethro Tull, and Linda Ronstadt, and I don’t care for those songs, either. The 6-minute megamix “Batdance” gets this mention and nothing else.

Graffiti Bridge
1990
Objective: Write a sequel to Purple Rain.
Result: You can’t go home again.

Don’t ever say this man isn’t generous, though. He wrote all the songs but gave half of them to other acts: Mavis Staples, 14-year-old Tevin Campbell, and yet more Prince protégés, The Time. He also recorded one number with George Clinton and his Funkestra.

There’s not much to choose from here, but of the songs that are all Prince, Huey Lewis & The News would’ve sold their souls for “Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got.” “Elephants and Flowers” is about honoring God through multiple sex partners. High five. “The Question of U” reminded me of The Beatles: The music of “Come Together” and the lyrics of “Yer Blues.” Give Prince points for bowling a split.

Of the songs that are not all Prince, the one I like best is his collaboration with Clinton, “We Can Funk.” Add to that The Time’s “Shake!” (which sounds like Question Mark & The Mysterians’ “96 Tears”) and we can move on to 1991.

Bonus: Two of The Time guys produced Human League’s 1986 smash explosive super exploding hit “Human.”

Rolling Stone’s critics ignored Graffiti Bridge, but the readers named it one of their runner-up albums for 1990. Critics and readers agreed on Sinéad O’Connor’s I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got as the best of the best.

Diamonds and Pearls
1991
This is more like it. Prince has a new backup band, The New Power Generation, and they can stomp, they can play a soul ballad, they can even play jazz. “Thunder” is his best opening track since “Sign O’ the Times.” It flat out rocks, and even though I get the feeling that the new boys are restraining themselves they still beat the couch stuffing out of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”

This reminds us yet again that Prince can reach into the grab-bag of pop and reinterpret anything he pulls out. “Strollin’ ” sounds as if it were inspired by the 5th Dimension’s “Stoned Soul Picnic.” “Willing and Able” is a Dire Straits song with better singing and a beat.

Because Prince is equally ready to fight record companies and his own fans, Rhapsody is only authorized to play nine of the 13 tracks on this album. I couldn’t find the rest on YouTube BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT AVAILABLE IN MY COUNTRY. For example, “Cream,” which Rolling Stone’s critics picked as one the year’s best singles. (R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” topped the critics’ and readers’ picks for best single of 1991. Prince will not reappear on this list until 2006.)

Even with that handicap, and even though the last four tracks on this disc are eye-crossingly lame, Diamonds and Pearls is easily the best album of today’s group. If you’re going to buy any of them, buy this one.

Join me next time for the moment you’ve been waiting for: Prince changes his name!

Reflections upon listening to the Flaming Lips’ With a Little Help from my Fwends a couple of times
(A guest review from longtime reader Number 9.)

When Sgt. Pepper first came out, I would put on side 2, turn out the lights, and play my violin along with “Within You Without You.” So I can understand the Flaming Lips wanting to play along also. I like what they and their, uh, fwends, have done. I haven’t heard of most of their, uh, fwends, except, of course, Miley Cyrus – who knew she could kinda sound like John Lennon (“Lucy in the Sky”)? Mostly I like the instrumental/electronic intros and interludes, the stuff that pushes at the Sgt. Pepper envelope. But my favorite track is “Fixing a Hole” by, uh, fwends the Electric Würms, a nice slowed down rendition – I hope Paul likes it too.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s