Posts Tagged ‘Purple Rain’

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.

 

Purple Rain
Prince & The Revolution
1984

Purple Rain is the soundtrack to the movie of the same name. This soundtrack rocketed Prince to the level just below worldwide godhood – an orbit occupied at that time by only two North Americans, Michael Jackson and the ghost of Elvis. (Madonna joined Michael and Elvis later that year when she unleashed Like a Virgin.) Purple Rain has some slow spots. But when it’s good, it’s hammer-you-like-Mjölnir good.

As a critic, I should do my homework, but I was never good with after-school assignments. I haven’t seen the film. As much as I love this guy’s music, I know that Prince’s real topic is Prince. I can handle that on an album but probably not with visuals.

But it occurred to me last week when I saw Boyhood that I should do a soundtracks week, and if I do I might revisit this issue. I already have the following films lined up: Purple Rain, Stormy Weather, Almost Famous, Footloose, Backbeat, The Wiz, The Crow, The King and I, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Dazed and Confused, Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion, Krush Groove, ’Round Midnight, Rocky Horror Picture Show, High Fidelity, Chicago, Kansas City, Escape From New York, Meet Me in St. Louis, Viva Las Vegas, Head, Shaft, Great Balls of Fire, Where the Boys Are, Never on Sunday, all of the Batmans (or at least the one scored by Prince), anything where they play AC/DC’s “Back in Black” or “Highway to Hell” before the big battle, and Amadeus.

[Editor’s note: My wife has asked me to mark on the calendar the weeks I’ll require for this project so she’ll know when to fly to Kauai.]

On Purple Rain, “Let’s Go Crazy” kicks things off in typical kick-you-in-the-posterior, kick-things-off Prince fashion. I can only borrow a phrase my late father-in-law learned back in the 1940s when he wanted to express his appreciation for an attractive woman: “What a tomato!”

I often skip “Take Me With U” and “The Beautiful Ones.” They’re too earnest. But I don’t skip “Computer Blue,” which is funky, danceable, and (I think) told from the point of view of a man who lives inside a computer. He’s kinda blue. This is another song that David Bowie would’ve killed for 30 years ago.

“Darling Nikki” is sex. That’s all. You don’t dance to it, you scare your parents with it. An aspirational number for every gender, particularly female-type persons who grew up under the sway of Madonna or (God help you) Britney. The final minute is dumb. It was dumb in 1984 and it’s still dumb in 2014. There. It had to be said.

“When Doves Cry” has no bass player and doesn’t need one. How many confessional, soul-flayed-open, bass-less songs that compare the singer to his father and his lover to her mother go straight to #1? I like Prince best when he’s more light-hearted, but I can’t help liking this song.

“I Would Die 4 U” is a good rocker, but it’s really the set-up for “Baby I’m a Star,” which goes nova within seconds. This is one of the songs I want played at my memorial service.

Hey! Look me over
Tell me do you like what you see?
Hey, I ain’t got no money
But honey, I’m rich on personality

OK, big finish
And finally, “Purple Rain.” For once, Prince ends rather than begins an album with the title track. I suppose this was the music for the triumphant, light-washed and love-filled final scene in the film, and I suppose if I’d been in the theater for it, it would’ve given me chills. All 9 minutes of it. Listening to it as I have all these years without the movie in front of me, I always wish it were shorter. Well, it definitely sets a mood, and there’s a guitar onslaught halfway through that would’ve caused Huey Lewis or Night Ranger to spontaneously combust. Send the violins off to somebody else’s house and I’d be a lot happier.

It was with this record that I finally recognized the twin messages of empowerment and reassurance in Prince’s lyrics. I heard this 20 years later in Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” When I launched this blog after one of her concerts, I wrote that she was “Prince in a bikini.” I shouldn’t have been so flippant. Lady Gaga is not one of the many young women Prince has mentored, but she’s definitely his heir. Also, Prince has probably worn a bikini.

You knew this was going to happen
I should’ve figured that when I started out to review every Prince album ever made, he’d strike back by making more. Sure enough, he has a new album. If I had chosen Sir Paul instead of Prince, the same thing would’ve happened.

Scoreboard
Just as 1999 ran into the buzzsaw of Thriller, this year Purple Rain was overwhelmed by Born in the USA. Not many albums can stand against Born in the USA and not look silly. Purple Rain is one.

Rolling Stone’s best albums of 1984:

Winner:
Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen

Runners-up:
Purple Rain – Prince
Private Dancer – Tina Turner
How Will the Wolf Survive? – Los Lobos
Learning to Crawl – The Pretenders

In 1984, Rolling Stone gave their readers the vote. They too went for Born in the USA in the top spot. These were the runners-up:

Purple Rain – Prince
1984 – Van Halen
Sports – Huey Lewis & The News
Eliminator – ZZ Top

Nobody picked Amadeus. Dudes!

Random Pan of the Day
Prince, Around the World in a Day (1985)
A good album from anyone else but a disappointment from Prince. (Be fair: How do you follow the stupendiosity of Purple Rain?) For the first time in years, the opening track of a Prince album doesn’t rock the house. “Around the World in a Day” doesn’t even knock on the front door. “America” is too much like “Baby I’m a Star,” this time with a few remarks on poverty (he’s against it). The religious-themed songs (Prince became a Seventh Day Adventist around this time) don’t make me jump up and shout “You go, God!”

The one song that’s up to Prince’s standards is “Raspberry Beret,” which sounds vaguely like Michael Jackson territory. I like it, but The Jackson Five would’ve done it better. (The J5 could never have written lyrics anything like Prince’s, though.)

R.I.P.: Paul Revere, 1938-2014. Thanks for the kicks.

True Stories
Talking Heads
1986

Every album Talking Heads released after Stop Making Sense (1984) was a disappointment. How could it have been otherwise? How do you top or even equal a record like that? Only The Beatles created a pop cultural icon and then came back to create a second: Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road.

(The only Beatles competitors I can think of are Bruce Springsteen for Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A. and Pink Floyd for Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. Doubt me on that last one? Even Special D, who would rather go bird-watching in the Mines of Moria than listen to Pink Floyd, just had “Leave those kids alone!” pop into her head.)

True Stories is the music from the film of the same name, directed by David Byrne. It appeared two years after Prince tried to pull off the same trick with Purple Rain. I haven’t seen either of these movies even though my TV remote has a Netflix button. However, I’ve heard all the music. On True Stories, Byrne’s vocals seem cold and detached, but his original plan was to have his actors sing the songs so I won’t subtract points here. But the various ballads and songs of love on this disc turn me off, which is kind of a problem if you’re writing ballads and songs of love, and the closer, “City of Dreams,” drags on like a really boring dream you want to finish so you can get out of bed already and get some breakfast.

On the plus side, I mostly like “Love for Sale” and I would’ve loved “Puzzlin’ Evidence” if it had been an instrumental. I get tired of hearing “puzzlin’ evidence” over and over. And over and over. The one track that broke into the Top 40, “Wild Wild Life” (which shot all the way to #2 in New Zealand), is infectious but might’ve worked out better for Wang Chung.

True Stories is not a bad record – I give it a solid B – but it suffers because of what went before it. That’s not fair but I get paid to be unfair. OK, I’m only pretending that I get paid, but I’m definitely unfair.

As for Purple Rain, for all its faults, it’s more exciting than True Stories and light years sexier. True Stories doesn’t have a Darling Nikki, who enjoys a good grind.

Random 1986 Could Go Either Way of the Day
The Mission U.K., God’s Own Medicine
They were called The Mission in the U.K. and The Mission U.K. in the U.S. I don’t know what they were called in the U.S.S.R. Their music was perfect if you were a moody teenager who came home from school and locked yourself in your room so you could be all moody.

Rhapsody calls them “goth’s answer to The Monkees.” Allmusic.com describes them as “pompous, melodramatic, and bombastic.” Why are they being so mean? The answer is right at the beginning of this record, when singer/guitarist Wayne Hussey intones, “I still believe in God, but God no longer believes in me.”

If you like The Cure and The Cult, two moody English bands that hit it big, you might like their younger, less-talented but moderately OK brethren, The Mission.

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
The Dead Milkmen, Eat Your Paisley
This album’s a snore, but the Milkmen had a knack for titles, from the name of their band to “The Thing That Only Eats Hippies.” R.E.M. could only dream of being so witty.