Quick note to myself:
May or may not be the review I use for “The Word.”
But I’ll see what I come up with.
A few days late, but I’ll take a comment to say: IT’S BEEN TWO YEARS, BABY! since I first became able to truly call myself a Prince fan/fam/enthusiast/supporter, the list goes on.
Bruce Springsteen’s HalfTime show may or may not surpass Prince’s (which won me over February 4th 2 years ago). But at a later date, I’ll come forward with my decision. Aside from finding the actual clip, I have other business to take care of.
Around the World in a Day
Doesn’t matter who you ask or what you read. All of the articles and reviews will pretty much say the same thing. Prince has lost his touch. This is his psychedelic record. This is Prince’s “Sgt. Pepper” album. The list goes on.
Beside the fact that Prince doesn’t like being compared to other people, I don’t have my copy of Sgt. Pepper with me, so I can’t do a direct comparsion. All I know is the last time I tried to do that, I didn’t like the latter at all. Granted I was only hearing it for the first time. My conclusion: people read way too much into musical history and draw comparisons that should be left alone.
I wouldn’t go as far to say that Prince took 10 steps forward with Purple Rain (granting him over 10 million new fans in addition to the original 1 million he won over during the course of the first 5 albums of his career) and a couple steps back by making this record. Music critics at the time thought that Prince was making a mistake by making this album directly after Purple Rain. Everyone was expecting Purple Rain part II, they said. Therein lies the possibility that had he made that move, he’d be accused of doing the same thing again and being a one-trick pony, forever trying to bring back the perfect song of the preceding album.
At the moment, I don’t own one of the albums, so I can’t say this for sure. But if you’d followed Prince’s career to this point, you wouldn’t have been too surprised by this “shocking” move. With the first two albums, Prince was a singer/songwriter who played all the instruments and sang all the vocals in a traditional R&B, sometimes disco-esque song style. Then BAM!, the Dirty Mind album comes out and takes you down an 180° turn. Playing it safe and tradition is thrown aside and traded for New Wave and raunchy tales of oral sex and incest.
Given that logic, this album is as far a reversal as Prince could have done at this point. He goes from radio-friendly (Purple Rain, excluding “Darling Nikki” of course) to not-so much with songs moving away somewhat from his favorite subject.
Little by little, Prince has started incorporating his band into his albums. It started with back-up vocals in the Dirty Mind album, a guitar solo in Little Red Corvette, to overall group efforts in several tracks from Purple Rain. This album continues that trend, which keeping the tradition of “solo acts” where Prince gives a better performance when left to his devices, on his own in the studio. It also highlights a big moment in Prince’s life, which is described in more detail in the Rolling Stone article “Prince Talks” by Neal Karlen. Two of the tracks, Prince co-wrote with his father, John L. Nelson. The article describes a bit of a reconcilation between the two as Prince comes to realize reasons why it was difficult living with him when he was a teenager. Though his father supported his high school band, Champagne and gave him his first guitar, the two found resolution perhaps with this album or the success Prince had with the film.
As before, the story with the majority of the tracks was that Prince would record the master tape in the studio and add the other vocals later. However, at this time, the trend involves him giving the tape to Wendy & Lisa to finish in the studio. Their back-up vocals can be heard throughout the album with highlights including Paisley Park, Raspberry Beret, The Ladder and Pop Life. Meanwhile, he recorded Tambourine and Temptation on his own, though brought in a couple of guest musicians to take care of the instruments Prince didn’t play (tambourine and saxophone).
The album begins with something completely new and different than the psyched-up guitar riff of “Let’s Go Crazy.” It brings with it influences of Africa with the primitive drums, tambourine and flutes. One might call this track as “family affair.” Not only do the songwriting credits go to Prince and his father, but Lisa’s brother and Wendy’s brother provide their input as well. I believe that it was originally based off something written by David Coleman, Lisa’s brother.
The synth-line towards the end of the song made me think of “Nasty Girl,” so I had to check YouTube for the video to see if there was any similarity. Conclusion: very little
Paisley Park was one of the earlier tracks written for the album. Take me with U could very well be its predecessor on sound alone, but the story changes quite a bit. Prince is the one inviting US into his world rather than wanting to follow his girl into hers.
For the first two tracks of the album, Prince is inviting us on a trip with him. He said at some point that he made this album specifically for his truest supporters, something for them to take to heart. Whether or not he achieved that vision is anyone’s guess.
“Condition of the Heart” is noted as the successor of “The Beautiful Ones.” Both were inspired by the same person (Wendy’s sister, Susannah) and are ballads that use the piano as their instrument of choice. It begins, appearing to be in bliss, not only continuing the vibe of “Paisley Park” but bringing back the “dreamy atmosphere” of The Beautiful Ones.
After the piano and flute stops playing, the facade is dropped and things become more grounded, serious and a sadness and longing soon follow with the dialogue.
Prince describes an unrequited love that he has for a girl in Paris who is currently taken by an Arabian prince. Or so the story goes. At the time, Susannah was with another man, yet Prince continues to write these elaborate songs about her. It’s more than a crush, but instead of calling it flatout love, he calls it a condition of the heart that could prove to be terminal.
“Raspberry Beret” is the lone single from the album (though I believe “Pop Life” could have done well had it been given the chance). It’s catchy, full of innuendo, just about everything Prince is known for. The Parisian theme of the previous track is continued here as a beret is a hat favored by the french girls.
“Tambourine” is one of Prince’s stripped-down tracks, but one that doesn’t quite get as much respect as, say, “Something in the Water (Does Not Compute).” You can pretty much guess that this isn’t a literal translation. And to add insult to injury, Prince doesn’t even play the tambourine in this number. [I won’t put this in the project of course, but to that, I gotta say, what the hell is up with that?!]
“America” is political Prince in prime form. Also the biggest collaboration of Prince and the Revolution throughout this entire album. Songwriting credits go to the whole band and in full, the song spans to over 20 minutes in length because it was a jam session that couldn’t be stopped once it started. The lyrics bring forth a number of concerns Prince might have about the world outside his own (communism, bankruptcy, and lack of patriotism). Some critics have called this rant rather juvenile, but those who still doubt that Prince can write good material about these issues will eat their words with the release of “Sign o’ The Times” in 2 years time.
“Pop Life” is the stand-out track for me, no question. It might not “look” it, but when you think about it, its among Prince’s bare-boned gems. The song is nothing more than staccoto piano, a drum machine, walking bass-line and those blissful, magical strings/flutes in the background. Also one of his best collaborations with Wendy & Lisa with their beautiful vocals that echo Prince’s perfectly.
It should be noted that this was the very first song recorded for this album, dating to Februrary 19, 1984 (the filming of Purple Rain wasn’t even finished yet) and with the dreamy sounding flutes in the background, its clear that he’s going in a new direction with this.
“The Ladder” is noted by many as Prince’s attempt to recreate “Purple Rain.” He has no such luck. He credits co-writing credits to his father and dubs vocals by Wendy, Lisa, Susannah and future protege Taja Sevelle. Supposedly when he resigned from live performing, Prince said he was “looking for the ladder,” so at the time, he probably had the idea for the song and hadn’t put it together until late December ’84.
The biggest irony of all comes with the final track.
It was thought by this point that Prince had turned his back on a lot of his beliefs and would no longer do anything that would catch your attention the way we know Prince is capable of.
On top of that, the previous track was spiritual in nature.
On the flipside of that, you find yourself on the complete opposite side of the spectrum.
Temptation, lust and sex, two of which would be noted as sins by God (who was referred to figuratively in the previous track, which by the way, could echo the notion of there being a “Stairway to Heaven”).
This brings back the naughty nature evident in the 2nd half of the Dirty Mind album and seen on full blast with Darling Nikki.
With this particular listen, I wasn’t even sure if Prince was serious about this track. People say how he’s notorious for sex-driven music, so maybe he took that and poked fun at himself with this song. Hilarity ensues between him screaming lyrics that can scarcely be made out and his confrontation with “God” that ends in his supposed death.
A quick note on the album’s cover. Again, people automatically thought about Sgt. Pepper, as that was where they saw such a thing before. Prince came to this project with a completely different idea. He wanted the album to be his mental letter to his supporters as well as his critics, but at the same time, he wanted to distance his “image” from the project. The many images on the album cover show different types of people that you can find all around the world (therefore the album’s name) and possibly, Prince wanted the album to be about more than just him. When you think about it, the majority of the songs (though the marigin is 5 to 4) are about taking trips around the world with different ideals in mind. Having said that, maybe Prince did accomplish one of the things he set out to do with this album.