For “The Word”– O(+>

Because the 80’s were such a success, people have been looking for the next great album. The next “masterpiece” Prince would put out.

While “Diamonds & Pearls” is very commerical friendly, it doesn’t quite have the entire package much the way that the album that follows does. In fact, D&P mostly stayed on one level of emotion for the entire piece. In O(+>, you get every possible emotion, every possible genre, every natural vocal type (this excludes the Camile & Spooky vocals) and nearly every aspect of a relationship between a man and woman.

A lot of people fault this album’s lack of success on its poor marketing. The fact that O(+> has no pronouncation caused a stir. Nobody knew what to call the album. All they could decipher was the fact it combined the male and female symbols, so therefore the words love, androgyny and gemini spring to mind. The fact that pieces of Prince’s appearance (some make-up, the clothing and the heels) dwelled on feminity was a turn-off to some of his listeners early on and it was part of his notoriety.

The symbol that would later become his new name was something he said could be found in all of his work over the years. Prince always had a way with blurring the lines between conventions, the most famous being Love and Sex. Perhaps Prince suspected the name change would happen and this was its “coming out” party. Or maybe he finally wanted to be true to himself in naming the album after the one thing he was synonymous with.

[Just for the hell of it, I listened to the entire album both today and last Sunday… including the three tracks I deemed earlier as unlistenable]

We now see it as an ironic opening, but sure enough, “My Name is Prince” introduces the artist and his band helps introduce him. Most of the lyrics are plays on the creation story in Genesis where Prince puts himself in the place of Adam. Then he talks about his music. The way he does that catches your attention. Even more ironic, a track later on in the album labels exactly what the main theme of this song is: sheer “Arrogance”
I originally had a campaign against this song because the lyrics were too outrageous and crossed the border of chauvinism several times. Opening with this song is the same trick he used in LoveSexy where he gives you the things he already knows and from there, he’ll explain further. It also goes to prove that men typically have large egos, if only to flaunt them in front of their boys. Part of the male psyche has to do with competition over who is the best at something (and that something can be everything, depending on who you ask).

When the girl walks in the room at the opening of “Sexy M.F.” the vibe changes somewhat to accomodate her. Prince is no longer shouting every line, but rather he’s lightly rapping his lyrics. In one way, this track is a little strange because of its many contradictions. The title continues one of most notorious curse words in the English language and it sounds degragatory. When that word is uttered, its either an insult or the person who speaks it is looking for sex. Here, Prince has his first attempt at foreplay, but instead of going for superficiality, he appeals to the inside. One of the lyrics says “its not about the body, its about the mind”. Then when you listen to the music, its not what you’d expect considering the title. It’s a little more laid back compared to, say, “Gett off” and it has a touch of class between the sound of the horns and Levi’s guitar solo. It certainly is something to be appreciated.

So far, the songs have stayed on one level and with one voice. This changes with “Love 2 the 9’s” which has two distinct, maybe even three distinct sections (if you include the rally towards the end). It starts out very smooth and sweet, Prince with his falsetto and his back-up vocals. His voice brings a sense of gentleness. Then it changes as the macho aspect of his band resurfaces. The go-between with Tony and Mayte is most likely relevent to the abandoned “rock opera” angle of the album and doesn’t do much for the song otherwise. In some strange way, the last few measures of the song feel like they could have continued flawlessly from the first 90 seconds of the song. At the same time, though, it sounds the same as those 90 seconds, but a different vibe that comes from the middle is added to it for a more substantial end. And the way Prince ends the song moving from a high note to a really low note echoes the whole progression of the song.

“The Morning Papers” is more or less Prince making love with only words. Everything about the song, though, fits perfectly where it is. It’s the first of the album’s ballads and sets a nice bar for the others to rise beyond (and some succeed in doing so). Everything slows down here and the progression with the song is very nice. It also shows the sensitive side of the NPG that doesn’t come out much since the main image is that funky, macho attitude. They did something like this with “Diamonds & Pearls,” but takes it to the next level.

“The Max” shifts gears to the other side of the spectrum. Sex in favor of love and a fast-paced dance track over a calm ballad. Depending on your view, it could be the pursuit of the girl or the fact he has her and is trying his hands at foreplay, yet again. The macho vibe is returned with Tony’s rapping, but there’s a balance thanks to Mayte. With a few exceptions, Prince sings/speaks this entire song with his normal voice rather than relying on his falsetto.

The segue after this song brings back the “rock opera” concept that was otherwise abandoned in the final pressing of the album. Vanessa Bartholemew tries to interview Prince and actually tells him that she’s recording. Clearly, she knew nothing about him and the press. He doesn’t like interviews and hates being recorded, it just isn’t the way he does things.

“Blue Light” takes somewhat of a different approach. Instead of talking about getting into a relationship, it talks about how to make it more exciting and how the two people can’t seem to agree on anything. It gives equal perspectives of the male and female side of the “argument.” The relaxed reggae music gives the impression that Prince is confident that this problem can be resolved without too much trouble.

“I wanna melt with U” literally floods with sexual inneundo to the point where it talks about sex without calling it sex. The music even gives literal meaning to the title. The newest addition to the album and the very reason the rock opera concept was dropped, it fits in well.

“Sweet Baby” takes things back a little bit. It might have been involved with original storyline or it could just be a song dedicated to all girls who have been treated badly in hopes that they’ll get back on their feet. The keyboards are what make it special compared to the other tracks, just the way they sound like rays of sunshine lighting up the song.

“Continental” is the turning point of the album. Everything up until now was setting up for this. The intro is reminscent of the first track and it is the most complex of all the dance tracks so far. Prince goes all out in this solo effort, saying all of the things he’d like to do for this girl to make her happy. Then at the end, the girls have their say in this ultimate sexual fantasy courtesy of Carmen Electra.

“Damn U” is also a pinnacle among the many tracks on this album, but the pinnacle of ballads & love songs. The falsetto was nearly flawless and it flows unbelievably well. In fact, it’s probably one of his best vocal performances ever because he uses his whole range effortlessly. The previous track talked about sex, this one talks about the kind of love that drives one insane, but they enjoy it too much to care otherwise.

Things take another turn and I originally thought it was a turn for the worst. The NPG’s presence becomes a lot more apparent between the next two next songs. The macho attitude returns full blast when Prince spends an entire track making fun of what people think is “arrogance” on his part. He spend these songs more or less throwing back the various attacks people have thrown at him over the years in criticizing his character.
I need to look more into the lyrics of “The Flow” just to decode what the heck Tony is rapping about. It might be because I haven’t listened to it much in the past year or so I’ve had the album, but there’s something about the music in that song that keeps my attention. I don’t really like the rapping element, but Prince’s parts in the beginning are almost laughable. He does the same thing with a lot of songs where the triggering emotion is anger, but he makes it funny for himself by making it almost into farce.

“7” is highly unique among all of the song on the album. It has a nice relaxed pace, but its not a love song (though the message is that “love conquers all”) and its nowhere near a dance song. There’s talk about love. The two players (Prince and Mayte) are talked about as a whole, with many repetitions of the pronoun “we.” No doubt, it had one of the catchiest songs on the album. The mesh of layered voices is part of what makes it work. The way the line “we speak not of love only blasphemy” is done just blows me away. The sound is so perfect and its been known to give me shivers down my spine.

“God Created Woman” has a similar sound to “Money don’t matter 2night” from the previous album, but that’s the only similarity. In conjunction with “7,” this continues the string of songs (that start with “Continental”) that sound a cut above the first 9 song. It has such a unique sound among Prince’s songs up to this point. His vocal delivery is delicate when it needs to be and harsh when it needed as well. With “Sweet Baby,” its another song that pretty much is praising the opposite sex. This one is maybe a little more personal and its message comes the fact Prince thought of him and Mayte in this way. They were soulmates the way Adam & Eve were, in fact he uses their example to explain just how he sees them as soulmates.
Musicially, it also helps set up for the next song.

“3 chains o’ gold” was a song I fought with tooth and nail when I first got the album. Mainly because I couldn’t stand the idea of not liking one of Prince’s songs. Tried as I did, it did nothing for me until MONTHS later, maybe even a year later .
This song is the lone survivor of the rock opera storyline that wouldn’t have made sense without it. For a while, I was out in the cold because of it made no sense at all. It sounded like Prince’s attempt at something epic when the other songs on the album already took care of that.
It has at least four different parts. It begins with a delicate statement of facts in falsetto, the musical hook that repeats itself throughout the song first appears afterwards, then things take a different turn that gives the impression that dark clouds are descending on the scene. Somehow, the delicate falsetto continues to be the dominant force in the next verse and the guitar combined with the choir-like voices give the impression that dark times aren’t far away.
With the third verse, the vocals actually reflect the pending situation and the “Bohemian Rhapsody”-esque feel starts to take shape.
The musical segment from the beginning comes back and then we’re delivered the reason for the darkness: the 3 chains o’ gold that have a lot of power, but the one who takes advantage of the power will eventually lose their life.
The storyline goes that these chains were entrusted to Prince by Princess Mayte as her father entrusted them to her. The ones after the chains are the 7 bodyguards referred to using the song “7.” The question I ask then is why he decides to use the chain. To rescue Mayte from the one who’s name is “self-righteousness”? Or the power blinds him and he wants to use them for that reason?

The things that really grab me about the song are the guitar solos after the chains are introduced and how deeply into the performance Prince gets with the screaming and panting and yelling in the last few measures of the song.

After that dramatic finale, somehow, the album isn’t over. That caught me off guard the first time beause I was plain exhausted by this time. This is a LONG album.
So afterwards, we’re back to another Vanessa Bartholemew segue, but this time, Prince disguises his voice. For whatever reason, I’m not sure. Either to be mysterious Prince or because he was in hiding after the “3 chains o’ gold” incident… one too many death threats from bodyguards. Here, Vanessa tries to get some answers, but Prince talks in nothing but riddles. It’s not so much that Prince does talk in riddle as the fact that he spends a lot of time in his own world and expect people to understand where he’s coming from. Something like that.

At the end of this, Vanessa asks for the truth.
Was “The Sacrifice of Victor” the response to that or was it just the final message he wanted to leave his listeners with?
And how much of this song is true? The album insert claims that the line “epiletic ’till the age of 7” was true… I’m not sure what to believe. This is probably a resolution to the rock opera where Prince takes a new name and decides one day that he’ll visit his beloved princess.
Most likely, bits and pieces of this song are true, as with any of Prince’s other songs.
The song ends with unity, no distinction between male & female, its neither a love song or dance track, there’s no talk of love vs. sex although there’s a sense of love of community. It could very well be an example of how Prince’s Gemini nature can find peace within itself to preach something he truly believes in.

And at least, I have come to the end of this review.
Not all might be set for “The Word,” but I have the majority.

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