Originally published November 9, 2010. I’ve edited this entry a little more than the previous two to make up for a couple of grammatical errors and a few turns of phrase that I’m not entirely comfortable with six years later.
Everything’s been good on the Prince ride so far, right? We’ve already covered his ascension to superstardom, and now we’re at the tail end of the Eighties, when cracks in the Purple Armor were beginning to show. Nothing good lasts forever, of course, and when you really listen, Prince’s late Eighties/early Nineties output is still quite good, if a bit inconsistent. So maybe the following few albums should be looked at with a more sympathetic critical eye, as opposed to being compared to the genius work Prince created for ten years prior. Am I not making sense? Okay, let’s get started…
Lovesexy (1988)- I was 12 when Lovesexy was originally released, and at that age, it proved a bit difficult to get past the fact that Prince is posing buck-ass naked on the album cover. As I got older, it became a bit difficult to get past the fact that the CD plays as one track and is impossible to index. Even once we entered the digital age and I was able to chop the tracks up via iTunes, it remained difficult to appreciate Lovesexy for the solid album it is, coming as it did on the heels of Sign o’ The Times. The sacred/profane dichotomy that defines much of Prince’s career peaks on this album, and songs like “Anna Stesia” and “Dance On” contain a spiritual message without resorting to the condescending didactism that permeated many of his 21st century efforts. There’s not really a bad song on it, although you also won’t find an equivalent to “Adore” or “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”. Still, “Glam Slam”, “I Wish U Heaven” and “Positivity” are solid, “Alphabet St.” is a loose, rollicking piece of Sly-inspired pop-funk. The sweeping changes occurring in music during 1988 (and that cover!) prevented Lovesexy from getting its just due at the time, but it holds up just as good (if not better) than a lot of the new jack swing, hip-hop and alternative rock that was breaking down doors at the tail end of the ’80s. Grade: B
Batman (1989)- Something in the water did not compute commercially when it came to Lovesexy. Some retail accounts balked at the nude cover, some people thought Prince was just releasing too much damn music. Also, see what I wrote above regarding the sweeping changes in music around the time Lovesexy was released. Whatever the cause of the commercial stumble was, aligning himself with the surefire film blockbuster of 1989 was a shrewd move, even if it resulted in the most mediocre Prince effort since his debut. “Batdance” is a pretty neat mash-up of funk, house and movie dialogue, “The Future” is a pulsing, foreboding track, and “Scandalous” is one of his nastiest slow jams, but much of the material (“Trust”, “Vicki Waiting”) is uninspired, and the Sheena Easton duet “The Arms of Orion” is cringeworthy. Lovesexy may not have worked all the way through, but at least it was ambitious. Most of Batman is Prince on auto-pilot. Grade: C
Graffiti Bridge (1990)- In the six years since I originally wrote this piece, I’ve seen Graffiti Bridge. My only regret is that I didn’t view it with…uh…herbal assistance. It’s certainly one of those MST3K-worthy flicks (this is not a dis –I actually recommend watching it.) Meanwhile, the soundtrack is an interesting assemblage of cast members as opposed to a straight-up Prince album. The reconstituted Time, Mavis Staples, George Clinton and newcomer Tevin Campbell all make appearances in the movie as well as on the album. The main attraction is in inconsistent form here. “New Power Generation” is a delightfully funky statement of purpose, even if it came across slightly corny in the middle of the Public Enemy era, and “Joy In Repetition” is one of Prince’s most hypnotic ballads. To find those gems, though, you have to dig through a bit of filler. “Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got” was relegated to the junk pile over half a decade before for a reason, and the sing-along title track sounds like it was rejected from the TV show Fame. The other artists that appear on the soundtrack (with songs written and produced by Prince) don’t add a ton, either. Tevin’s “hip house”-inspired hit “Round And Round” bubbles with youthful energy, and Morris brings his A-game on the raunchy “Release It”, but Staples and Clinton are mere shadows of their peak-period selves on their serviceable but inessential songs. Grade: B-
Diamonds & Pearls (1991)-Diamonds & Pearls marked Prince’s return to a band dynamic a half decade after he disbanded The Revolution. The album also finds Prince officially making an effort to navigate a musical world in which hip-hop is a major component. The result was a major hit album with intermittent spurts of creativity. Diamonds was certainly one of his more diverse efforts-featuring funk workouts, melodic pop, bluesy rock, and even world music experiments. Strangely, the funky stuff is the least essential here. “Push” and “Daddy Pop” are cool from a groove standpoint, but don’t really stick to the ribs. The #1 smash “Cream” was the most catchy pop/rock groove he’d cooked up in several years, and “Live 4 Love” is one of my favorite underrated Prince songs. The album’s title track and “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” (which gives off a mid ’70s Stevie/Steely Dan vibe) also rank among Prince’s most melodically catchy works. I really wish Prince would’ve found a better rapping foil than Tony M, though. His presence alone is worth docking the album half a point. Grade: B
Symbol (1992)-You know something? Take out the ridiculous storyline (which isn’t so convoluted as it is annoying) and the interludes featuring Kirstie Alley (REALLY???), and the symbolically-titled follow up to Diamonds & Pearls is quite good and arguably superior to its predecessor. Sure, there are a couple of uninteresting stabs at dance/funk (“Arrogance”, “The Flow”…so basically anything featuring Tony M), and there’s a beyond-awful rewrite of “Bohemian Rhapsody” (“3 Chains O’ Gold”). There’s also a luscious jazz ballad (“Damn U”), a funky James Brown goof (“Sexy MF”), the melodic “Love 2 the 9s”, the lush ballad “And God Created Woman” (another massively underrated Prince tune) and Symbol closes with the gospel-flavored frenzy of “The Sacrifice of Victor”, Prince’ s most autobiographical song to date. So…yeah. It’s hella messy, but it’s pretty good, too!! Grade: B
Next, Prince becomes “The Artist”.
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