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Class ?

Main Category: Dance Pop
Also applicable: Pop Rock, Funk/R'n'B
Starting Period: The Punk/New Wave Years
Also active in: The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day



Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Prince fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Prince fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Later, later! For now, this just features a big THANK YOU to Andrew Rennard, formerly known as stray_toasters, for all the Prince (and other) stuff he sent my way. What a cool gentleman he is.



Year Of Release: 1979

You know, this is kinda curious, because this album gives such an ambivalent impression. When he's at his best on here, he's at his absolute best, with songs that aren't entirely memorable but keep the hot groove level at the highest; when he's not at his best, he's pretty bland. I mean, it's a record deeply rooted in its time, and deeply rooted in the basic R'n'B thing, which is "doesn't matter what you play/sing, matters how you do it". In this respect, just about every ballad on this album, and that's a third of it, is pretty rotten.

No, I can't really say that his singing on, say, 'When We're Dancing Close And Slow', sucks or anything. But it's nothing that Michael Jackson couldn't do on Off The Wall either. And besides, it's only the second Prince record - if I keep praising his sexy falsetto starting from this very point, I'll have run out of epithets ten times before I arrive at the middle of his catalog. Some scattered moments of subtlety can be encountered here and there among the four ballads, but let's just call it a truce and say that at this point, Prince wasn't really sure how to make a good ballad yet. Or, rather, that he was simply relying on the experience of his elders and didn't care to make any good ballads.

The dance stuff, though, whoohoo, now that's an entirely different matter baby! Great cool funky guitar, steady jerky rhythms, nice ways of taming R'n'B, funk and disco, and vocal hooks abound! Not exactly 'revolutionary', but just of a very high quality. The synthesizers are used quite creatively, too, with New Wave tones and actual melodies instead of the usual slurpy disco strings-substitute background. This is perhaps most evident on the best-known song, 'I Feel For You', whose lead-in synth phrase wouldn't feel out of place on a Ric Ocasek record (not the rhythmics, though, of course); the synth-vocal interplay here is thought out in such a careful and thrilling manner that you know, it really beats the hell out of me how the song could have been bookmarked by two of his least inspired ballads. Although the album opener, 'I Wanna Be Your Lover', has some really nifty synth-guitar interplay as well.

But on the other hand, you know, I'm a "guitar man", really. Old stock! Who cares about all that electronic crap, now gimme something to really kick some ass! After all, the guy is supposed to be a great guitar player, isn't he? Well, my prayer is answered with 'Bambi', a ferocious pop-rocker where Prince fearlessly adds on loads of hard hard hard distortion, invents a classy riff to go along with the rambunctious 'Ba-a-a-a-ambi!' chorus, and actually solos along in a pretty nifty way. Of course, though, the best solo on the record unquestionably belongs to 'Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?', conceived in the best of the Eddie Hazel/Carlos Alomar traditions. It's not a pointless exercise in finger-flashing, rather a highly expressive medium to enounce a peculiar latency of the spiritual metasubstance, if you get my drift. In other words, it cooks.

For those who yearn for the innocent years of leisure suits, there's also the super-heated groove of 'Sexy Dancer', Prince's attempt to catch up with Donna Summer, only better because he has no yearning to extend it to 17 minutes. But it's still nowhere near your typical disco number, and it's tons of times less polished and slick than anything on the market at that time. Upfront bass, upfront drums, and an actually skilled and tasteful electric piano solo that's more jazz than disco. And all over it, Prince's lushful moans and sex grunts, as if he was trying hard to create something that'd really go along with that album cover.

So come to think of it, it turns out that Prince was already quite prepared to embrace the Eighties, despite the murky generic ballads (that have some brilliant singing all over them, you insistent little fan, yeah, so go ahead and shoot my head off with the Love Symbol, I admit it!) and the several disco-oriented numbers. Which makes the album a must-have, and well, the presence of 'Bambi' alone should be a powerful incentive. But I can still only give it a moderate rating, because there's too much formula, too few truly inspired moments on here. Kinda like with the Olympic Games, you know (dodges a hail of stones from obsessive Russian and American sports-obsessed patriots, runs for cover; that's what you have to go through just to put up a little review!).



Year Of Release: 1980

There's one funny thing about Prince's legendary obscene lyrics: you really don't notice them all that much. Well, I mean, of course this album and others to come were denied massive airplay because of the lyrics, and Tipper Gore did find out the lyrics to 'Darling Nikki' and all, but it's not like the guy is thrusting these lyrics right into your face. You'll have to really start listening carefully, or whip out the lyrics sheet, in order to be able to stand in the middle of the street and shout out loud: "You know what? That song by Prince, 'When You Were Mine', IS ABOUT A THREESOME!'

Oh wait, I started out from nowhere, that's no good. Dirty Mind, Prince's third LP, pretty much introduces the "classic" Prince as we have the (mis?)fortune of knowing him today. Almost no slow moody songs at all (one), these are all hot danceable grooves, of supposedly varying quality but none without any particular advantages. And it's also a one-man job almost in its entirety, as Prince handles most of the instruments himself. For some reason, the guitar is a bit downplayed - at least, when it comes to solos and stuff. But then again, that's not really a valid complaint; Prince is an excellent guitarist, but when it's dance grooves we're talking about, it's all in the rhythm, baby, isn't it?

So let's start with the hit. 'When You Were Mine' is one of the man's signature tunes and maybe this is not completely deserved, but it does have pretty much the tastiest in synthesizer arrangements of all Eighties dance-pop. The main synth riff, going along to the guitar riff, kinda sounds like the Cars refuelled for an R'n'B-er approach, so talk about synthesis of styles here. The short synth solo is genius as well. It's hardly that much better than the aggressive funk of 'Uptown', though, I guess. Watch out for those two guitar parts over your speakers, particularly the distorted one. Some amazing syncopation in that speaker - whoever it was that said it's more important what you do not play than what you do play could have easily illustrated his statement with this song. Granted, it's hardly unique in that respect, but it's just that some might overlook Prince's versatility as a guitarist and I couldn't resist reminding of that.

Dirty Mind also starts Prince's dependence on technological gadgets and stuff, with occasional drum machines and tape loops and suchlike... well, partially since this made it easier for him to have the "one-man band" thing, partially since he obviously had a natural drive to take everything Mother Nature, along with a few unnamed music technicians, were offering him. The title track and 'Head' sound particularly "electronized" in that respect, but not in a bad way. They both have really live, really gruff basslines, and are well-developed as full-fledged songs.

If there's a problem, it's that this time around, everything looks too similar - given that the album is over in about thirty minutes, that's not a terrible disappointment, but it certainly cannot serve as an overall demonstration of Prince's talent. Two songs break out of the formula: 'Gotta Broken Heart Again' is the lone ballad, hardly that much better than the ballads on the 1979 record, and 'Sister' is a short breakneck tempo ditty about a case of incest, no less; fun and exciting, but it's over in the blink of an eye, basically. Everything else is synthesizer-based disco/funk grooves. Sex-based, all of them apart from the final 'Party Up' which is anthemic and anti-militaristic as far as I can tell. But like I said, to hell with the lyrics. Whether Prince is singing about a virgin giving him head on her wedding night or stating that 'we don't wanna fight no more!' is all the same to me.

This is hardly a revolutionary album (dance pop is dance pop, you know), but you still can't get rid of the feeling that it did usher in something new when it came out. Or maybe, to be more precise, it ushered in something old and well-known: namely, in an era when people were starting to rely on faceless formulae more and more, the brand of dance pop that Prince was cultivating was like a breath of fresh air. Here was a guy who (a) composed his own songs, (b) recorded them all by himself, (c) played some real instruments and had the chops to play them, (d) had all the sexiness required for a pop idol and more, and (e) actually made lyrics that mattered, whether they were about demonstrations or masturbations. The greatness of Dirty Mind, if there's any, lies precisely in the fact that it is a synthesized dance pop record, but it feels ten times less artificial than your average synth-pop of the decade. Don't believe me? Take it and compare Prince's production values to Moroder's, or Farian's, or whoever. Not that I'm making a definite statement of Prince's uniqueness, not at all. The album cover seems pretty unique, though. Who here loves black underwear?



Year Of Release: 1981

No, the amazingly high rating is not due to the fact that this time around, Prince switches from black underwear to a glammy suit (although I gotta say that suit suits him like nobody else. Only David Bowie could look hipper in his prime). It's mainly because fourth time around - no hidden Dylan reference here - everything is ready to work. Not only every individual song is memorable, intelligent (or, well, intentionally non-intelligent), carefully crafted and making a whole goddamn lot of individual sense, but the guy has corrected two of his main problems: namely, the "boring ballad" problem and the "samey-sounding" problem. There are no real musical advances here in general, just a terrific overall quality.

Not a single duffer among these seven tracks, not really a minute of space wasted on anything. Mmm, as much as I revere James Brown, I gotta say that stunning grooves like the title track show how far an intelligent funk groove can go without having to repeat basically the same two or three tired guitar licks for ages and ages (not that stuff like 'Sex Machine' isn't thoroughly enjoyable, but you know, some guys just can't get by on vibe alone). Not only is this Prince's major statement on this album lyrically, questioning his status in this world in general, but it also incorporates lotsa small cutesy parts very well incorporated into each other without ever losing the irresistable dance vibe. No drum machines either, just straightahead drumming, terrific funky guitar playing, and beautiful synthesizer lines (and vocal harmonies) on the chorus. Plus a short prayer to the Lord and a short rap section for the truly bored ones. Seven minutes totally filled with ideas that bounce off each other like rubber balls. Ooh.

But that's just the beginning. Next comes the stunning rocker 'Sexuality', and unlike the standard obscene PMRC-teasing material like 'Darling Nikki' or 'Head', Prince tries to make this one serious. It's an entire ode to liberating your body, in the process of which Prince even has the time to complain about the banality of the modern life ('we live in a world overrun by tourists... they look at life through a pocket camera... what? no flash again?' Beautiful lines!), but never forgets about the thumping drumbeats and the angry guitar riffs. Not to mention how well-placed the screams are. Just LISTEN to that 'YEAH!' at 3:02 in the song. It's no Roger Daltrey roaring, but it's just as efficient in a matter of about half a second.

Then there's the lonesome ballad 'Do Me Baby' - remember about how I said that thing about being liberated from the boring formula in the ballad direction? This here thing is perhaps Prince at his most sexually convincing, and it's songs like these, certainly not 'Darling Nikki', that fully protect his sex symbol reputation. I mean, I'm not really in favour of these Donna Summer-like "sex noises" sequences meself, but I still gotta admit the second half of this song is among the best "sex noises" sequences ever produced. But the first part of the song is what really draws me in, with some of the most gorgeous rattle-the-wall singing of Prince's career. Aw yeah, there's some fabulous vocal chord straining out there.

'Private Joy' is about the only song on here that kinda loses me, maybe because its overall sound is somewhat closer to generic Eighties than anything else on here - drum machines and synthesizers dominate on here entirely, and although the song isn't really without its vocal hooks, apart from the voice, anybody could have done a song like that. But fortunately, we're redeemed on the silly political "throwaway" 'Ronnie Talk To Russia', Prince's real tribute to the pop side of New Wave if there ever was one. A supercatchy nursery melody set to grumbling guitars and Cars-like Synths with a political message - now wouldn't that be nice? Even nicer than the overdriven synth-rocker 'Let's Work', nothing to do with Mick Jagger's phoney call to action six years later, and I mean, hey, the "work" in question happens to be of quite a hedonistic character overall. I like it much more than 'Private Joy', mainly because it's far more complex and the synth arrangements sound like Prince actually took the time to work on the melody.

Then there's the album's most bizarre track, the politically-charged but still obscure 'Annie Christian'. Underproduced, with dreamy synths and creaky guitars and multi-tracked minimally dissonant vocals, and, of course, with the immortal verse 'Annie Christian was a whore always looking for some fun/Being good was such a bore, so she bought a gun/She killed John Lennon, shot him down cold/she tried to kill Reagan, everybody say gun control'. Together with the indecipherable 'I'll live my life in taxi cabs' refrain, it's one of the oddest lyrical (and atmospheric) excourses in the Prince catalog. But "odd" doesn't mean "garbage", and the basic synth-spiced rock'n'roll number 'Jack U Off' closes the record as if to remind us that however odd this guy can be, he likes being openly kinky even more. Not that jacking off is kinky, but singing about jacking off is. You won't convince me otherwise even if you're the spirit of G. G. Allin.

No friggin' general conclusion for this review. Ain't no concept, ain't no overall atmosphere. 'S just tremendous fun!


1999 ****

Year Of Release: 1983

A little bit of a letdown. After the artistic - but not yet commercial - successes of Dirty Mind and Controversy Prince apparently decided to "expand" his style. The songs would have to be longer, more danceable, more relying on contemporary musical means. That also meant there had to be a double album. And this initiates the long story of Prince's love affair with filler material and stretching out relatively simple grooves to almost ridiculous length.

I must admit that sometimes I myself gaze at this long list of six-, seven-, eight- and nine-minute songs and question myself: 'hmm, wouldn't this have worked out better if Prince cut every single one of these in half and put them on one LP?' And maybe it would. But then again, let us not forget that 1999 is essentially a dance music album, and the stretched-out disco dance song tradition didn't actually begin with Prince, it began with Donna Summer; the man was merely working in the vein of your typical dance music star. Of course, usually artists would release abbreviated versions of songs on coherent LPs, and save all the "disco mixes" and "special dance mixes" and crap like that for B-sides and special discotheque broadcasting, but that still doesn't make the extended song legths on here unjustified.

Aw crap, let's just let our hair down a little, particularly since this is Prince for Chrissake - the man writes intelligent dance music, with a whole lotta hooks and synth effects and all. And humour. And taste. Personally, I don't feel tired of a single minute of 'Let's Pretend We're Married' - that main bass riff, set to the percussion that alternately sounds like a boppin' ping pong ball and a nuclear explosion, is fascinating. And then there's a ton of vocal hooks. "Ooh-we sha-sha coo-coo yeah" alone is worth a fortune in hilariousness. Of course, there's a little bit of naughtiness in there, too ('I wanna fuck you so bad it hurts'), but that's to be expected. And all the little synth explosions around, and all the little guitar tingles, and that bit of avantgarde piano in the middle...

Other gigantic dance monsters include 'D.M.S.R.' and 'Automatic', two tracks I'm quite fond of for exactly the same reasons Prince was probably fond o' them, too. 'D.M.S.R.' is a HOT, magnificent break-dance groove, one of the best in the genre I've ever heard - as far as inventiveness and humour go, this track totally blows away Michael Jackson. 'Everybody sing this song now! Ooh (ooh), alright (alright) - dance music sex romance!' There's also quite a bit of solid guitar work on the record, contrary to accusations of total technophilia, although the best guitar work on the album comes on the next number, 'Automatic'. Essentially it's based on a catchy synth riff, but if you're patient enough to wait 'til the seventh minute, there's an excellent Hendrix-style guitar solo waiting for ya. Not that you have to wait until the seventh minute doing nothing, mind you. You gotta groove along. I know I sure do.

The fun thing about these grooves, the thing that actually makes them different from your average long disco groove, is that Prince doesn't really rely on dazzling musicianship to push them along. That guitar solo I've mentioned is really good, but actually all the guitar solos on the record can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and there's no other kind of solos. Yet the grooves never start getting really repetitive because every now and then Prince comes up with another trick. He can slightly change the tempo (rarely), or he can switch the repetitive chorus for a half-minute "sexual monolog", or he can insert a cool 'special effect' from his array of synthesizers just for fun, or he can start screaming his head off, or he can drop in and drop out with funky guitar riffs, alternating minimalistic bare arrangements with a more 'instrument-filled' sonic texture. It's pretty hard to describe, but it's there all right. Whereas your typical lengthy disco song would probably just have a very very very long and equally boring saxophone solo, or just have the chorus repeated ad infinitum.

And besides, I haven't yet mentioned the 'shorter' songs - first of all, the three well-known singles. The lead-off title track is the ultimate Eighties' party anthem, I guess, featuring the most 'celebratory' synth arrangement on the album. 'Little Red Corvette' is usually singled out as the major highlight, and it's pretty fun and catchy but doesn't seem to me to be all that outstanding, maybe because I've never heard it before putting on the album. And 'Delirious' has the funniest synth riff on the album, and the best one along with 'Automatic'.

I'd say the album sags a bit with the shorter songs in the middle: 'Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)' and the lustful ballad 'Free' strike me as totally humor-free and don't offer me neither a groove nor a hook. I mean, what's that I'm supposed to do with the weirdly syncopated percussion beat on 'Something In The Water'? I can't dance to it, and I don't find it memorable. And 'Free' is just boring. Fortunately, Prince recaptures it on the fourth side, with 'Lady Cab Driver' once again slipping in the groove (and what's up with that mid-section? Is it supposed to illustrate Prince taking out his frustration on the poor cab driver in a totally sadistic way? Tipper Gore to the rescue!); same goes for the sarcastic, guitar-heavy 'All The Critics Love U In New York', and 'International Lover' is basically 'Do Me Baby Vol. 2', which is especially fun due to Prince's cheesy, but amusing airplane bit. 'You are flying aboard the Seduction 747/And this plane is fully equipped with anything your body desires'. Yeah right.

Anyway, my final recommendations for the album: throw out the two boring songs, cut 'Automatic' and 'D.M.S.R.' down by, say, two - two and a half minutes (they should still be long songs), and I'll be ready to throw on another half-star or so. If anybody tells you this is the best Prince album, don't believe him; it is way, way too heavy on the sexual/dancy side, almost totally dumping the "socially conscious" side of the man. But it is a pretty important release all the same.



Year Of Release: 1984

The album that made Prince an overnight superstar and started the PMRC controversy when Tipper Gore discovered the lyrics to 'Darling Nikki' (proving that she was, indeed, smart enough to decipher the proper meaning of the word "grind"), but you know all that already. What is interesting is why this album finally plunged Prince into the world of stardom; for all of its excellent quality, it's hardly that much better than the preceding three - in fact, I actually find Controversy to be more consistent on a song-by-song basis. Most probably, it was just better promoted than the preceding albums, and, of course, seriously benefited from the fact that it was actually a soundtrack to a movie of the same name, so that people not only got to hear Prince, they also got to see him in all his "irresistable beauty" (well, he's really cute, I gotta give him that, although I far prefer seeing him elegantly clothed than half-naked - he's kinda wimpy to be a "body idol", doncha find?).

In any case, Purple Rain also marks a first - Prince has finally assembled a more or less stable band (The Revolution) to back him up, so that he doesn't have to program all the drum machines on his own at last. Thus, the sound is notably fuller and the instrumental layers thicker; most people consider this an improvement, but I'm not so sure about that - once you get used to the minimalistic grooves on 1999, for instance, you really won't find the lack of additional instrumentation a big problem. What actually bothers me is how well Purple Rain delivers in terms of actual musical content.

And it certainly delivers a lot, even if I wouldn't call the album "fillerless". Funny, I actually find myself mostly attracted to the two big ballads - Prince's skills at power balladeering seem to increase with every new record. Now first of all I have to say that any musical critic who has the nerve to praise 'The Beautiful Ones' and 'Purple Rain' and then dismiss any kind of boldly advancing progressive rock for being pretentious and overblown can just pack it in: I have yet to see a song more overblown than the eight-minute universal-astral-pompous-operatic-you-name-it declaration of 'Purple Rain'. It's almost as if Prince seriously wanted to outdo himself (and everybody else) in making the most glamorous, breathtaking statement ever - it's a good thing he essentially succeeds in that, because if he hadn't, the song would crash down like a Styx tune, burying the man and his ambitions under the ruins. But Prince's raw, edgy vocals, his inspired guitar playing and the well written vocal melodies are ace indeed, so what can I say? Sometimes it doesn't hurt to be ambitious.

As for 'The Beautiful Ones', that song is often overlooked, but it's essentially another demonstration of the man's incredible vocal dynamics - as he goes from soft silky sexy to an all-out screaming paradigm which blows away everything he'd screamed about before. Memorable? Not any more or any less than your average R'n'B number, but that's not the ticket, baby. The ticket is - can you scream 'do you want me, cuz I want you' as well as the man does? And then follow it up with a 'baby baby baby' that dwarfs Robert Plant to the stature of Ricky Martin?

The more upbeat tracks on here are, of course, the main source of the Purple Rain legend. A pompous 'dear beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life' opens the album's major metallic-funk hit 'Let's Go Crazy' (again punctuated by those table-tennis percussion effects which Prince seems to be a major fan of), where Prince goes for a monstruous synth-and-guitar sonic attack turning the song into a hair-metal and synth-pop classic at once, so you can see from the start he's not going to be stuck in the 1999 rut. 'Darling Nikki' might be more famous for the PMRC thing than for the song itself, but nevertheless, its terrific use of sound dynamics - the transition from "soft and subdued" in the first verse to the thunderous drum-guitar-synth onslaught in the instrumental break is worth gold alone - can't go unnoticed. And then, of course, there's the second major hit, 'When Doves Cry', the catchiest song on the album which effortlessly brings together Prince's funky rhythmics and Eastern music elements (particularly in the vocal melody) and manages to do that with minimal instrumentation as well - no bass, a thin synth background and just a minimum of guitar throughout, culminating in a short, but sharp solo.

I can't think of anything specific to say about the other songs (except for the famous 'Wendy? - Yes Lisa? - Is the water warm enough?' introduction to the most technophilic song on here, 'Computer Blue'; Wendy and Lisa, as everybody knows, were initially part of The Revolution before embarking on an independent career) - remember what I said about the filler and everything; stuff like 'Baby I'm A Star' rocks hard and well while it's on, but doesn't leave much of an impression afterwards, and is too short and compact to qualify as a pure groove either. But there's nothing bad on this album - I'm just not too sure if it can make a fan of Controversy and Dirty Mind an even bigger fan of Prince overall. Nevertheless, it's just another in a set of consistent, inventive, and tasteful Prince records of the decade, so grab it while it's still sold in stores! Who knows what those whacky mothers will want to do in the future?



Year Of Release: 1985

Not as much of a departure from the guy's established groove as people sometimes seem to think, but it's definitely a bit weird in spots. It certainly raises Prince's pretentiousness bar up a few notches, as if the enormous commercial success of Purple Rain was the only thing that remained for the man to be able to finally cast himself as Grand Prophet of the new generation. And it's visible not only in the album's title, but also in such pieces of overblown bombast as the two tracks that end the record, and usually produce mixed opinions... thoroughly mixed...

...but let's hold back on that for a while. Apart from occasional outbursts of orchestration, the first seven tracks are just standard Prince - funky grooves in a class of their own interspersed with a ballad or two. Two poppy gems, of course, stand out immediately (and actually are the best known songs off the album): 'Raspberry Beret' utilizes orchestration in a really really good way (actually, the strings carry the main melody, no less, for the first time on a Prince record) and, of course, pins it against an irresistible chorus, replete with the guy's usual carnality fever: 'she wore a raspberry beret... and if it was warm, she wouldn't wear much more'. And the title of 'Pop Life', of course, tells it all, apart from featuring the classic line 'life it ain't real funky, unless it's got that pop'. Well, Mr Nelson, this song of yours sure is funky as hell, because it's got that pop in spades.

The ballad 'Condition Of The Heart', unfortunately, ain't that good as far as Prince's ballads go. He IS great when it comes to inserting occasional hooks into watery sentimental declarations (because usually, you just don't), and this one certainly features a memorable build-up, with each verse swelling and swelling until it blows up with the final vocal twist as Prince recites the song title, but it's just way too slow and lethargic, and has none of those ear-bursting guttural screamings that made songs like 'The Beautiful Ones' so tremendous. Besides, what's up with the two-minute piano-synth introduction? Two-minute melodyless effect-laden intros can be good for twenty-minute progressive suites, and even then only if the suite in question is amazingly gorgeous. After such an intro, I just wanna have the best Prince ballad ever, and I'm left disappointed. Not puke-inducing, of course, but I sure wish the man had a better understanding of "adequacy".

The remaining "short" songs are generally hit-and-miss, and while I can't get much impressed by the title track (which I only see as a perfunctory pretentious intro to yet another invariant representation of The Amazing Prince Universe), I'm sure there'll be lotsa people digging it regardless of the fact that it's too slow, way too repetitive, and way too unfunny. I'm also ashamed to say that 'Paisley Park' does nothing for me, even if that may eventually change. But for now, I'm just not sure... is it a hard rock track? pop? funk? meant to be energetic? beautiful? or just weird? or maybe it's not weird? so many questions, so few answers. Well, at least it's not a trivial song by any means.

Which leaves us with the truly weird stuff... gotta love the odd groove of 'Tambourine', with all the overdriven drumwork and the Monty Pythonesque whistling and the thin falsetto 'tamborine, tamborine' repetitions. And then there's the little bit of social comment in 'America', where Prince builds a seriously rockin' track around 'America, America, God shed his grace on thee', using a trick that's perhaps a little bit old and cliched (satiric contrast between something conservative and patriotic and the real state of unsugared life) but works amazingly well anyway. In fact, that's one rare Prince song I really wish were twice as long - there's so much energy, melody, and inventiveness he certainly could have, for instance, chopped off the 'Condition Of The Heart' intro and added a fiery guitar solo to 'America' (which actually fades out just as he starts adding some particularly biting wah-wah lead lines).

And now we get to the point. 'The Ladder' and 'Temptation', two self-conscious bombastic epic pieces where it seems like Prince puts his entire reputation at stake - 'The Ladder' is a heaven-oriented demonstration of spirituality, the Gospel Boom to end everything else, and in stark contrast, 'Temptation' is pretty much the culmination of the man's Grand Feast of the Flesh. Lengthy, sprawling, and self-indulgent to the extreme, do they make it? I wish I could answer something direct, like bringing in the "crashing under their own weight" argument, or, on the contrary, raving about their utter magnificence - I can't do neither, because they're... okay. The guy has a talent of building up huge loads of bombast and then exploding them over your head so that nothing particular seems to happen. Well, actually, I'd say that 'Temptation' is rather stupid, and that especially refers to the idiotic ending ("Oh, silly man, that's not how it works. You have to want her for the right reasons!" "I do!" "You don't, now die!" "No! No! Let me go, let me go. I'm sorry. I'll be good. This time I promise, love is more important than sex. Now I understand." - is this Prince mocking his own values or what?), but on the other hand, it's the more musically interesting number of the two, with lots of vicious guitar playing and great brass work as well.

So what's up with this thing? I'll agree with those that point at Around The World as the album where it first became obvious that Prince wouldn't be able to come up with anything particularly fresh after he'd bypassed his initiative creative streak, and his limitations became quite apparent at last. But that doesn't mean you can't still be carried by the tidal wave - and 'Raspberry Beret', 'Pop Life', and 'America' are at least three definite highlights, while all the other songs at least offer some creativity. A confusing, but ultimately satisfying sequel.


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