Frilly shirts, high heels, and a Harley. Prince’s star finally rises
As the soundtrack to an extremely mediocre movie of the same name, Purple Rain was Prince’s long overdue arrival on the world stage. The man had talent, that’s for sure, but it wasn’t until this long player came along that his career truly took off like a Saturn 5 rocket. Like Springsteen’s Born In The USA and Madonna’s Like A Virgin, Purple Rain was one of those ‘had to have’ releases way back in 1984. And while he may have borrowed much of his image and guitar technique from Jimi Hendrix, Prince was also a Jehovah’s Witness, who sought to create a little ‘Electric Church’ music of his own.
So, more than 30 years after its inception, what are we to make of what is almost universally regarded as Prince’s masterpiece? The answer to that depends on how much of a fan you really are. How one’s perception and relationship to music can often be tainted by time as well as nostalgia, thus blurring one’s judgement in the process, is a factor which must always be considered.
Unlike Hendrix, whom Prince had heavily borrowed from in terms of flair and style, lacks the necessary substance to make it work, despite the versatility and vision displayed within the album’s grooves. In the 1960’s we had Purple Haze, but in the Eighties Prince decided that everyone needed a little Purple Rain instead.
Opener “Let’s Go Crazy” sees Prince in Preacher mode, backed by gospel organ along with a Hendrix lick here and there. In fact, the whole tune has Hendrix stamped all over it. The psychedelic pop of “Take Me With U” is a sweet love song sung with film co-star Apollonia, that is marred somewhat by the overcooked symphonic synths. He shreds his guitar on “The beautiful Ones,” before the synth-funk of “Computer Blue” sees the self-proclaimed purple one get all hot and horny, at least in a digital kind of way.
“Darling Nikki” is another salaciously naughty number, with references to masturbation and other impish activities, but it’s “When Doves Cry” that the pop-rock super-stud truly struck gold, with a perfect blend of brooding plastic funk and electro-pop, including an insanely additive chorus, the song was a million seller, and deservedly so.
“I Would Die 4 U” is all swirling synths and grandiloquent disco beats, while “Baby, I’m A Star” is Prince’s very own over-inflated declaration of having finally “made the top,” as if it was his destiny all along. The highlight, arguably, is the majestic “Purple Rain,” a slow burner replete with vocoder vocals and some strategically positioned guitar solos that soar this side of Bold As Love/Star Spangled Banner.
Unlike Curtis Mayfield, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, both Prince’s music and image were carefully manicured and manipulated to the enth degree, creating a kind of cosmetic comic likeness not even Michael Jackson was capable of creating.
For Purple Rain, Prince got the formula right. Funk, rock, disco, tender ballads, it’s all here on the one platter. Narcissistic he may have been, but then so is Mick Jagger, despite being in his ‘70s.
One wonders how long it will be before we see an Anniversary Deluxe edition. At the time of his death, the ever prolific Prince was sitting on a massive stockpile of material, some of which will no doubt see the light of day eventually. So long as the liner notes include a definition of what a “purple banana” is.