Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
There is a perfectly good Prince album titled The Vault, which Warner Brothers released at the end of Prince's contract to mess with his Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic release. That album is not represented here. This is a collection from an era of Prince that, as a whole, I'm not a fan of, but which did produce some excellent songs.
In order to both fill out the aforementioned contract, as well as kickstart his new contract, Prince put out a TON of material. Every release was two discs, three discs, a box set he found inside a box of Cap'n Crunch. And a lot of it is ... fine. It's not that this was a terrible time for Prince, it's just that his perfectly good material was drowning amongst his perfectly adequate material.
I remember being in Madison, Wisconsin, hanging out with some new friends to hide from a creepy ex (who had done some creepy thing to my new friends, as well), and seeing they had the full Prince discography. There were so many albums I hadn't heard. I spent the week devouring them, and ... I got super burnt out on Prince, and for a few months, imagined I was just Over Prince. I imagine actual fans felt even more oversaturated in this era. It's not so much an embarrasment of riches, as an embarrassment of adequacy. How do you even slog through this to find the gems?
Take your time. Listen to things a bunch of times, and try and figure out the shape of an album. And when that doesn't work, and it won't, make a Greatest Hits album of the era that has the feel of a few albums interacting with each other. The Vault. Imagine it's a double album, because it's a bit long.
I find Prince's more Message Songs not to be to my taste. I agree with them, but his lyrics are better suited for sex than peace. I like his politics when they come out of nowhere, like in 1999. Jarring Prince is such a better lyricist than straightforward political Prince. We March is an exception to that rule for me. It's orchestrated so well that the simplistic nature of the lyrics doesn't at all bother me.
The Jam Of The Year practically falls out of "We March". Similarly to my feelings about political messages, are the vast songs about being a singer that Prince has. It's like he and Bono went to the same content seminar in 1986. But "The Jam Of The Year", if not THE Jam Of The Year, was at least a contender. It's super dancey, and very Prince.
All that glitters ain't Gold, but this track would have felt perfect on Diamonds And Pearls. Everyone wants a tale that's already been told is sort of true here. I love this song because it reminds me of an era of Prince that I preferred to what was, at the time, the current Prince era. Is it his best song? Hell, no. But it is a glittery anthemic reminder of 80s into 1990 Prince.
The na na nas of "Gold" fade naturally into the Da Da Das of the next New Power Generation track. Scrap D does the rap duties, and it definitely feels like mid-90s rap before Prince comes in with his "we should all love one another" verse and then the killer crunch of his guitars followed by a very percussive outro.
Time to get back to the funk with New Powersoul. An almost instrumental track that just fucken cooks. I've avoided all of Prince's instrumental albums in this discography, not because they're bad, but because I don't have the language to discuss why I like certain instrumental tracks and not others. If there aren't lyrics involved, my opinions are mostly varied to "instruments good, RHYTHM BAD", which isn't very helpful. Also, a couple of Prince's instrumental albums are like yoga music for expectant hippie mothers, and I have a problem even reckoning how those are Prince albums. But this is perfect background funk with just a touch of lyrics as the NPS sings the title every once in a while, and then some old man stumbles in to talk over the ending.
Croony Prince enters over some weathery effects for Curious Child. It's a sweet song that your mom (whether she's doing pregnant yoga or not) would like. It's soft, and has some cheesy trilling pianos, but for a soft, cheesy Prince song, it's great. It could also be baby's first Prince song.
And while we're being childlike, I'm a HUGE fan of Joan Osborne's first album, Relish. I saw her perform most of the tracks before its release, at a festival headlined by the P-Funk All-Stars. It was an amazing show. One Of Us is one of the weakest tracks on her album. I much prefer Prince's cover. It's still soft and juvenile (he switches out the word slob for slave, in case you couldn't read his forehead) but his performance of the track is perfect album filler for me, you can idly sing along to it without having to actually rock out.
A clap of thunder. Some rain. Snarey drums. Scatty vocals. Somebody Somebody is a little on-the-nose effect heavy with the ticking clock, when he mentions time, and the weather whenever he mentions weather. But, y'all Prince is LONELY, and he just wants someone to cuddle with. But he's gonna get screechy about it. And there's not enough screech in this era of Prince, so this is a welcome sound.
Horny Prince now wants to change the narrative. He wasn't lonely, YOU were lonely. But he can help you, baby. He has something every girl should know, and he's gonna give it you One Kiss At A Time.
While he's dispensing knowledge, Prince would like to dip out of his falsetto and get religiousexy with you. The Love We Make is a rare Bumper-Stickery trck where Prince gives you little kernels of knowledge you might see on a passing Prius. His delivery is impeccable though. We'll call this the end of disc one of the double disc album.
The Same December is a very different Prince from the previous track. I don't mean that it's way more upbeat and Prince's vocals are up about an octave, though both of those things are true. But here, he's telling you not to listen to the type of narrator he just was! Everything's gonna be the same, y'all forget those stupid wisdom dispensers, you only know what you know! He also gets kind of Rocky Horror near the end.
Here comes some bass to the rescue, though, with some very 90s background samples as the New Power Generation goes Joint 2 Joint. Whatever you do, though, don't give Prince a picture of your mother. I don't care what he says. Ninety-9 drops the rare female MC verse in a male dominated song, and then ... Savion Glover ... tap dances .. the percussion ? because Prince enjoyed Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in ' da Funk. Sure. Then there's a narration break where Prince tries to convince some poor woman that he's ready to settle down. THEN HE HANGS UP ON HER to hop on
My Computer. His songs about technology are awful, But this one feels deliberately fuddy-duddy. As Prince scans his computer looking for a site so he can talk to someone. Guys, he's still So Lonely. If you were on AOL in the 90s, the sound effects might make you nostalgic.
Sonny T tackles the vocals on Hallucination Rain, after ingesting some funny tasting soup. The electric violin on this track, playing against the funk synth tones is perfection.
Rising out of the hallucination is Prince going back and forth between his narration voice and his all-over-the-place-climbing-ivy vocals in Dreamin About You. A nice little guitar strummy ballad with flower images.
The guitar continues strumming right into the summertime jam Count The Days. I just want to drink some lemonade while rockin' chairing it on a porch, singing Here's a muthatfucka I gotta blow away.
At the end of those days, sits The Most Beautiful Girl In The World. By far, Prince's most radio friendly hit song of the mid-90s. Maybe of the entire 90s. It sounds much more engineered by a studio executive than a musical genius. But it totally works.
Let the syrupy pop continue! Prince takes the Stylistics' Betcha By Golly Wow and Princifies it only a bit. As covers go, it's not very imaginative, it's just a surprise that he covered it at all. This was the only track I heard from the album before the Madison trip. I still enjoy it.
Soul Sanctuary has a bit of a Caribbean flavor. But only a bit. It's still falsettotown balladville for Prince. This time he's totally not telling the person he's in love with that he's in love with them. Shhhhh.
Then he Hey girls his way into The Delfonics' La La La La Means I Love You, which is right on par with "Betcha By Golly Wow". It's not inventive but it works. And I'm not sure how many 90s kids were listening to 1940s soul hits.
Prince pretty much does what he wants on this album because he's got Style. And on this track he tells you, in his narrator-almost-rap voice, what style is. Without the background you got it vocals, I'm not sure I would have included this track. It's braggadocio feels pretty limp. But, like, he *does* have style.
Cherry Cherry sounds like the third part of the 1940s cover trio on this disc, but it's a Prince original with guest vocals by Sonny T again. It's a fun throwback riff with the occasional modern lyrics about watching a basketball game.
Closing out the album is another cover. This time one of my favorite Bonnie Raitt songs, Eye Can't Make U Love Me. It's a nice simmering ending to the double album. Unlike "One Of Us", I do prefer the original to Prince's cover but I have enough love for both versions.
Thus ends the Greatest Hits Of An Era album. The next reimagined album is much more cohesive.
The first time I took a swing at a reimagined Prince discography was last year. I got Purple Rain right, but I really didn't know enough Prince to make any other well-informed decisions. I knew that I loved Diamonds & Pearls and Lovesymbol, so I combined them, and threw on some other later tracks that I enjoyed. It was fun to listen to, but not a great album, or a cohesive idea.
As much as I love them, and as much as they came out in rapid succession, Diamonds & Pearls and Lovesymbol are two vastly different albums. Forcing them together is unnecessary, as they both stand on their own. Sure, you can give them some additional support from the unreleased albums that bumper them, but even those are more for flair than anything. So I paired the original Lovesxy album with Undertaker, which has a couple of tracks that made me wish Prince released an entire blues album because these tracks will singe the hairs off of places you didn't want hair anyway.
This is the album I'm most upset that I shouldn't play at the store while working.
There is no reason in the world why this album should ever start with anything other than My Name Is Prince. We're back to a slow intro build that errupts into the introdution of the band, drums, erotic stacatto, drums, and some very 80s scratching. There are even samples from previous Prince songs! He did not come to funk around. Until he has your daughter, he won't leave this town. Your daughter? How old was he when this came out? 34? Let's hope the daddy he's talking to is at least 50. This is his greatest intro track for any album. It's a statement of thesis. It's an intro to him and his band, it's got some killer guitar screeching, and you kind of have to dance to it when you hear it.
The track one / track two punch of "My Name Is Prince" and Sexy M.F. needed to be upheld, too. It's probably the best sex funk song since James Brown took a hiatus from having any idea how to produce music so that he could host "Future Shock". I cheated a little bit in bridging the two songs with the minute plus long climax of the unreleased album Come but it absolutely belongs between these two wonderfully filthy songs. Rosie Gaines is superior to Meg Ryan's diner performance in When Harry Met Sally in every way. But once the actual track starts, it's all about Prince's best rap performance, the smooth title riff, and those horns. THOSE HORNS. Best since the JBs. Hands down.
We cool down again for just a moment before the synth beat of The Max crunches in. More great background performances by Rosie Gaines and Tony M. There are also some wonderful keyboard riffs repeated throughout the song. It's not a classic because the first two tracks from the album exist. But if they didn't, this could have been a standout song from the album.
The Undertaker, the eponymous track from the unreleased album is a masterclass in blues guitar. I don't understand why this track hasn't been used in so many westerns that it's become a cliche. It would be totally worth it. I imagine Mark Callaway fucks to this song at least twice a week. It should have at least been the theme song to his Wrestlemania Streak. This song is ten minutes of utter perfection.
The first song that feels like it would have been at home on Diamonds & Pearls is Eye Melt With U. I probably should have put it there. It's a little too dance track Prince for the funk on this album. It's got the right quantity of sex for either album.
Another track from Come, Solo starts acapella, throws in some harp strumming and weathery effects and ends up being just a hauting fucken masterpiece.
Then the drums of The Ride crash in, and we're back in blues rock. Clocking in at a minute longer than "The Undertaker", this could also fit in any well-produced, modern western. The guitar scorches through this song. It's up there with his performance of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" at The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
There's a soft segue into another dancey ballad, Love 2 The 9s, which seems to come from every era of Prince. This really could be from any album, and yet it doesn't feel as generic as some of his near future "that song could have been on any album" output. I think the drums are the star of this falsetto to baritone track. It ends with a snapping outro.
And God Created Woman brings the synths back to the forefront, as soft rock Prince croons and whisper talks his desires at you, yes you, baby. There is an interesting, if not perfect, gospel choral attempt about halfway through the song. Prince continues his evolution of being less creepy as if he never sees you again / it's alright. No more hanging out in the parking lot, waiting for you to leave work, or sitting on the trunk of the car until you leave your house.
"And God Created Woman" flows perfectly into another falsetto soft rock track, 3 Chains Of Gold. They were back to back on the original album for a reason. I love the Sgt. Peppersesque use of effects on this track. Poor Prince has no cream or dreams in this track. Luckily, he has kickass vocals (and he references The Undertaker track, which totally wasn't on the original album ... shhhh). The drums spiral us to the whooey-climax, and straight into the gong of
7. This song is super-Prince without sounding much like anything else he's done. It would have felt comfortable on Purple Rain, I think, even though the laughing effects are all Batman Soundtrack. Prince narrating the apocalypse caused by the seven deadly sins is my kind of popcorn flick. I really wish that had been the video instead of sort-of-blindfolded bondage-light Prince does some sci-fi effects while macking on hot women. We get it, Prince, you're short, and you fuck a lot, and you think you're magic. But, like, I want more.
Ok. I hadn't noticed, nor heard before that the videos from this album mostly revolved around his wife being an Egyptian Princess who Prince meets during "3 Chains Of Gold", and then sees her father assassinated by "7" assassins. It's an accident that I linked them together in this order. It must be at least subliminally genius Prince that the story ... concludes ? in The Morning Papers.
Blue Light is really as close to reggae as Prince gets. He really does always take a simple thing and push it way too far. But that's how he stayed so famous for so long, even though he's on the cusp of falling into his Undertaker / Dirty Work phase of his career. But let us go out on this perfectly affable track. It's not as perfect an ending as most of the other albums, but I think it's ok for this to land soft since it started so perectly h...you know.
For most of us, are favorite albums by our favorite bands came out when we were teenagers. I'm no exception. I can look back, and say something academically bullshit, like "Given the politics of the time, and the wide-ranging influence amongst his peers at the time, Prince's most important albums are inarguably blah blah blah who cares?" My favorite albums? Diamonds And Pearls and Love Symbol. Not only did they both come out when I was most musically impressionable, they're two very, very different albums.
I was at a middle school Halloween dance when I first heard "Cream". Somewhere, there is a photo of me, dressed as a monkey, my date dressed as Debbie Gibson, and my best friend at the time (who would start dating my date in a few days) dressed a bougie piece of shit in boat shoes (so, no costume). The song "Cream" is not playing in the background, but it will be soon. It will make dancing uncomfortable. Not because of any sitcom shenanigans, no one gets their first boner or period during the song, merely because none of us are cool enough to dance to this song. Or, really, any song, but this song in particular. Will we be someday? Probably not.
This is the first album with his new band, New Power Generation. And to celebrate it, I've mixed in NPG's first side album, Gold----a, as well as included a couple of tracks from Graffiti Bridge, which I consider Prince's first boring album. People like to separate the bomb of a movie from the soundtack, and claim that where the former fails, the latter is genius. They're entitled to that opinion. For me, the soundtrack sounds like Prince and some other talented artists inadvertantly making a Rocky Horror Picture Show era musical. Everything sounds dated, and kind of the same. And it sounded dated as soon as they recorded it. That it came out between Sign O The Times and Diamonds & Pearls baffles me.
But enough of the negativity. This album is a celebration of sex and decent hip hop (early 90s NPG was amazing).
A robot counts us down to out opening track, Live For Love, and doesn't even get to finish it before the drums kick in. There is obviously a new band on this album. But here's Prince in all of his Princeness with grungey guitar riffs, and an almost metal synth in the background. Prince performs the first two rap verses of the song, and it's better than his previous attempts, partly because it doesn't sound highly derivative of better 80s lyricists. The third rap is our real introduction to Tony M, the all-star collaborator of the New Power Generation. He is a revelation, and his voice is a great counterpoint to His Purpleness.
After a little segue about how much NPG hates record companies, it's time to get filthy. Screechy Prince is here to help you Gett Off. Prince's rap here ... is fine, but helped by Tony M and Rosie Gaines's vocals, and a flute. This song is a rescue of several lackluster songs from Graffiti Bridge and Lovesexy. And damn is it an improvement.
After some tinkling, it's time to get to Tony M's first moment to shine, as he explains the concept behind Gold----a in the eponymous track. The funk behind this song is stunning. It's a blaxpoitation theme song that Isaac Hayes probably envied. There is no Prince in the vocals of this song. It's fine. Tony M kills it here.
We get a little drum and synth breaking through the funk, and Prince is back for Thieves In The Temple. That's right, Prince, you better sing your ass off or Tony M is going to steal this album away from you! (Tony is low in the mix of this very early NPG song.)
A quick instrumental funk song to cleanse the pallete, Oilcan is a goddamned national treasure. And it leads into the 1950s nostalgic Strollin. Falsetto Prince reminisces about roller skating and ice cream, but does so in the present tense, as though he were still an obstreperous youth, and not a thirty-something year old mega rock star looking back at a time he didn't even live through. This is the 90s song most possible for Prince to have actually recorded on one of his 1970s albums. It's a nice throwback.
Here it comes. Orgasm Prince is here to shoot his Cream all over the 90s. Funk guitar riff with a little Bonnie Raitt twang. Filthy lyrics and innuendo. Prince claims he wrotes this song while masturbating. Oh, that silly, silly, purple pervert (not for masturbating, but for writing about his guitar while masturbating). The background vocals are also a fundamental part of why this song slays. I wish I could have done it justice on the dance floor when I first heard it. But if I could, I probably would have been expelled. Also, nice work, DJ, for playing this, as opposed to the Bryan Adams we obviously requested.
"Cream" segues into one of the four Prince songs I most often get stuck in my head, Diamonds And Pearls. If Tony M is the breakout star of the NPG, Rosie Gaines is the underrated superstar. D to the I to the A to the M / O to the N to the D to the pearls of love. This is another Prince talking about being too poor for the person he's in love with. But, unlike his earlier work, he never actually says it. He just infers it since he can't giver her diamonds and pearls, all he can do / is offer them his lo-ove.
From here, we get Mavis Staples intro-ing her own song from Graffiti Bridge, Melody Cool. Look, the movie is a mess, the soundtrack is underwhelming, but Mavis fucken Staples is the highlight reel of both. This definitely sounds more like a high school theater production than a track from a movie in the late 80s, but Mavis Staples sings as much hell as she can into it. The horns are fine. She also shouts out The New Power Generation. The scratching records and drum machine sound like an afterthought. The less said about the lyrics, the better.
Oh good, Tony M is back for Jughead. Honestly, this song really sounds like it would fit better on Love Symbol but this album needs it more. Some of the best funk rap hybrid of the 1990s, and it's from 1990. Prince, Kirk Jackson, and Rosie Gaines on background vocals, and Prince's rap verses are also excellent. The Tony M vs. a manager from the music industry intro is a hilarious precursor to Prince's future battle with Warner Brothers.
Tony M keeps it going on Deuce & A Quarter compares waiting for your music royalties to sucking a glass dick. O....k. The class warfare in the verses is sadly relevant right now.
The funk and Tony M move from money issues to love and lust issues for Part 2 of Gold----a. Seriously, you should get your hands on the full album. It's amazing.
Prince comes back, like he's walking through a beaded curtain, to ask The Question Of U. Luckily, he's brought his guitar with him, and has an almost metal 90s guitar solo. This might be Slash's favorite song on the album. It smokes. And the guitar should definitely have been wearing sunglasses for this track. How the hand claps work on this song is a mystery, but they do.
Drums and twangy bass lead us into Insatiable where falsetto Prince croons to his latest love, one of my favorite Doctor Who companions. How did he know, fifteen minutes before she appeared, how amazing Martha Jones would be? The outro is creepy sex to the max.
Thunder is straight fire from beginning to end. It certainly brings to mind ACDC before it steals some moves from more Eastern music. We're back to religious quandries, but this song is all about syncopation and the chorus. And thunder guitar.
Time for a soft funk ballad. Toni M takes lead vocals on 2gether. According to lore, this was the final song Prince wrote before changing his name to an unpronouncable love symbol. It's a love song about getting out of the street life.
Prince is Willing And Able to have a gospel background to this song about playing cards, which sounds nothing like any of his other songs, and yet is unmistakably Prince.
Our last funk track from this album is Toni M and Rosie Gaines sampling vocals for Goldie's Parade under immaculate horns and a bassline so sick, hospitals would straight up rule it a lost cause.
The final track for the album is Prince explaining how Money Don't Matter 2nite. It's also about playing cards (blackjack), and about lust, and the music industry. Shit, Prince, what a great way to tie a bow on this whole album, as it lets the synth fade it out.
One of the comments made, when Scott Woods posed the question: "Would you have wanted The Camille Album released, knowing that if it had been put out, there would have been no Sign O The Times album??" pointed out that, as it stood the Camille album (in this discography, it's called Controversy) was a complete concept, while Sign O The Times wasn't really a great album, so much as a collection of amazing, if disconnected, songs. But if you pull out all the Camille songs, are you left with an improved and more focused Sign O The Times?
Well, maybe. But not one to want any songs, released or otherwise, to go to waste, I've added the songs from the unreleased Black Album into the mix, thus making this another collection of amazing songs that lacks the focus of an album. It's like Prince's Greatest Hits from 1987. Because he was (not releasing but....) creating two albums a year worth listening to. Even though he decided not to release The Black Album because it was "evil", enough bootlegs of it made the rounds that when Rolling Stone asked rockstars of the era what their favorite album of the year was, many of them named The Black Album.
I probably could have split this into two EPs, but I like listening to a full length album, so I've interspersed the tracks. Call it Sign O The Times or Princes Greatest Hits From 1997 That Weren't From The Camille Album, I love the dizzying result. If it has a theme, it's that Prince can't seem to balance out his religious life and sex life in a satisfying way, which, let's be real, was the theme for his entire career.
Another slow build start, as an acoustic guitar strums the intro track, The Cross, another Jesusy start to an album that's mostly sex. The drums come in, while Prince is still somewhere between a psalm and a croon, they give the occasional snare, and then the grungey guitar fuzzes in and desperate Prince comes to change your religion.
As the religion fades out, the sex breezes right in on Le Grind. A dirty dance floor grinder from The Black Album. The lyrics are pretty generic call and response dance music, but the instrumentation and vocals are peak funk Prince.
Now, if you were looking for cool lyrics, Starfish And Coffee is the song you were waiting for. I probably heard it on the original album at some point, but my first memory of the song was Prince singing it with a bunch of generic-ass Muppets on "Muppets Tonight". Maybe the named Muppets didn't feel cool enough to be included in the song?
The title track is Prince's hyper-focused "We Didn't Start The Fire" as he goes through a list of 1987 society's ills, and how they're just endemic of 1987. AIDS, drug abuse, The Challenger explosion, the internal struggle between religion and sex (via "Annie Christian"), gang violence, and infanticide. With different music, is this a song worth listening to? Maybe. But the production and spare riffage make this one of the best songs that came out in 1987, period.
United In West Compton opens with conversations over bass drums, and then turns into a spectacular instrumental funk song.
Ask Scott Woods, or most Prince fans, what the best track of Sign O The Times is, and they'll agree, it's The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker. A classic funk bassline, a narrative about a waitress, snare, self-examination and deprication, and a bubble bath. What more could one possibly want?
I have long misremembered Roxette's "The Look" as being a cover of U Got The Look. It's not, but Prince definitely should have got some cut of their royalties. This is the song on the album that sounds most like it could have come out during the Revolution era. I love it.
The synth riff of Superfunkcalifragisexy waterfalls out of the previous track. This might be the best combination of surreal lyric Prince and funk synth Prince. The first person that touches you / you want to fuck. Ok, Prince, we get it, you dropped some E before you went out dancing. You'll be fine. Just don't forget to drink some water.
So ... I don't really want to talk about Lovesexy. It's the first Prince album that bored me. But there are a few tracks worth saving. I've put them all in a row here. First off is When Two R In Love. It's a basic Prince ballad but has some nice echoey chorus parts, and he's got the falsetto / baritone melody mix on point on this track.
Positivity, the concept is what killed Lovesexy for me. But the song is catchy, and I enjoy the weird metronomic synth beat and how it balances the screeching background guitars. Someone starts pouring water over the end, and drops a few synth riffs before a warm spacey vibe falls over the track, and
the dark riff of Eye No briefly falls before Prince announces that he's drug-free, and it's an all sunshine and rainbows song falsettos in, and Prince drops the name of the (not included in this discography) album a few times, while discussing how he's been avoiding The Devil. Mmmmmhmmmm. Right.
The previous song fades out with conversations and religious zealotry before being interrupted by Prince screeching No before launching into Alphabet Street, which sounds a bit like the theme song to a kid's show about stealing cars, voyeurism, and being sexy, which is a Terrible Idea for a kid's show. Prince Roger's Neighborhood would have definitely been cancelled before the second episode.
Ok, that's more than enough Lovesexy, time to get back to a killer fuzzy funk riff with Hot Thing. The vocal blend on this track is fire.
In case you wanted a primer on how Prince thinks people should fuck, I've included Slow Love as the penultimate track.
We close the album with Prince claiming I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man. It sounds like Mature Prince is telling someone he's not good enough to be their lover, but it's actually Prince being a cad to some woman whose partner left her. I may be qualified for a one night stand / But I could never take the place of your manis an honest sentiment but he's otherwise not very compassionate here. But why end on compassion? This is an album about how his religion and his sex are interfering with each other, so let's end with him doing the morally proper thing, while still being kind of a jerk, and not getting any.
While my conversation with Billy Tuggle inspired me to rethink which albums I held sacred, the post that got me to re-edit and post about my Reimagined Prince discography was Scott Woods ruminating on whether or not he would sacrifice the existence of Sign O' The Times so that the world could have had Prince's Camille album.
I am not trying to answer that hypothetical question. It just inspired me to think, "What would Sign O' The Times be if Camille already existed?"
Controversy is the name I've given the Camille album because it's Filthy. Not as Filthy as the early New Power Generation era Prince, but definitely more sexual than his previous albums, which were already mostly about sex. His actual Controversy album is good. I just didn't get to it early enough in my musical education to be enamored by it.
Most of this version of this album has Prince pitching up his voice. The idea is that it's more feminine? I don't hear that. It just sounds unnatural to me. I'm not a big fan of pitch correction, but the instrumentation on this album (which is not pitched up) and the writing is so good that I can get around the false eccentricity of the vocals. I get, artistically, why Prince made the decision but his voice is one of the best pop funk voices of all-time, and I would have rather had his natural voice. Still, as Scott Woods said, "The Camille album SLAPS HARD." And I'm here for it, though I've added some tracks that I thought fit on to the album, either because he used the same vocal trick, or because they're exactly the right kind of dirty for this album.
I also love the idea of a universe where this precise album is what he released as a follow up to Purple Rain.
You may have noticed with my Prince Reimaginings, and my U2 reimaginings that I like an album that builds slowly and then crashes into a banger, either part way through the first track, or in the transition to the second track. But there are certain albums that need to start with a bang, and this is one of them, so I'm keeping with the Camille track listing, and starting this with Rebirth Of The Flesh. In addition to the weird vocals, this album goes in with grungey funk starting with the very first chord. The song also includes what I consider the album's non-sexual thesis: We're not here for the money / We're here to play. He's Prince, man. He's using the royal we here.
I'm already diverging from Camille with the second track. The first Prince song I heard with the pitched up vocals was Crystal Ball. The song is the spiritual successor to "Computer Blue". It's super duper long. It's got some excellent guitar work. It's got spacey effects. It has unusual vocals. For some reason, whenever I hear, in my head, Expert lover / my baby / ya ever had a crystal ball, my brain follows it up with they call it Nutbush / oh Nutbush / Nutbush City limits. It's because of where the vocals fit on the track that it evokes Tina Turner's classic, but part of my brain deeply enjoys the testicular connection between "Crystal Ball" and "Nutbush". But, like, I hope to never experience a person with the combination of those two things.
Housequake is a high school marching band percussionist's dream. It's a hard dancey jam with silly lyrics. I enjoy playful Prince, and he is clearly having fun on this track.
It's not hard to imagine "Batdance" somewhere on this album. And while I loved that track when it came out, it's not quite what I'm looking for anywhere in this discography. On the other hand, Scandalous is a lovely cooling off song after the first three banger/steamers. It has Prince singing with falsetto instead of up-pitch but I think it provides a needed pause, and the drums are totally in-line with the percussion on the rest of this album. And when he dips out of falsetto for the super low baby, I get the damned chills.
Whipping out of that ballad is the upbeat Good Love. This almost feels like a dirty precursor to "Starfish & Coffee". Also, it's the best thing that includes in the heat of the night that doesn't involve Carroll O'Connor or Sidney Poitier. This is also some of his finest surreal imagery sex lyrics. Technicolor children in Picadilly Square / Whisper words, erotica, when you kiss me there / Gustav Mahler number three is jamming on the box / I'll have another glass of you, this time on the rocks is perfection.
Back to the grunge funk we go with If I Was Your Girlfriend. As someone who has had some terrible boyfriends, I would never want Prince as a boyfriend or girlfriend. Dude is textbook bad at relationships. The scenario he lays out in this song, that he wasn't a good boyfriend to this woman, so he'd rather be her close friend, but ponders what she would allow him to do if they were just girlfriends. He does dip back into his stalker mode in this song, but the way he approaches it, it's ... SLIGHTLY less creepy.
Erotic City was the b-side to "Let's Go Crazy" from Purple Rain. I think it's the earliest incarnation of his Camille character. It's interesting to hear this character playing with The Revolution. It's not too different from the music he recorded mostly by himself. It is, of course, filthy. More synthy than any of the previous songs, but I still think it fits.
The title track, Controversy bubbles out of "Erotic City". But I don't just include it because it's eponymous to this album. It's part of my "If this album dropped immediately after Purple Rain, how would people react?" theory. He'd need this song as a bit of an explanation. And a second single. It almost doesn't matter what the first single would be, but this would have to be the follow up. I mean, did he seriously just work The Lord's Prayer into THIS song? O........k. And is it followed up by a rap where he wishes to be nude, and that all people were food? So, like, we are our own daily bread? Eat of my body, bitches, because every human is delicious? Ok, Prince. Pass the salt you purple weirdo.
Ooooh, we're back to the Batman soundtrack. Partyman has the up-pitch vocals that are so familiar on this album. And it has a similar message to Controversy (apart from the sexual cannibalism suggestion). It's a nice, short, little bridge from "Controversy" to
Shockadelica, which comes in on the drums and sexual howling tip. Are the lyrics to the chorus seriously Doo-bee-doo-bee, yeah, Shockadelica / Shockadelica / Doo-bee-doo-bee, Shockadelica? Is this a dream or is this real?
Another earlier track, Do Me Baby is falsettotown. with a wicked spare flick of the funk guitar. I like this song, but the title always makes me want to listen to some Bell Biv Devoe. What can I say? I like to do the wild thing.
Prince is not, and has never been a very good rapper. Now, there are going to be some tracks with rapping two albums later in the discography, but rapping will be handled by New Power Generation's Tony M, who is much better at it. The thing is, Prince is a phenomenal singer, but his rapping is completely forgettable. Irresistable Bitch is pretty much the only example of his rapping that I can listen to. It is absolutely, in no way, Woke. It is, in fact, super misogynist. But, I like to imagine he's using "bitch" like a catty 90s homosexual sitcom character. I mean, he sort of is a catty 90s homosexual xharacter. Fun fact: when I heard this song as a kid I thought his muttering of everybody / everybody was saying I farted . I farted. I thought that was very brave of him.
While we're in the super misogynist Prince mode, here's Scarlet Pussey, in which the pitching of the narration makes him sound like Anthony Bourdain for some reason. I'm sure someone has already mashed this up with the visuals from that awful Cats trailer that's been making the rounds this week. It syncs up beautifully.
When I was eleven, one of my neighbors was a slightly younger kid who was constantly, literally showing me his ass. A dude who totally grew up to be straight. A straight wrestling fan who hosts gossipy celebrity tv shows and podcasts, and does red carpet interviews where he frequently says "Meeeeeee-ow" (no, he's not actually famous). TOTALLY STRAIGHT. He used to always sing parts of Strange Relationship after exposing himself to me. And I had no context for it. I don't think I heard the song until the 21st century. But I can't hear the song without thinking of his face, now, and Baby I just can't stand to see you happy / More than that I hate to see you sad.
Feel U Up has a great funk riff. It makes up for the sort of limp sexuality to this song. Like "I want to feel you up" is for eight graders and incels. It should be way beneath Prince, based on all of his other songs. I think I would like this song more if it were instrumental, but I'll take it as is. But if you sang this to me, sincerley asking let me feel your body baby / let me feel you up, the answer is a definitive Hell No.
Girls & Boys is another song that features The Revolution, and wildly predates this album, but Prince often went back to the vault for later albums, and the vocals on this have the up-pitch quality, and it's too weird a song for any other of his albums in this discography.
Closing out the album is actually the closing track from the Camille album, Rockhard In A Funky Place. It starts pop funky with the up-pitch vocals, and ends with the very appropriate fade in question What the fuck kind of ending was that?