Saturday, May 30, 2009

May 30: Prince, "Purple Rain"

Artist: Prince
Album: Purple Rain
Year: 1984
Label: Warner Bros.

As has been stated before, there are a handful of artists who are so superb that they only need a single word to describe themselves. Boasting one of the diverse and outright brilliant careers in the history of music, there has truly never been another artist quite like the man people simply call Prince. Proving himself more than capable in nearly every music style since his debut in 1978, Prince is responsible for many of the most beloved songs and anthems of the past thirty years. From sensual R&B songs to ranging rockers, Prince has proved that he truly has no musical boundaries. Though it is extremely difficult to find a "bad" album from Prince, perhaps his greatest achievement is his monumental 1984 release, Purple Rain.

The moment Purple Rain opens, it is clear that this album will be like no other that has even been made. Prince's opening monologue is both a challenge as well as an affirmation to the simple act of living life. As with nearly his entire recorded catalog, Prince plays a multitude of instruments, as well as handling the writing and production duties for the entire album. The album proves to be nothing short of phenomenal, and topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, whilst yielding a trio of Top 3 singles, and a trio of Grammy awards. Purple Rain also earned Prince an Oscar for "Best Original Song Score," as one must remember that Purple Rain is, in fact, the soundtrack to Prince's film of the same name. Another significant aspect of the album comes with the song, "Darling Nikki." The song, which is filled with overly sexual content, remains largely regarded as one of the many catalysts behind Tipper Gore's founding of the pro-censorship Parents Music Resource Group (they're the folks responsible for those silly "Explicit Lyrics" stickers.) In more modern times, Foo Fighters recorded a cover of the song, and it appears as the b-side to their 2004 single, "Have It All." Prince turned this tribute around on Foo Fighters by playing their hit single, "Best Of You" during his halftime performance during SuperBowl XLI.

Purple Rain is significant because it represents the first studio appearance of Prince's legendary backing band, The Revolution. Having disbanded his previous group of backing musicians, The Revolution makes the sound on Purple Rain far more full and powerful than any of Prince's previous efforts. The musical range found on Purple Rain is nothing short of stunning; from the crushing guitar of "Baby I'm A Star" to the string arrangements of "Take Me With U," to the sparse, futuristic, "When Doves Cry." Bringing Prince's classic fusion of rock and deep funk grooves, many of the songs receive a "futuristic" feel thanks to the synthesizer work of Prince and Dr. Fink. This flawless mixture of sounds and styles is perhaps no more apparent than on the chart topping single, "When Doves Cry." Even when Prince slows things down, as with the title track, the musical arrangement and presentation remains spectacular, and the solos found on "Purple Rain" are some of the most brilliant ever recorded. However, the dance-friendly pop sound that has always pervaded Prince's music is just as present on Purple Rain as anywhere else in his catalog, and though many sound unconventional, nearly every song is a grooving, dance-club classic.

However, on Purple Rain, Prince also has another great thing working in his favor when it comes to the overall sound; the stunning duo known as "Wendy And Lisa." Wendy Melovin and Lisa Colemen may very well be the greatest backing musicians and collaborators in history. With Lisa working keyboards and backing vocals, and Wendy taking over guitar duties from Dez Dickerson, the importance and impact of this duo on the music of Prince simply cannot be overstated. Helping Prince to push into new territory, such as the nearly psychedelic sound on "Take Me With You," they prove to be essential additions to Prince's music team. Since their work with Prince, they have released a handful of solo albums, as well as produced and scored soundtracks for movies like Toys and Dangerous Minds, as well as currently being responsible for all of the music featured in the TV show, "Heroes."

Prince has one of the most amazing and distinctive voices you'll find anywhere in music history. Whether speaking low and bassy, singing anywhere in the musical spectrum, or one of his unmistakable screams, there has truly never been another singer quite like Prince. Much like with his music, Prince knows exactly how to perfectly present the lyrics to each of his songs, and this variance in sound and style has helped to make all of Prince's albums fresh and diverse. Lyrically, Prince has always stayed within the same general area with his writing. Songs of love, sex, and at times betrayal fill a majority of Prince's recorded catalog. When Prince uses subtle lyrics, they are consistently the most creative allusions and implications of his generation, and when he gets blunt, they are easily the most suggestive and sensual words perhaps of all time. Somehow, Prince manages to come off as acceptable, if not passionate with lyrics that, if delivered by anyone else, would be nothing short of offensive or disgusting. This serves as proof that, when it comes to Prince, it is not always what he is saying it, but moreso the amazing way in which he presents his musical masterpieces.

It is pretty much impossible to label Prince as anything short of "musical genius." With the ability to play nearly any instrument, as well as play in any style or combination of styles that one can conceive, his musical prowess is nearly unmatched throughout the history of recorded music. From funk laden grooves to slow, melodic ballads to what can only be termed as heavy metal, Prince truly runs the gamut of musical styles throughout Purple Rain. Having honed the lineup of his brilliant backing band, The Revolution, as well as having the skillful duo of Wendy and Lisa alongside him, the album serves as the jumping off platform that catapulted Prince into one of the most prolific performers that the world has ever seen. Penning dazzling dance songs, as well as creating some of the most unique music ever, Prince continues to push the limits of pop music more than thirty years after he appeared on the music scene. While he has released albums with countless different musical approaches, and had other albums that sold more units, there is little doubt that Prince's finest recording still lies in his immortal 1984 release, Purple Rain.

Standout tracks: "Let's Go Crazy," "When Doves Cry," and "Purple Rain."

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