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Prince’s made it clear in his follow-up to Purple Rain that he had no interest in repeating himself or staying within clearly defined boundaries. Around the World in a Day was released less than three months after the final Purple Rain single, “Take Me With U.” Initially there was little promotion for the new album, but went straight to #1 anyway. Prince had decided he wanted to allow the album to be experienced in its entirety so no single or video preceded it; the first single, the sly and witty “Raspberry Beret,” wasn’t issued until the album had been in stores for a month. Yet again, Prince showed that he would do things his way and only his way, and not follow the rules laid out by record industry norms. Around the World in a Day is a colorful, psychedelic album that covers a wide range of stylistic territory. The incisive “Pop Life” was another Top 10, but third single, the sizzling blast of funk “America,” just missed the Top 40. It’s odd that “Paisley Park,” easily one of the more commercial songs on the album, was released in Europe as a single but not in the U.S. In any event, Around the World in a Day was still a success, it showed increasing influence by his Revolution band-members, and it put Prince in the category of a rock chameleon in the tradition of David Bowie who had the freedom to pursue whatever direction he wanted, and the talent to pull it off (.. usually).
The most productive period after Prince’s ‘80s creative and commercial apex came in the very midst of the worst days of his bitter feud with Warner Bros. It was an ugly back and forth between artist and label, which eventually led Prince to scrawl “slave” on his face, and to change his name to an unpronounceable symbol in an ill-fated attempt to bypass his contract. Now 20 years after the fact, with the recent announcement of a new deal between Prince and Warner Bros. that hands ownership of his master recordings to the artist, it seems Prince finally won the war. But the battles of the ‘90s left him scarred commercially — “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince” became a punchline for late-night comics. A shame, because his bold 1995 album The Gold Experience has everything that made Prince great in the first place, and first and foremost it’s fantastic songwriting. The production is a bit overblown, but the bombastic sound fits with these songs, most of which are overflowing with Prince’s boundless egomania. Prince’s astonishing guitar-work is all over The Gold Experience, and he was working with musicians that were up to the task of keeping up with the mercurial genius. Although opener P. Control in retrospect sounds a bit silly, the one-two blast of “Endorphinemachine” and “Shhh” is layered with ferocious guitar. The Gold Experience includes some of his finest melodies, like the fantastic pop/rocker “Dolphin” and the searing “Billy Jack Bitch,” which is a merciless broadside at a journalist that drew Prince’s ire. The album also includes his biggest hit of the “symbol” years, the seductively soulful “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.” There are many moments of brilliance on The Gold Experience – – even his forays into hip-hop, not his strongest suit, are solid here. The razor-sharp “Now” is verbally genius and delivered with infectious energy and attitude. The title track, with its layered synths and guitars, is a powerhouse ending. The Gold Experience is epic in scope and vast in sound, and is his finest post-80s album.
Largely recorded on his own (apart from Sheila E. on drums, a horn section and a host of background vocalists), Lovesexy is all light, colors and exuberance. But while it’s upbeat for certain, it is also — to put it mildly — a bit out of the ordinary. The cover art is Prince completely nude, nestled among day-glo flowers, his knee strategically positioned to hide those Princely attributes that obviously couldn’t be displayed on a Sam Goody or Tower Records end-cap. Then there was the title — after all, what exactly is a “Lovesexy”? And just as CDs were becoming the dominant consumer format, Prince decided the album should be presented as one long 46-minute track. In other words, much to the endless chagrin of fans and DJs, it was impossible to skip from song to song on the CD. The suits at Warner Brothers must have been completely apoplectic. Fortunately for them, they had a strong first single to ride toward the album’s release. “Alphabet St.” is a colorful little gem with an innovative vocal arrangement that quickly charmed its way into the U.S.Top 10. That was the end of the good news, at least in the U.S. The album’s subsequent singles, “Glam Slam” and “I Wish U Heaven” became minor hits in the U.K. but were largely ignored stateside. Despite the tepid commercial reception, the album has become a fan favorite. Lovesexy is brimming with creativity — it’s a collection of 9 tracks that are funky and heavily rhythmic, adorned (some would argue overburdened) with complex arrangements that are often as unpredictable as they are innovative. The central conceit of the album — a battle between God (good) and evil (the Devil, personified as “Spooky Electric”) — is introduced early on in the record. “Lovesexy” as a concept seems to be a state of spiritual well-being that merges love of God and connection with humanity via sexuality. Fortunately the album is good enough that the listener need not worry about trying to untangle Prince’s typically inscrutable sexual/spiritual philosophies. The emotional centerpiece of the album is “Anna Stesia.” Prince has often straddled the line between sexuality and spirituality in his music, trying to marry love of God with the ecstasy of sex. “Anna Stesia” is the ultimate expression of this tension. The song slowly builds, over a languid bass line and complex vocal arrangement, with flourishes of keyboard and guitar, to a stunning climax of choral voices repeating “Love is God, God is Love, girls and boys love God above.” It’s rightfully regarded as one of Prince’s career pinnacles. “Anna Stesia” is one of many great moments on Lovesexy. It’s is an album that stands out for its buoyant originality — nothing else even remotely sounds like it.
Lean, mean, down and dirty — Dirty Mind is 30 minutes of raw, hard-rocking, sexually-charged funk. Prince’s self-titled second album was mostly slick pop, and while sexuality was never far from the surface, Dirty Mind is another game entirely. It’s insolent, lascivious, still shocking in its way thirty-four years later. Dirty Mind is potent in its brevity; it’s like a compact, tightly-wound punch that leaves you shell-shocked. Apart from two synth lines by future Revolution band-mate Dr. Fink, and Lisa Coleman’s coy and sexy vocal part on “Head,” this is all Prince. The eight album tracks were originally just demos, but Prince realized that the raw, immediate sound was exactly right for the material, and his basic recordings ended up as the final product. A shrewd move, as Dirty Mind is an undisputed classic. There weren’t any pop hits on Dirty Mind, although first single “Uptown” was a Top 10 R&B hit. The catchiest track is the tight and funky guitar-pop “When U Were Mine,” but he didn’t release it as a single. The pulsing synthesizer and backbeat on the title-track opens the album with a sense of danger, and Prince, in his brash falsetto, sings the assertively sexual lines with impish spunk and nerve. He sings about incest on “Sister” and of cajoling a virgin bride on her wedding day for quick, nasty little romp in “Head.” It’s a short album, but Dirty Mind’s compact amalgam of rock, funk, brazen sexuality and devilish humor make it one of Prince’s most important album from a formative standpoint, but also because it’s just a bad-ass record that sounds great blasting out of the speakers.