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Thread started 01/20/21 8:14am

bonatoc

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A Year In Albums, Week #2: Prince



Historians consider "Dirty Mind" as the first genuine Prince album, for obvious reasons.



This is the album where Prince begins to express his political side, or rather, his social concerns.

It's the one where he takes his first bold production risks,
where he runs through the white rock shelves of the Wrecka Stow in a fever,

and steals ingredients unabashedly (rock, blues, punk),

to divert them, pervert them into black music territories.

It's also the one with the first manifestation of Prince's humour.



And so, "Dirty Mind" is considered as the very first brilliant sketch of the years to come.

That leaves Prince's second album with a subpar transition role, sandwiched between a scholar,

undisputedly brilliant but overworked effort, and the punk bravado, all balls out (literally).



But in reality, it's "Prince" which lays the whole blueprint of what Prince's music would evolve into.

True, the thematics to come are nowhere to be seen,

there is no conflict between the carnal and the spiritual yet,

no unifying manifesto, no universal vision (and, in a way, thank God).



Naysayers would argue that the second album suffers from a certain type of classicism,

that Prince still confines himself in the safe zone. They have a point.

But underneath what can appear at first as just another R'n'B meets Disco effort,

reducing it to a mere product of its times, "Prince" is the first record
where Skipper's genius truly comes alive.

"Dirty Mind" may be more overt, but upon closer inspection, not that original

in its intentions: The Stooges’ "Funhouse" is already a decade old at the time of its recording.
Bowie wearing make-up and panties a little less than that.

From that perspective, "Dirty Mind" is a bold attitude move,
but not that revolutionary.



"Prince" is like a lollipop with a fizzy heart.

It's sweet, innocent on the outside.

What's exciting is underneath.

This concealing makes it the first Prince's true foray into Erotica.

"Dirty Mind" is a porno quickie.
"Prince" is subtler: it's more about implying.

What makes "Prince" irresistible, is the clever prudence with which Prince advances,

the sexual obsessed disguised as romantic, giving in retrospect a deliciously subversive record.



The Young Dude knows he's bad. He already knows about Bowie, about Led Zeppelin,

about Joni (1984-85 my skinny white ass), about George Clinton, About Sly,

about James Brown, and countless others.



He knows where he wants to go, he knows he's got the goods

(the infamous "don't make me black" plea to Lenny Waronker,

made not on his knees, worse, laying on the floor).

Except he's smart enough not to move to fast this time.
"For You" was all about premature ejaculations.
Now he learns about taking his time.



It's not humility, it's prudence. It's also intelligent career management

(sadly relegating Owen Husney and Chris Moon in the history books).

It's also a result of circumstances: Prince first needed to achieve a hit single,

to nourish his ego and obtain confirmation he had what it takes.


This first success brought by "Soft And Wet" frees him from the stage fright

that the first album exsudes almost from every song.

Moreover, "Prince" is the result of tactics, a thorough comprehension by Prince

of the music market and the times he lives in.

His ambitions of a total musical desegregation are probably already fully designed in his mind,

but playing all his aces so soon in the game would be too great of a risk.



On the surface, "Prince" seems to have exactly the same concerns as the first album: Love.

But "For You" is one declaration after the other (with the exception

of "Soft and Wet", which isn't his writing in the first place), making it very dull lyrically.

"Prince" is light years away, which makes the uncompletion of "The Beautiful Ones"

even more frustrating. What in the hell happened to Prince, what can explain

such a radical evolution in his views on the world series of love?
In other words, who broke his heart while giving him a boner first?



On this album, right from the first song, appears a figure and a concept

that would become central to many, many songs he would write after:

the Do-wrong Woman and the Frustrated Man.



In "I Wanna Be Your Lover", the girl Prince is after is not his.

He's rebuffed. Prince, the Adolescent Poems Writer, becomes adult

when he understands the struggles of an unrequited love
make for a much more interesting rock'n'roll material: "Heartbreak Hotel", "That's alright Mama", all the way down to the Blues.



"So Blue" was a failed attempt.
"It's Gonna Be Lonely" is much more like it.



"Bambi" goes even further, and could have landed on "Dirty Mind".

It could be interpreted as being borderline homophobic,

but Prince's only point is frustration. In this case, his frustration hits a

unpenetrable (hum) wall, hence the rage displayed.

"I'm Yours" was pyrotechnics for the sake of it.

Here, the furious axe grinding (hum) finally finds a meaning.



The amazing talent of Prince is the ability to express this frustration musically.

There is no harmonic resolution in "I Wanna Be Your Lover", or more precisely,

it only comes at the end of an eight bars loop, briefly, like a hope for stability.

The riff oscillates constantly, reflecting his state of mind.


This same process is pushed even further in "It's Gonna Be Lonely",

with a chord progression that never resolves on the tonic or its relative minor.

It longs for fullfillness, but never achieves it.



What also makes "Prince" a leaps and bounds increase from "For You",

is the perfect use of silence.

Where Prince tried to fill every possible second of his first album

with a musical phrase, an idea, a riff, as if to conceal the poor quality of the compositions,

he discovers (or rather, puts to good use) one of pop's most obvious secrets: less is more.



Silence, economy and scarcity are everywhere to be found on "Prince".

In the first snare hit that opens the album (seemingly so simple,

but good luck coming with such a recognizable song start with so little).

In the instrumental coda of "I Wanna Be Your Lover" (the ancestor of "just the drums!").

In the stop and go's of "Sexy Dancer", of "Bambi", in the last phrase of the verses of "With You",

again, in the last track. Pay attention: almost all of the drum fills on the album are isolated.



Maybe it's a natural consequence of Prince being left alone behind the desk (sorry, Mr. Vicari).

Prince finally gets the sounds he hears in his head out of the speakers.

Taken in isolation, they are already musical. This explains why they work so well

even when the playing tracks are reduced to just a few.

With more expressive, personal sounds, the instruments don't need
to be covered up with artifacts anymore.



If silence in the arrangements lets all of the album breathe,

the same goes for the harmonies. For the first time, Prince introduces his infamous short stabs,

that would become one of his main signatures.


Instead of letting his fingers on the keyboard, he chops chords, giving a long one only at the end.

Like with a person who stutters, you have to wait before you get what she means.

The tension created with this simple effect is irresistible.

What glues everything together is the magic of Prince's talent, a science of syncopes

that usually takes a lifetime to master, but seemed to flow from him naturally,
right from the beginning.



Forget "Dirty Mind". "Prince" is the true blueprint for all that would come after.

The recipe found in the synth riff of "I Wanna Be Your Lover",

these chopped stabs intertwined with held chords would later evolve

and morph into the riff of "Dirty Mind", the riff of "1999", the riff of "Lovesexy".

Even the riff of "When Doves Cry" owes something to it.



Musicologists would say that they are, after all, "only" a modern reinterpretation

of James Brown most effective rhythmical gimmicks.
"Just" horn stabs played on synths.
The outwordly talent of Prince is his ability

to divert them into white pop lingo, along with a mastery of the counterpoint that places him

in the same league of the greatest classical composers.


Even Miles Davis, a guy with some musical mileage, was left bewildered, like us all.

This is why a Prince copycat is always so obvious to the ear: all the ingredients may be there,

but the sauce is full of lumps. Something does not compute.



Let's talk visuals: some early promo shots by Allen Beaulieu

are, simply put, plain ridiculous. Prince in shorts and suspenders has undoubtely

the quality of courage, but he ends being laughable, making even

the gayest of the gays at Studio 54 go "Girl please".

Prince is already aware of his androgynous potential, but he's still years away

from the perfect middle ground he would achieve.



The sleeve of the bio "The Beautiful Ones" is another cringing episode,

but its real merit is to show everyone that it takes work to come up with

something that makes sense, and even more to come up with something meaningful.

Research is filled with failed attempts ("and so is The Vault!", shouted the philistines).



Unsure of himself, or maybe totally confident, Prince choses to go naked, in plain light.

As if he was ashamed of the shyness of the previous sleeve

(although I think the explanation is more trivial: the acne scars were still fresh).

I'd say it took as many balls as posing in bikini briefs and trench coat.



As for Skipper riding Pegasus, well... It's clear that Prince had spiritual ambitions early on,

as the inner sleeve of "For You" implied, with its sanctuary Shiva-like montage.

Let's applaud him for the courage.

At least he has no fear of ridicule,

which will end to be a major asset in accomplishing his visions.



It also shows that he's always had a very poor taste when it comes to visuals,

and that he was never as sexy as when he left it to the professionals (thank you Marie-France, Laura LiPuma, Jeff Katz and all the ones who knew their craft).

The atrocious "Emancipation" sleeve and booklet, the Blue Spandex Smurf, the all gold lamé suit

and many others are a stark reminder of it.



But ignore the awful visual with Tipp-Ex® for the sclerae

("I’m Pedro. Call me. $100 per 15 minutes. Credit cards accepted."),

and do yourself a favour: Dive head first into this bubble-gum pop masterpiece,

this tremendously fun kaleidoscope,
the pants and the sighs hidden under the mix, or the ones put straight in your ears,

the ethereal slow-motion crash of ocean waves, the bites of creamy guitars.



Every second of "Prince" screams, coons or whispers sensuality,

aiming at the heart and the crotch in equal measures.


It couldn't have been anything but eponymous.




[Edited 1/20/21 15:24pm]

The Colors R brighter, the Bond is much tighter
No Child's a failure
Until the Blue Sailboat sails him away from his dreams
Don't Ever Lose, Don't Ever Lose
Don't Ever Lose Your Dreams
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Reply #1 posted 01/20/21 9:26am

databank

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bonatoc said:





It couldn't have been anything but eponym.




Actually, I may have read about it and forgotten about it, but was it ever said why Prince chose to make it eponymous? I kinda always assumed that it was because no song title on the record was appropriate for the whole record, but IDK really.

A COMPREHENSIVE PRINCE DISCOGRAPHY (work in progress ^^): https://sites.google.com/...iscog/home
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Reply #2 posted 01/20/21 9:37am

RODSERLING

databank said:



bonatoc said:








It couldn't have been anything but eponym.







Actually, I may have read about it and forgotten about it, but was it ever said why Prince chose to make it eponymous? I kinda always assumed that it was because no song title on the record was appropriate for the whole record, but IDK really.



I always thought that, after the failure of the previous album, it was a way to reaffirm himself as an inescapable musical artist, whereas he was just a nobody, not even peaking his album in the top 100.
Like the first album was just a try. Don't worry, the serious things begin with that album. Oh, and my name is Prince.
.
After " For You", he could have named his album " With You".
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Reply #3 posted 01/20/21 10:34am

funkaholic1972

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Nice write up, I enjoyed reading that. I am also of opinion that "Prince" is a better and more important album than most seem to think.

RIP Prince: thank U 4 a funky Time!
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Reply #4 posted 01/20/21 1:27pm

JayCrawford

Dirty Mind... The album that began his classic era
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Reply #5 posted 01/20/21 7:23pm

runningbear

I am with you on the Prince record, put it in the top 4 with Purple Rain, Sign O' the Times, and 1999 (usually top dog). It's Gonna Be Lonely is divinely epic, guitar in Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad is amazing, Bambi crushes, yes, terrific record all around, lingers around longer than Dirty Mind, but does not overstay it's welcome. I just having trouble fathoming fan preferring Lovesexy to it, to my ears Prince is totally top flight, a well deserved hit

merf
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Reply #6 posted 01/23/21 2:13pm

bonatoc

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RODSERLING said:

databank said:

Actually, I may have read about it and forgotten about it, but was it ever said why Prince chose to make it eponymous? I kinda always assumed that it was because no song title on the record was appropriate for the whole record, but IDK really.

I always thought that, after the failure of the previous album, it was a way to reaffirm himself as an inescapable musical artist, whereas he was just a nobody, not even peaking his album in the top 100. Like the first album was just a try. Don't worry, the serious things begin with that album. Oh, and my name is Prince. .

After " For You", he could have named his album " With You".



That would make "Dirty Mind"
"In You". The Grand Progression!


biggrin



[Edited 1/23/21 14:17pm]

The Colors R brighter, the Bond is much tighter
No Child's a failure
Until the Blue Sailboat sails him away from his dreams
Don't Ever Lose, Don't Ever Lose
Don't Ever Lose Your Dreams
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