BY MICHAEL HIL
After the critical success of his Dirty Mind LP in 1980 and the subsequent notoriety of the last jear's Controversy, Prince, at the tender age of twenty-two, has become the inspiration for a growing renegade school of Sex & Funk & Rock & Roll that includes his fellow Minneapolis hipsters Andre Cymone, the Time and Vanity 6. Yet regardless of the jive that he hath wrought, Prince himself does more than merely get down and talk dirty. Beneath all his kinky propositions resides a tantalizing utopian philosophy of humanism through hedonism that suggests once you've broken all the rules, you'll find some real values. All you've got top do is act naturally.
Prince's quasi-religious faith in this vision of social freedom through sensual anarchy maken even his most preposterous utterances sound earnest. On the title track of 1999, which opens this two-LP set of artfully arranged synthesizer pop, Prince ponders no less than the future of the entire planet, shaking his booty disapprovingly at the threat of nuclear annuhilation. Although that one exuberant dance-along raises mor big questions than Prince can answer on the other three and a half sides combined, the entire enterprise is charged with his unflaggin will to survive - and a feisty determination to eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow, given the daily news, we may die.
Before "1999" whooshes into life, Prince assumes an electronically altered, basso-profundo voice and impersonates the imagined authoritative tone of God himself, creator of libidos as well as souls, prefacing the song's Judgment Day scenario with this reassurance: "Don't worry, I won't hurry you. I only want you to have some fun." This intro serves Prince well, since 1999 lacks the tight focus of Dirty Mind, his best and most concise LP, which had the feel of emotionally volatile autobiography disquised as vividly descriptive sexual fantasy. Yet the new album doesn't fall prey to the conceptual confusion that plagued the second side of Controversy, during which Prince raced from politics to passion, funk groove to rock blitz, as if there weren't room enough for all his inspiration. This time there is, and then some.
Prince develops eleven songs, basically a single album's worth of material, over the four sides of 1999, with each side comprising two or three extended tracks. Both discs are distinguished by palpably individual moods - the first contains the funkiest, most playful cuts, while the second is made up of slower, more introspective pieces. Two tracks, "D.M.S.R." and "All the Critics Love U in New York," qualify as unadulterated filler, and gone are any attempts at the classic three-minute pop song - Dirty Mind's "When You Were Mine" was the last word on that, I guess. On 1999, size counts.
Having graduated in record time form postdisco, garage rock to high-tech studieo wizardry, Prince works like a colorblind technician who's studied both Devo and Afrika bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force, keeping the songs constantly kinetic with an inventive series of shocks and surprises. As "1999" proceeds, for example, he geometrically increases the overdubs until there's a roomful of Princes partying almost out of bounds, then deftly brings it down to rhythm guitar and percussion while a childlike chorus asks, "Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?" until -boom!- the groove disappears at its hottest.
Prince's funniest and slyest effects are reserved for "Let's pretend We're Married," a string of offhandedly vulgar suggestions transformed with the most basic tools into a quintessential Princeian comic - erotic peci. He first employs minimal but propulsive synthe riffs to conjure the atmosphere of a computer-age arcade, pickup bar or, maybe, a space-station lounge. Then he chooses his most angelic falsetto to lure a prospectieve partner ("My girl's gone and she don't care at all/And if she did..."), suddenly switching to his gruffest lower register to complete the couplet: "...So what? C'mon, baby, let's ball!")
Between his ever nastier entreaties, e breezy non sequitur of a chorus ("Ooh we sha sha coo coo yeah/All the hippies sing together") rushes by like a snatch of transmission from another galaxy, until most everything drops out except a pulsing synthetic bass and Prince himself, desperately aroused, liberally sprinkloing his come-ons with the f word. But before his pleas fade into lonely space, he pulls out one last gimmick, a phalanx of cloned voices testifying that he is indeed the Prince of Uptown U.S.A. in a rap wildly mixing the sacred and profane: "Haven't you heard about me? it's true/I change the rules and do what I want to do?I'm in love with God, he's the only way/'Cause you and I know we gotta die someday/You might think I'm crazy and you're probably right/But I'm gonne have fun every motherfucking night....."
1999 reaches its climax, however, with Prince's shortest and sweetest offering, "Free," which concludes the moody, dub-style third side without any electronic pyrotechnics whatsoever. Prince steps form behind the clinking machinery like a sentimental Wizard of Oz to remind us that "if you take your life for granted, your beating heart will go." More important, he restates his utopian vision in hte most inspirational terms, as if all the battles had been won and he could finally be a lover, nog a fighter. "Free" reeks of skewed patriotism, describing the state of the union as much as a stage of mind, its march-of-history grandiosity recalling Patti Smith's "Broken Flag." Like Smith, Prince is not afraid to be misunderstood - or wrong.
But I think Prince can separate a vision of lige from a version of it, as the disturbing postscript "Lady Cab Driver" illustrates. A sequel to Controvery's "Annie Christian," in which Prince tried to duck fate by living "my life in taxicabs," "Lady Cab Driver" finds him bidding his cabbie to oll up the windows and take him away because "trouble winds are blowin", hard and/I didn't know if I can last." But midway through the song, the pain of both personal and public injustice wells up inside him, bursting out in an angry litany of verbal thrusts - "This is for the cab you have to drive for no money at all/This is for why I wasn't born like my brother, handsome and tall/This is for politicians who are bored and believe in war" - suggesting an ugly backseat orgy of sex or violence. Prince, the lover, not the fighter, then retreats to the demilitarized zone of the bedroom, where he can safely bid us goodbye under the guise of "International Lover." A natural goodbye for Prince, but hardly as powerful as the final moments of Dirty Mind, when, during the antidraft "Partyup," he challenged, "All lies, no truth/Is it fair to kill the youth?" before defiantly commanding, "Party up!" Just as Prince must face the contradiction of creating music that gracefully dissolves racial and stylistic boundaries yet fits comfortably into no one's playlist, he must also decide whether he can "dance my life away" when everybody has a bomb. All you need is love?
December 9, 1982
New Musical Express
November 20, 1982
Flasher in the Pan
DEAR Mixed-Up of Minnesota.
Well - don't you have problems!
Being the sole son and heir of Barry White and Jimi Hendrix is no easy burden for a young boy to bear, but when the only people who like you are the people who get their records free... Well, then comes the hour when the record company, in one last mad gasp of magpie marketing, puts out the "Specially-Priced Two Record Set" and almost audibly screams "Come and buy it, you bastards! It may stink, but at least it's free!"
You saw, you conquered, you came; that used to be your preoccupation, Prince, you pup! You were the Reeperbahn of rock; but now as you and your countrymen sit and contemplate your cold stores in the U.S.A.H (After Herpes) I detect a more chaste worldview, full of partying and vague romantic sadness rather than blow by blow cornporn. Yet even this can have its complications; you use partying, like many of your nasty nationality, as a carwash for the brain, having fun to hide from fear, most graphically in the title track. The end of the world, don't worry your pretty little head about it, Prince, leave the social comment to Grandmaster Flash and revel in your role of pretty boy's pin-up!
I also notice that you have one song, "Little Red Corvette", which implies that you want the world to know that you are a regular guy and not just a sex freak, a regular guy pace Noble, New Jersey, who always fall back on singing love songs to lumps of metal when he wants to show that he is as capable of having fun as the next guy; though falling in love with a lump of metal is a rather recherche way of having fun, I would venture, and far from normal!
I still remember your first communique, "I Wanna Be Your Lover", with som affection. You were the carnal castrati incarnate, there was a gurgling, glorious exuberance about you, all those sweet soaring runs and that nifty backcombed backchat, you were out of the closet and in your element, being just what you always wanted to be..... a girl group! But now your songs sound like an interminable string of Fame B-sides, and considering how Fame A-sides sound, that's some insult.
There is an ancient Leninist dictum heeded in the early days of the Russian Revolution and kept alive by many Third World freedom fighters; the One Glass of Water theory, which young revolutionaries applied to S.E.X., your very own cottage industry, in deciding that sex is of no more importance than one glass of water to a thirsty man. Well, I'm sure these baby Spartans enjoy their sparkling sustenance when they get it more than you and your countrymen have enjoyed the rather joyless orgies in which you have been partaking for the last couple of decades and albums. Your problem, Prince, is commercial post-coital triste on a cosmic scale.
The antidote? Get thee to a nunnery, or at least to Donna Summer's songwriter.
Few things are such bets chartwise as a Bible-bashing black, Born Again.
Sex is no manifesto, no saviour and certainly no shock. As my colleague Confucius
likes to say, "Nothing sadder than a flasher who no one notices."
Sunday, November 21, 1982
By Ken Tucker
Warner Bros. Records, Minneapolis and sex. What do these three items have in common?
What they have in common are three other items: Prince, The Time, and Vanity 6, pop acts that will appear at the University City Center on Tuesday night. All three bands are from Minneapolis, all have highly popular new albums on Warner Bros., and all three groups use sex as a crucial, if playful, theme in their music.
Prince is a young man in his early twenties who has already exerted a one- man revolution in pop music. Prince's "Dirty Mind" album in 1980 offered up the most exciting rock 'n' roll that anyone had heard in years, and the most sexually explicit lyrics anyone had ever heard.
Prince sang in a cat's-purr falsetto about dancing and having a good time - but there were also tunes about resisting the draft and the joys of incest. "Dirty Mind" shook up a lot of people, and Prince tried to face up to that in his next album, last year's "Controversy," on which he asked everyone to become more tolerant while framing his argument in driving, tough rock melodies. The fact that he was still choosing to appear onstage attired only in a raincoat and black bikini underwear didn't lessen the controversy that he was generating.
Prince's new album, "1999," begins on an apocalyptic note, as the author suggests that nuclear war is imminent and there isn't a single thing we can do about it - even the protest that he advocated on "Dirty Mind" now strikes him as useless in the Reagan era. Indeed, "1999" is a disconcertingly listless Prince release: two records-worth of warnings, sighs and moans about the state of the world and the state of Prince's mind - when he sings "Let's Pretend We're Married," the phrase takes on an air of desperation.
A DISHEARTENING WASTE
Like all his previous records, "1999" has been written, produced and arranged entirely by Prince, and he's played most of the instruments on the album. Until now, he has avoided all the self-indulgence that sort of freedom often inspires in an artist, but "1999" has its lapses, such as a tedious funk-guitar coda appended to a trivial tune called "Lady Cab Driver" and a vague slap at some of his most enthusiastic supporters in a diatribe called "All the Critics Love U in New York."
It's disheartening, because Prince is squandering the most prodigious gifts of any current pop performer. He's flirting with foolishness, and he didn't even put his best new song on "1999." If you buy the single of that title song, flip it over and play the B-side, "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore?" It's an extraordinary performance, one that confirms Prince's amazing gifts -- a slow, passionate ballad featuring rich piano playing and a romantic croon that we've never heard from him before. It's a classic song, and a year from now no one will know that it existed.
As disappointing as "1999" is, however, I would unequivocably recommend Prince's show at the University City Center. Despite the uneven new material, and despite that skating-rink's poor acoustics, Prince is likely to put on an exciting show. I've seen him under even more trying circumstances -- such as a performance in a crammed, trendy roller-disco emporium in Los Angeles a year ago -- and he and his terrific touring band delivered a wonderful, provocative show.
Prince's opening acts this week, The Time, and Vanity 6, aren't nearly as ambitious as Prince is - they're dedicated primarily to making smart dance music that celebrates the ephemeral joys of making out. At first sight, Vanity 6 seems like a put-on: three attractive women whose stage costumes consist of negligees and high heels, and whose big hit is called "Nasty Girl," a bit of suggestive funk music, to put it mildly.
THREE AGGRESSIVE WOMEN
Vanity 6's self-titled debut album was produced by Prince under a pseudonym, and their instrumental backing was provided by The Time, so the rhythms are crisp and the suggestiveness has a certain amount of wit. Vanity 6 is still more of a novelty act than anything else - their pouty come-ons and jokey tunes like "He's So Dull" prevent you from considering them with anything but a smile or a sniff of derision. Still, it's nice to hear women being sexually aggressive in a pop world where they're too often made the victims of men's power, and as an opening act, Vanity 6 may prove to be a lot of innocent fun.
The Time occupies the middle ground staked out by Prince and Vanity 6. Its songs of wild partying have a more driven, obsessive edge than Vanity 6's, but its music is less eclectic than Prince's. The Time, led by lead singer Morris Day, makes garrulous, witty dance music, working a similar bass-guitar groove into a variety of moods. As such, the band's latest album, "What Time Is It?," is a more unified record than Prince's "1999" - less ambitious, but more pleasantly conceived.
The Time's music is all about style - how to get it, how to use it, how style becomes power. Onstage, Morris Day's battle cry is "Bring me a mirror!" - he's probably the only pop star around whose personal valet scurries onstage in mid-song to hold a looking-glass up to his employer so that he can comb his 'do before launching into the next verse.
But The Time is more than a bunch of poseurs - when the album kicks off with "Wild and Loose," the music measures up to that song title. The essence of the band's strategy is to build each song around a big, implacable bass rhythm, but spinning around that are dithering guitars and Day's twitchy, sarcastic vocals. Unlike a lot of dance music, there's nothing monolithic about The Time's music - it's airy, light stuff that doesn't limit itself to a rigid beat.
In general, the music made by Prince, The Time and Vanity 6 is a new sort of funk music - expansive, open to new rhythms and off-beat ideas. Best of all, it's a radical sound that's commercially successful, something adventurous music rarely achieves these days.