Art Official Age

Prince is releasing a new album.  I wouldn’t normally tell you this because I haven’t bought a Prince album in a very long time because I haven’t really liked Prince in a really long time, but the signs are very good that this is going to be a great album.  By signs I mean that the three songs that I have heard are all good: Clouds, Breakdown and Breakfast Can Wait.  All three sound like Prince when he was releasing Sign Of the Times.  It has the playfulness, and loose funk of that time.  Which is good, because I prefer not to think of the heroes of my youth as washed-up has beens.

I have written at great length about the album Purple Rain in the past. We are about to celebrate thirty years since that album and film were released.  I will die in a ditch defending that album.  It burned a hole in my brain in 1984 and I can sing along to every bass pop and mimic every lick on my air guitar from the beginning to the end of Purple Rain.  Seeing as that album was 30 years ago, and it is 35 years since his first album, I wonder as I listen to Clouds and Breakdown if Prince is feeling a little old.  In Clouds he wakes from 45 years of suspended animation into a place that doesn’t require time.  I say that like it is part of a well worked out science fiction themed song that makes perfect sense, but Prince songs usually don’t make sense and often blend cool lyrics with bad lyrics and lyrics that are just words assembled in no particular order to pass the time.

For example:

You should never underestimate the power of a kiss on the neck when she doesn’t expect

Is a cool line, but the next line sort of made me think of a Flight of the Conchords’ song, and Jermaine leeringily bursting into a bathroom with a daffodil between his teeth,

And every time you catch her singing in the shower

You should go and get her a flower

Don’t matter what the hour

Just rub her on the back

I can see Prince’s girlfriend beginning to avoid all forms of bathing with this strategy of 24/7 botanical abuse.

I used to throw the party every New Year’s Eve

First one intoxicated; last one to leave

Waking up in places that you would not believe

Give me back the time; you can keep the memories

Which is a great Prince lyric, and Breakdown is a great Prince song even though it has laser guns in it.  Maybe it’s a great Prince song because it has lasers in it.  Let’s Go Crazy doesn’t make much sense, after all.

I remember that the second Prince album I bought after Purple Rain was Parade.  It was an album that made me feel betrayed.  So bewildered was I by this change of pace and style that I even asked my mother what the hell was going on.  My mother wasn’t exactly an authority on Prince, but she offered the insight that artists sometimes change.  I still have mixed feelings about Parade, but was able to forgive Prince for not simply reproducing the sound of Purple Rain forever because of Around the World in 80 Days, and Sign of the Times.

I loved Around the World in 80 Days mainly I think because quite a few of the songs were used by the aerobics instructors on Aerobics Oz Style that my mother used to tape and work out to in the weekend.  They did a particularly vigorous routine to America as I remember.  I liked most of the songs: Pop Life, Tambourine and Raspberry Beret.

I was working part time in a five-and-dime
My boss was Mr. McGee
He told me several times that he didn’t like my kind
‘Cause I was a bit 2 leisurely

Seems that I was busy doing something close 2 nothing
But different than the day before
That’s when I saw her, Ooh, I saw her
She walked in through the out door, out door

All of which is perfect, and not even ruined by the image later in the song of Prince having sex in a barn with horses watching.

I bought Sign of the Times as soon as it was released and then for some reason lent it to a friend who kept it for a month, scratched and dirtied the vinyl and reported that his mother told him that it was the kind of music people had sex to.  There are a number of points to draw from this story.  Firstly, mothers featured a lot in our lives back then even though we were trying to be cool.  Secondly, I question the value of Sign of the Times as a sex aid.  Finally, you need to know that this family had fluffy toilet-seat covers in their house something I have never understood, and something that also makes me question their aesthetic judgement.

On the other hand this friend did introduce me to Sigue Sigue Sputnik so he had his uses.

Over the last year or so I have been listening to Frank Ocean’s great album and thinking how much Prince has influenced people like Frank Ocean.  I don’t have much to say about this except that stripped down funky Prince is a gold mine, and I’m glad he’s returned to it.  Part of the return is the silliness – the bizarre monologues with God or whoever – and part the unfolding narrative of what often looks, on film at least, like the sexual escapades of a chihuahua.  A f*&king cool chihuahua, but a chihuahua.

So I think he might be back, and I’m glad.  Not because he needs it, but because we do.  He’s a one off who can dance about on the commercial pin head but also disappear off into perversity.  So much more interesting than almost everyone else, I’d rather he was relevant than irrelevant, rather think of him leading the next encore at the endless dance party that’s always on somewhere.  I might not be invited, but I’m glad it’s back on.

Prince is dead.  Long live Prince.

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