Prince And The Revolution
In 1984, pop star Prince released Purple Rain, a quasi-autobiographical musical about The Kid, a talented Minneapolis musician who is struggling to rise to the top of the local scene whilst being bewitched by a beautiful yet hard-to-get woman. Part romantic comedy, part music video, it was a stunning, provocative film and, much to the surprise of everyone save for Prince himself, a critically lauded international success. Thanks to the beautifully executed and downright exciting musical performances from Prince And The Revolution, the soundtrack album became an instant classic. His previous album, 1999, might have laid the groundwork, but it no way prepared anyone for this: a weird record that sold twenty-five million copies and is one of the best selling soundtracks of all time.
For this eleven year old, the album was pure perfection. From the gospel-singed powerhouse of “Let’s Go Crazy,” I was hooked. “Take Me With U,” the song that followed, was like ambrosia from Neptune; rare, sweet, seductive, and so unlike anything I’d heard before it. I sat, transfixed, listening to this weird, wonderful album; I would listen to it for hours on end. When I flipped it over, I was even more entranced; “When Doves Cry” was even weirder, what with its electronic ribbiting, its passionate crooning, and a dance groove that was laid down with no bass. Again, repeat: nothing sounded quite like it. “I Would Die 4 U” was, to my preteen mind, the perfect love song. “Baby I’m A Star” was a feel-good anthem that led into the big, epic finale, a title track that went on forever and forever into pure Heaven.
But this set is notable for the unreleased content, which consists of one disc of outtakes and unheard material and one live concert from 1985. It is the first time Prince delved into and released an album of outtakes that directly related to a single album; while his discography consists of quite a few vault-raiding compilations, this would be the first time he expanded one of his albums for an archival release. As such, it’s easy to build up hopes for the material; after all, Prince was puzzling in this regard, as some of his best material would be shelved as he thought it was subpar, all while releasing subpar material that he believed to be better than it actually was. Because of his death, the temptation arises to elevate the stature of this newly released material, an understandable reaction to treasures just found. Yet that would serve Prince’s talent a disservice, as much of this material is merely okay.
Aside from one or two moments, nothing on the second disc is of the same high caliber as Purple Rain, but I don’t think it was meant to be. Most of the material found here was recorded after the completion of the album and movie, with a handful of numbers coming well after the film and album release. If anything, most of the material feels more like sketches of ideas, rather than complete thoughts. Thus, songs like the thirteen-minute “The Dance Electric” and “Possessed” feel like Prince and The Revolution exploring ideas by running through songs for an extended period of time as a way to explore the groove and see what they can find. Both numbers are promising, but after the first few minutes it starts to become apparent that they’re running out of steam—which may be why they were abandoned. Much of Prince’s material from this area came from songs that were significantly longer; the eleven-minute version of “Computer Blue” is the only direct Purple Rain outtake, and this version is simply five minutes too long. (Much has been made of the fabled twelve minute “Purple Rain,” but perhaps there’s a reason Prince left it out, and perhaps its length is more meandering than meaningful.)
But there are moments of pure Prince playfulness to be found, and those moments, while not spectacular, are quite enjoyable. “Velvet Kitty Cat” is naughty innuendo, but the more direct “Wonderful Ass” and “We Can Fuck” hint at the open and direct sexuality that would cause Prince inner turmoil a few years later with the Lovesexy and Black Album era. “Electric Intercourse” and “Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden” are perhaps the most compelling moments here; unlike the rest of the outtake disc, these songs feel like future masterpieces, even in their rough form. The album closer, “Father’s Song,” is a sorrowful instrumental, a meditation on what would become the middle eight of “Computer Blue.” (If memory serves—and I could well be wrong—but I do seem to recall a snippet of this appearing as incidental music in the film.)
Disc three, the collection of b-sides, remixes, and edits, is somewhat superfluous. It’s great to have lost classics such as “God, “ “Another Lonely Christmas,” and “17 Days” compiled and not left to rot in obscurity, and it’s especially great to have the full length “special dance mix” of “Let’s Go Crazy” in digital form. This song is a bit of a misnomer as it’s not a remix; it’s the original version of the song. It featured at the beginning of the movie, and I know for a fact I was not the only one who felt gypped that the film version of the song was not on the album. It is an amazing track, but it shows Prince’s savvy in realizing that the song was too long for a single release, and that putting the radio version on the air would sell more records base on radio play. (It’s funny he felt that way, though, considering the amazingly awkward—if not downright bad—edits and remixes found here, all of which he reportedly approved for release.)
The DVD, however, is an amazing document. Recorded in 1985 in Syracuse, New York during the Purple Rain tour, this performance shows just how insane of a live performer Prince was, and just how tight a band The Revolution had become. For two hours, he throws down most of his well-loved songs in a nonstop performance that makes you wonder just where the hell he gets—and maintains—the insane amount of energy that keeps him going and going. Aside from a few issues related to lighting and less than perfect shots, this video is a wonderful capsule of the man in action—a hard rock/funk music and dancing machine. But for all its action and carrying around and cavorting, it’s the epic showstopper “Purple Rain” that makes this deluxe edition worth it. If you thought the take on Purple Rain was fantastic…just wait.
We’ll never see the likes of a Prince again, nor will a record like Purple Rain come along any time soon. The times are just too safe for that, and music isn’t shocking or staid enough to produce such innovation. Though his career would soon take odd twists and turns, for this fleeting moment, he could do no wrong, and while the extra material in this set doesn’t begin to compare to Purple Rain, it does show just how brilliant and how on point Prince Rogers Nelson was in 1983 and 1984.