Friday, May 12, 2017

Prince 4: Controversy

From time to time in this forum, we’ve discussed a band slash artist’s “first four”. The debut album proclaims the newcomer, the follow-up restates the thesis, the third album pointedly tries to reinvent a wheel, and in senior year we find out what they’ve learned. The version of the theory applies to Prince, because Controversy is where the brand was firmly established. Deviations followed, certainly, but for anyone playing catch-up, this is the album that sounds most like the Prince that dominated the middle of the decade.
It looks like the same coat from the previous album cover; hopefully he’d changed his drawers for the poster inside. But just as there’s more color in the artwork, the tracks are more filled out, melding even more the styles of funk, rock and new wave. The title track choogles along with several riffs, quiets down for a recital of the Lord’s Prayer, and gets back up with a P-Funk chant, and then we hear that scream for the first time. Similarly, “Sexuality” suggests that the world’s ills can be healed by ignoring our superficial differences and getting busy. To prove his point, “Do Me, Baby” is a lengthy slow jam that culminates in one-sided pillow talk that’s more uncomfortable than arousing, personally.
Side two provides more variety over its five tracks. “Private Joy” is straight-ahead synth-pop ending in a wild feedback-heavy solo that bleeds into and throughout “Ronnie, Talk To Russia”. This lyrical dynamo sports a truly cheesy organ and cheesier machine gun effects, then it’s back to the dance floor for “Let’s Work”, with a particularly tasty pop-and-slap bass. “Annie Christian” is almost no-wave, with a robotic arrangement and non-musical vocals for a parable about the title character being responsible for death and destruction. Finally, “Jack U Off” swings, a dirty song that’s actually fun.
It’s not as strikingly enjoyable as Dirty Mind, but again, Controversy provides a logical progression, and a good setup for what was to come next. Besides, the falsetto was kept to a minimum.
However, it wasn’t the only Prince album out that year. Despite credits saying otherwise, the eponymous debut by The Time was all Prince, completely written and performed by him, save for Morris Day on vocals and occasional drums, plus Dr. Fink on a few synths and Lisa Coleman anytime a woman’s voice is heard. (“After Hi School” was written by guitarist Dez Dickerson, but Prince plays all the instruments.) It’s a danceable album, but still sounds very tossed off. “Girl” and “Oh, Baby” are almost laughable, brokenhearted slow jams with forced vocals by Morris, who really worked best in a visual medium. The best track by far is “Cool”, wherein his personality comes through big time. The same approach applied to What Time Is It?, recorded and released the following summer while Prince was finishing his next album. “Gigolos Get Lonely Too” is the only slow tune, and Morris has upped his attitude; “Wild And Loose” and “The Walk” even feature humorous dialogues with female conquests. “777-9311” and “The Walk” have a couple of scorching guitar solos, making things more interesting.

Prince Controversy (1981)—3
The Time
The Time (1981)—
The Time
What Time Is It? (1982)—

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