Friday, May 18, 2018

Prince 7: Around The World In A Day

While Purple Rain brought Prince the worldwide recognition he craved, he was still addicted to writing and recording, and soon had a follow-up ready (this after recording two albums for new protégée Sheila E. and morphing what was left of The Time into The Family). Credited once again to Prince and the Revolution, but mostly his work alone, Around The World In A Day got pigeonholed as something of a psychedelic side trip, the same year Tom Petty hooked up with Dave Stewart for “Don’t Come Around Here No More”. That profiling wasn’t entirely accurate, but what’s clear is that the multi-demographic accessibility of the two albums before gave way to a more self-pleasing exploration of eclectic sounds, textures, and near-orchestration.
The title track is already startling, built around Mideastern instruments and influences provided by Lisa Coleman’s brother. Prince’s father also gets co-credit for some reason. There’s something of a hippy-dippy element, but he’d already shown his fascination for finger cymbals anyway. Guitars emerge on “Paisley Park”, which would become something of a personal anthem, being the name of his custom label as well as his complex slash compound whence he’d henceforth create everything.
Nestled in the middle of side one is a track that has often been overlooked. “Condition Of The Heart” begins with a long wandering piano solo one critic compared to Keith Jarrett. After about a minute of this, some synthesizers kick in for effect, there’s a slight crescendo and the song proper starts. Three verses describe separate (or not) storybook tales of heartache, each poor afflicted soul suffering from the simple malady of the title. The bridge, sung twice, takes it to the first person and loads on the falsetto harmonies over some pointedly vague imagery. Then there’s a repeat of half of the first verse, and it’s over. We can even forgive the superfluous “heartbeat” over the fade. It really is a gorgeous song—the sensitive side of Prince, if you will. (Recordings of unknown vintage feature the Purple One noodling at the piano for about a half hour. We wish he’d kept it that simple more often.)
It’s a major departure, and is a powerful segue to “Raspberry Beret”. This was the first single—released after the album was out, instead of as a teaser, and with a video made even later—and exactly what people wanted. The same might not be said for “Tamborine” [sic], a one-man demo that should have been foisted on one of his minions.
Side two is just as scattered. “America” came out of a Revolution jam, a return to the occasionally political statements of his pre-1999 albums, and not very inspired. But “Pop Life” is still incredibly cool, a great funk-rock hybrid with an infectious hook and split-second delay on the vocal to make it really stand out. The boxing match edit (twice) mystifies to this day. “The Ladder” is a gospel-tinged song with prominent saxophone and backing vocals that sounds longer than it is because it’s so slow. But the track that seemed to get the most notoriety at the time is the closer. Recorded by Prince alone with only the sax player helping out, “Temptation” starts with some fiery guitar work, goes through a dirty bump-and-grind paean to lust, then switches to a “dialogue with God” wherein the Almighty strikes our hero down for his sins, for which he immediately repents before saying goodbye, leading listeners to think he was retiring for real.
Around The World In A Day was not the triumph everybody wanted, nor could it be. All in all it may not read like the most engaging album, but the high notes are truly terrific. And just like that, he was on to his next inspiration.

Prince and the Revolution Around The World In A Day (1985)—

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