Friday, September 8, 2017

Prince 5: 1999

Michael Jackson was years from anointing himself the King of Pop, but for those of us who liked rock ‘n roll (and couldn’t dance anyway), Prince’s wielding of a Telecaster more than made up for any hesitation of men wearing eyeliner and mascara. 1999 had been out for a while before MTV started showing the videos for the title track and “Little Red Corvette”, and soon enough he was inescapable. Even WNEW-FM (where rock lives, or at least did in 1983) started playing the songs. He had transcended genre, and that didn’t happen all that often anymore, if at all.
Simple (and similar) as those videos were by any production standards, they sold the image. The band, not yet known as the Revolution, set up on multiple levels of an elaborate stage. Two women gyrated over each other and one keyboard, while a guy in scrubs and shades played another. The lead guitarist (or so we thought) had a samurai-styled headband, and Prince actually slid down a firepole to make his entrance on “1999”.
Of course, once you bought the album, it was more clear: Prince played and sang everything on the album, except for the shared vocals on the title track and some elsewhere, and the lead on “Little Red Corvette”. Those two tracks still sound great today, and the extended album versions add and highlight more of the music. Followed by the infectiously goofy “Delirious”, that’s a perfect album side right there.
Side two is split between two long dance pieces, both heavy on beats and simple keyboard or guitar counterpoints. “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” is suggestive on its own before he explicitly tells “Marsha” what he’d like to do, while “D.M.S.R.” is more P-Funk-inspired. “Automatic”, which opens side three, is even longer, finally ending after some sad wailing from the ladies under a guitar solo. “Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)” is a weird homage of sorts to New Romantic synth-pop, but “Free”, prefaced by canned waves and marching footsteps, is a hidden gem of a ballad, an anthem even, that predicts a couple of future epics.
Then there’s “Lady Cab Driver”, which can’t decide if it wants to be a political tirade or a psychotic, vengeful sexual assault, and “All The Critics Love U In New York”; both are artfully minimalist tracks stretched way too long. Finally, “International Lover” is another slow piano ballad showcasing his vocal range, deviating into a pillow-talk session a la “Do Me, Baby” only transferred to the mile-high club; he even thanks us for choosing his airline. Well, at least he had a sense of humor.
It may be blasphemy not to give this four stars or higher, but 1999 really is padded to excess. That’s fine if you wanna dance, of course, but a listen to the various edits that came out on singles proves that it could have been a tight yet solid single LP. Part of the indulgence from his record label allowed him to release 70 minutes of music across a two-record set. It helps when the records sell, but at this rate, you’d think they’d let him break into films, for crying out loud.

Prince 1999 (1982)—

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