Friday, August 23, 2019

Prince 11: Batman

One of the more surprising projects of Prince’s career involved music designed to tie in with what would prove to be the first major reboot of a superhero franchise. While Danny Elfman wrote the score for Tim Burton’s vision of Batman, which had its own soundtrack album, Prince got roped into making an album of music “inspired” by the film. (Plus, after several albums that failed to reach the commercial heights of Purple Rain, Warner Bros. figured they could get The Purple One to do them a solid. This would not bode well for their relationship going forward, but back to our story, see.)
While some of the music was indeed included in the film—which your correspondent has never, ever seen and doesn’t plan to—Prince’s songs profess to present the point of view of various characters, the lyric sheet helpfully telling us who says what. Luckily for those of us just here for the music, the album isn’t bad at all. Rather than pluck a variety of incomplete ideas from his growing stockpile of ideas, he devoted his full creativity, as well as once again playing everything except the horns.
But for the voice samples and orchestral touches, “The Future” comes off like more minimalist funk, which always works in his case. The voice of Jack Nicholson jars us back to the present, and “Electric Chair” both turns up the drums and lets loose his electric guitar. Then there’s “The Arms Of Orion”, which is supposed to be the romantic duet, and sure enough, Sheena Easton is brought back to sing the female part. It seems almost too tame for even him, probably because she apparently wrote the lyrics, and probably would have been better off on her own album. “Partyman” is another one of those danceable tracks he can create in his sleep—nice little nod to Sly & the Family Stone on the choruses—and while “Vicki Waiting” mentions a character in the movie, the track works on its own. (Just substitute another two-syllable name.)
What we still called side two in those days is a little more hit or miss. In a rare case of Prince repeating himself, “Trust” builds on the tempo and structure of “Baby I’m A Star”, but’s it’s still catchy. These days “Lemon Crush” seems reflective of recent Michael Jackson, as well as suggesting the new jack swing genre nearly upon us. The biggest throwback to his old sound is “Scandalous”, a slow jam sung in falsetto, complete with female moans and sighs poking through the mix here and there. (This was given even more heat when it was remixed three times as part of “The Scandalous Sex Suite” with further contributions from Kim Basinger herself.) While it doesn’t do much except pad a short album, “Batdance” became the best advertisement for the movie, mashing up more samples of dialogue with other songs from the album and even the old Batman TV theme. It’s actually kinda fun, until the tempo drastically changes, but at least it comes back for the end (on the album, but not the single).
The movie was a huge hit, and Prince’s album did almost as well. (You could even pony up for the limited edition “Batman in a can”, which housed the CD with different artwork and booklet inside a miniaturized replica of a film canister. Nice idea, but it took up space and tended to roll off a shelf.) Silly as it all was, it was proof we shouldn’t write Prince off just yet. However, he had further cinematic goals, which would unravel it all again. (That’s called foreshadowing. Can you stand it?)

Batman™ Motion Picture Soundtrack (1989)—3

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