I suspect the degree to which I like this album is heavily influenced by the narrative around it, and my lack of engagement with that narrative. Prince is a known iconoclast when I’m listening to this record for the first time. He’s done things such as change his stage name and fail to release completed albums. So this left-turn really doesn’t seem that weird. But had I been an active music fan – particularly a fan of Prince’s – in 1985, I can imagine a world in which this record would have made me very excited.
And that’s because it definitely feels like a bit of a “fuck you” to any bandwagon fans who might have jumped on because of Purple Rain. (This isn’t entirely fair since he started recording it before Purple Rain.) Though this record is unmistakably Prince, it also feels deliberately less accessible and less polished than his most famous album. (One of his two most famous albums? One of a couple, anyway.)
I really like Prince’s music and particularly his brand of neo-psychedelia, which is like nobody else’s. My favourite thing about this album is that it is a good example of his amalgam of R&B and psychedelia that is inimitable. I quite enjoy the arrangements and really don’t find them that weird.
Some of the songs are quite good and obviously one of his most famous is here. I don’t think it’s his best set of songs here and at least one of them really sounds an awful lot like a poor man’s “Purple Rain” at times. (“The Ladder”.) Still, they hit more than they miss.
The issue I have is the production: it is indeed dense but it’s almost somehow kind of thin. That’s the part that really feels like a “fuck you” to new fans, at least to my ears. And it really doesn’t endear me to the record. I generally think Prince does a better job of handling ’80s musical technology better than most, but here it seems as if he or the engineers were trying to make the record sound not as good. I don’t know if it’s the mastering – it’s a quite record – or if it’s the mix – everything feels on the same level – but this is not a dynamic record. And, of course, Prince is an incredibly dynamic performer. So the question is, to what end is this thing sonically neutered?
I like it but I think I would like it more if it sounded better.