Like so many artists’ early work, I’ve come to this Prince album backwards. And I suspect that a lot of my issues with it come from all the later Prince I’ve heard. Because, on first listen, this record just sounded like Prince in utero or, um, proto Prince.
Prince’s sense of melody is already really well established and it’s one of the albums main strengths that everything is so damn catchy. I have only heard one of the earlier records maybe once and don’t remember much about it but it’s pretty clear this guy can write catchy songs.
The lyrics though – they are among the dirtiest of Prince’s career, which is saying something. It’s fascinating that this record did not enrage ’80s parents like heavy metal albums did. And one suspects that they heard bright, seemingly happy-sounding music, which actually sounded like music and didn’t pay attention to the words. But when they heard metal, they paid attention. Anyway, there is at least one song here which goes a bit too far for me, and I’m hardly a prude. (Though I suspect I’m becoming more of a prude the older I get.)
For me, the most obvious sign that Prince isn’t quite himself yet is his performance. He’s a compelling performer but he’s not quite as seemingly all powerful as he would get on later records. Yes, he can perform any number of styles and it’s very impressive, especially for someone his age. But the age shows a little bit here, and it feels like he still has a bit of a ways to go to become the mature version of his artistic self.
Also, like many of Prince’s ’80s records, it doesn’t sound great 40 years later. Prince was always an idiosyncratic producer – sometimes his work is good, sometimes it’s not so good – but I’m not sure it’s that on this record. I wonder if he just hasn’t quite figured it out yet. This is definitely an album that sounds of its era, even if it’s free of some of the worst production touches of the time.
Honestly, I think so much of my experience of this is coloured by my love of later Prince records and how this feels slight and immature. I suspect that, had I heard this in 1980 (had I been alive and an adult) I would have been blown away. Alas, I cannot quite get there.