Flashback: Prince's Purple Rain
1984 saw many significant album releases and for the rest of the year we will occasionally take a look back at some of them. We kick off with a look at Prince's Purple Rain which celebrates its 30th anniversary this summer.
In the summer of 2004 antiMusic celebrated the album's 20th anniversary with the following review from Marie Braden and Keavin Wiggins who told us why Purple Rain has earned a prominent page in the Rock n' Roll History books.
Still Laughing in the Purple Rain ...after all these years, Prince is still a Beautiful One
By Marie Braden
For even casual music fans, some pieces of music are so intertwined with a set of circumstances that it's impossible to judge them purely on their musical merit--it's both "song AND emotion." This is especially true with movie soundtracks, which are intentioned to evoked the movie's moods in the listener. Compound that by the juggernaut of saturation airplay in all media, and it's easy to see how difficult it is to be objective, even after all this time, with Prince's masterwork Purple Rain.
Purple Rain was a gamble that paid off, at least musically. While the movie itself comes across as leaden and hokey, the performance sequences are the sheer, dizzying genius that made Prince's mid-to-late-Nineties excesses seem like such a waste. While the character of the Kid might not have been much of a stretch for Prince, his acting is perhaps only enjoyable in the silent sequences. Prince was once a man of mystique, and this was furthered enough in those scenes that the inept hamminess of his spoken scenes did not destroy this image. Perhaps the only redeeming dialogue in the film comes from Morris Day and Jerome Benton--and even that was little more than recycled Abbott and Costello bits and unintentionally hilarious throwaway pickup lines.
The music, however, is transcendent.
Even though The Kid's songs further the movie's plot in an obscurantist, Dylanesque mode, they are able to still stand alone in a way that most songs from films do not. In this case, the songs drive the story, but don't TELL the story. There's not a wasted moment on this CD, even in the excessive parts (such as the coda to "Darling Nikki", which may well be the most vituperative song this side of Marvin Gaye's "Here, My Dear.") No album has ever rocked harder than this one: from the fuzzed growl of "When Doves Cry" to the slam-jam-protoglam of "Let's Go Crazy", this is not just the finest rock album by a black man, but one of the finest rock albums EVER. Where Jimi Hendrix had moments of genius, this album, on its own OR in the context of the film, is a perfectly realized statement of what rock could be--challenging, sexy, and fun.
U Can Still See The Sun, Day or Night Because Purple Rain Never Fades
By Keavin Wiggins
Purple Rain would never happen in 2004. It could not have happened in 1994 either. The year 1984 was that small window in time where the stars aligned and Prince was able to produce his masterpiece. MTV was ready, radio was willing and the fans were cheering. Trends were ignored and genre boundaries were crossed as the Purple One broke the rules and established his legacy. It still sounds great all these years later. In fact, compared to most of the music today, it sounds better than ever.
"Dearly beloved / We are gathered here today / 2 get through this thing called life" Those were the immortal opening lines of this album. A movie soundtrack that easily surpassed the film it was created for. While the film has one story line, the album has its own musical story to tell--a much more powerful one. In this case, you can easily take the film away from the soundtrack, but if you take the soundtrack away from the film, very little remains. The film was enjoyable, going by B-movie standards, but the soundtrack was the real hit and perhaps the last original movie soundtrack to really stand on its own and secure its place in musical history.
Every artist dreams of recording that perfect album. The Beatles had more than one, The Beach Boys had Pet Sounds, Nirvana had Nevermind, Guns N' Roses had Appetite For Destruction and Prince had Purple Rain--An album where he explored his multifaceted musical personality but still maintained enough pop sensibility to keep it from going over the edge of self-indulgence. And unlike the other great albums mentioned, after Purple Rain came out there were very few pretenders to the thrown, trying to capture a bit of its magic. It just cannot be done because Prince's music is not easily definable and therefore, not easily copied. Or as Prince sings, "the beautiful ones always smash the picture."
Purple Rain was a culmination of disparate musical ideals that coalesced into a coherent vision. With just nine songs, Prince brought together Hard Rock, Funk, Jazz, R, Pop and more to create his own identity, one that is readily identifiable--even with a casual listen. From the screaming guitar of "Let's Go Crazy", the groove of "When Doves Cry" (accomplished without a bass line), to the in-your-face sexuality of "Darling Nikki", the compulsive sing-along nature of "I Would Die 4 U"(the hand signs are optional), to the emotional and musical climax of "Purple Rain", this album is as close as Prince has ever come to perfection. And it left him far ahead of 99% of his contemporaries. There is a reason that people still talk about this album and people still buy it--it is one of those few albums that not only withstands the test of time, it transcends it.
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