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Reviews

A Purple Day in December: The Truth Review

As most of you are no doubt aware, Erica Thompson has been a great friend and supporter of the blog since we met for a podcast to discuss her presentation at the University of Salford Purple Reign conference back in 2017. We’ve been talking for a while about my writing a guest post for her own blog, where she shares updates and research from her own work writing a book about Prince’s spiritual journey. Tomorrow’s special Record Store Day release of the 1998 album The Truth finally gave us the excuse we’d been looking for. So, here’s my review:

A Purple Day in December: “‘What if Half the Things Ever Said Turned Out 2 Be a Lie?’ – One of Prince’s Richest, Weirdest and Most Intimate Albums Gets a Limited Reissue”

While you’re there, you should check out the rest of Erica’s blog, and follow along with what is shaping up to be one of the most compelling projects in the burgeoning world of “Prince studies.” And yes, I’m still writing on here, as well: “Darling Nikki” will be available for patrons by the end of next week. Have a great weekend, and good luck snagging a copy of The Truth tomorrow!

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Welcome 2 America, 2011

Born 2 Die

We now have just under two months to go before the release of Welcome 2 America, the album Prince recorded and shelved before his tour of the same name in 2010 and 2011. So, with the 63rd anniversary of the artist’s birth right around the corner on Monday, the time was ripe for another promotional single; and Sony Legacy has delivered with a track previously teased on 60 Minutes back in April, “Born 2 Die.” In fact, the drop appears to have been timed to commemorate not just one date, but two: Thursday, June 3 would have been the 79th birthday of Curtis Mayfield, whose early-’70s sound was a transparent source of inspiration for the song.

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Ice Cream Castle, 1984

Jungle Love

Prince, as was his wont, had already moved on to his next phase by the time the 1999 tour entered its final stretch in March 1983. The centerpiece of his master plan was, of course, the untitled film project that would become Purple Rain; but he also intended to cement his musical dominance with follow-up albums by the 1999-era “Triple Threat” of himself, the Time, and Vanity 6. Much as he had a year before, he focused on the Time first: booking a few days at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles before playing the Universal Amphitheatre and San Diego Sports Arena on March 28 and 29, respectively.

The Time’s first two albums had been cut primarily by Prince and singer/studio drummer Morris Day alone; for the new project, however, Prince allowed the rest of the band to take on a more active role. “They played on a lot of the stuff,” former Sunset Sound engineer Peggy McCreary told sessionographer Duane Tudahl–though Prince remained the unquestioned “leader of what was going on” (Tudahl 2018 64). The Artist Formerly Known as Jamie Starr was even willing to share songwriting duties, basing “Jungle Love” on an instrumental demo by guitarist Jesse Johnson.

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1999, 1982

1999

By mid-July of 1982, Prince had completed work on the album that would become 1999, with just one significant exception: “1999,” the song, was nowhere to be seen. When Prince played a rough mix of the album for his manager Bob Cavallo that month, he got a cooler reception than he anticipated.

“‘This is a great album, but we don’t have a first single,’” Cavallo recalled telling Prince. “‘We have singles that’ll be hits, but we don’t have a thematic, important thing that can be embraced by everybody, different countries, et cetera.’” In response, Prince “cursed me, and he went away–but he didn’t force me to put it out. Two weeks later, he came back and he played ‘1999,’ and that became the title of the album” (Light 43).

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1999, 1982

Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)

Having recorded the majority of 1980’s Dirty Mind and 1981’s Controversy at home in Minnesota, Prince shifted gears and made liberal use of Sunset Sound during the sessions for his fifth album–his most reliance on a professional recording studio since Prince three years earlier. In late April and early May of 1982, he even did something relatively rare for him: using the more advanced facilities in Los Angeles to re-record a “demo” from his home studio on Kiowa Trail in Chanhassen.

While his precise motivations for this remake are impossible to surmise, it seems unlikely that recording quality was one of them. A little more polish and the original “Something in the Water” could have passed for a studio take, with its three distinct keyboard parts layered like gauze over elastic bass and pistonlike Linn LM-1. The most prominent of those parts–an angular OB-SX hook resembling the sound of numbers being dialed on a touch-tone phone–sounds like a more melodic mutation of the synth line from another home studio creation, “Annie Christian.” But where that song’s cold, technologically detached arrangement had extended to Prince’s robotic vocals, here he plays off against the science-fiction tropes with an organically soulful melody and jazzy acoustic piano.

This literally cyborgian aesthetic has led some to detect the influence of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in the song–both for its themes of synthetic androids experiencing human emotions and for its soundtrack by Greek musician Vangelis, who similarly blended cutting-edge electronics with more traditionally noir-ish jazz motifs. But Blade Runner didn’t premiere in theaters until June 25, a solid two months after both the original “Something in the Water” and its remake. Most likely, then, the resonances between the two works are coincidental: Prince and Vangelis both drawing from the same well of alienated postmodernity as contemporary synthpop artists like Gary Numan and the Human League.