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Ephemera, 1984

Love and Sex (1984)

The Purple Rain era marked a subtle, yet perceptible shift in Prince’s attitudes toward sex. On 1999 less than two years earlier, he’d reveled in his libertinish “Rude Boy” persona: promising to “fuck the taste out of your mouth” on “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” then actually demonstrating his technique on “Lady Cab Driver.” But by the follow-up album, his pendulum was beginning to swing away from the raw mechanics of lust, toward something approaching more conventional romance. “The Beautiful Ones” found him not just pretending he was married, but considering it as a real possibility; “When Doves Cry” and the title track earnestly grappled with the dissolution of a relationship. Even “Darling Nikki”–the closest the album came to vintage, “dirty” Prince–treated its sexual encounter as a quasi-Satanic temptation, before ending with a palate-cleansing gospel coda.

It’s easy to assume that this shift was motivated by commercial calculus: Purple Rain was designed to be Prince’s entrée into the mainstream, and heteronormative monogamy plays better to “mainstream” tastes than unfettered promiscuity. There is doubtless some truth to that interpretation; but there’s also ample evidence to suggest that he felt a genuine conflict between his spiritual convictions and his carnal appetites. A song like “Possessed” (written during the 1999 sessions, and revisited in multiple iterations for Purple Rain) depicts the repentant “Rude Boy” as an unwilling vessel for “demonic lust.” “Love and Sex,” recorded at Sunset Sound on February 27-28, takes a different approach: envisioning an afterlife where the spirit and the flesh could exist in harmony.