WITH ANOTHER cruel sweep of its hand, 2016 has taken away another star. Prince Rogers Nelson was an innovator when it came to funk, soul and R&B music, being cited as an inspiration by millions of people across the world. There were numerous albums of his we could have covered; 1999, Sign ‘o’ the Times, Lovesexy, hell, even Batman. But we’ve opted to go for the definitive one; Purple Rain.
It’s slightly embarrassing to admit that, one first listen, I didn’t ‘get’ Purple Rain. Call me a millennial, but the highly string synthesisers sounded rather cliché Eighties. On following listens though, the sheer effect of Purple Rain began to unveil itself. If there’s one word to describe this album, it’s powerful. The energy this album holds is of a high magnitude, with raging synthesisers and drums, with Prince’s signature howl and screaming guitars making frequent appearances throughout.
The first track, ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, opens with those immortal lines: ‘dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life’. Beginning with gospel like organs, the song quickly breaks into a fast paced shuffle with an erratic drum beat and Prince’s sing-a-long vocal hooks. It’s a great party song without any of the clichés, but with all the flamboyance that Prince was known for throughout his career, including that epic guitar solo near the end. Following song ‘Take Me With U’ takes on the characteristics of a ballad, and some of lyrical work suggest that, as Prince laments this person he’s infatuated with. The string work here, coupled with the acoustic guitar, gives it an upbeat, yet melancholic feel. The backing vocals from Wendy and Lisa also add a nice touch.
‘The Beautiful Ones’ also continues this lyrical theme of lamentation and longing, with some electronically soaked keys and computerised glitches making up the primary instrumentation. Prince’s falsetto vocals give the song a soul and R&B feel that perhaps sounded somewhat dated come 2016, but in a nostalgic and entertaining fashion, especially when Prince cries ‘DO YOU WANT HIM, OR DO YOU WANT ME?!’ Follower ‘Computer Blue’ is a brilliantly funky number that revels in electronica and doses Prince’s vocals in reverb. The piano hook pulls from pop music while keeping a soundtrack like edge to it that gives the song some excess thrills. A prime example of this is Prince’s guitar work in the latter half of the song.
This song segways nicely in ‘Darling Nikki’, a relatively stripped back number (considering how full on Purple Rain is) that sings of a Nikki, a sexual fiend who Prince has an encounter with. His suggestive vocal work all lends to the story that he’s telling, and it’s rather suspect when the song builds to a climax, followed by a mellow outro. ‘When Doves Cry’ is one of Prince’s most well known numbers, and when the sharp keyboard hook comes in you’ll see why. It’s so annoyingly catchy it’s amazing. Prince’s vocals are mellow in comparison to the previous tracks, and when layered give a smooth, soulful effect to the song.
‘I Would Die 4 U’ is an impassioned love song that carries all of the traits one would expect; fast paced electronic drums, Prince’s harmonised vocals and a strong ‘horn’ section that gives it a very New Wave feel. It also moves very smoothly into ‘Baby I’m A Star’, where the pace is picked up, and a funky bass line is introduced. The strong piano line and sound effects drive the song forward, with Prince’s vocals ranging from sneer to howl and everything in between. When it comes to the album as a whole, these two might not be the standout songs, but they are sure as hell enjoyable.
Finally, we reach the closing, and title, track. ‘Purple Rain’ is more than just a song, it’s an anthem. The piano lead and Prince’s monolithic vocals are purely iconic. When the drum beat takes it up a notch, and Prince is accompanied by backing vocalists, the song just gets bigger. Prince’s voice becomes more passionate, pouring all his emotion in this and his guitar work. When that guitar riff kicks in, it’s pure magic, and takes ‘Purple Rain’ to emotional heights. Not much more need be said about this song, it still wouldn’t do it justice.
Even a fair-weather fan can appreciate the excellence of Purple Rain, a soundtrack that eclipsed the film it stemmed from, and then some. It’s just one example of what Prince was capable of, and one of the many gifts he left us when parting with this world. If you’ve never listened to this album, especially at this time, its well worth sitting down, taking it in, and realising who we’ve lost.
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