Around the world in a daze
AROUND THE WORLD IN A DAY
BY JOHN PARELES
PRINCE IS UP TO SOMETHING, no doubt about it, on Around the World in a Day. The packaging will pass for psychedelic, as will the name of Prince's recording studio and custom label, Paisley Park. And audio embellishments like finger cymbals and lost-in-space synthesizers -- not to mention the album's first lines, "Open your heart, open your mind" -- would have been right at home in lysergic times.
Let's not take Prince's psychedelic trappings too seriously, however. His new album is about anything but diving into a mind-altered substance. On Around the World -- as on Purple Rain, which it barely resembles otherwise -- Prince takes another step toward cleaning up his act.
Prince deserves credit for making an album at all -- especially an album the breaks ranks with the previous six. He could cruise for years on the sales of the Purple Rain LP, the movie's boffo box office and the truckloads of nickels in cover-version royalties. Instead, he holed up in the studio, as he usually does, to make Around the World virtually by himself. It's easy to forget, listening to the ping-pong of parts, that Prince puts his music together overdub by overdub -- a triumph of planning as well as virtuoso execution. He lets friends in for background vocals and percussion and hires specialists for saxophone, cello, and oud (the North African lute), but all the essentials -- guitars, synthesizers, drums, wolf whistles -- are played by Prince alone. Only God, who makes a cameo appearance, knows when he had time to lay down the tracks.
Prince has apparently decided he's tired of being a bedroom-eyed, bikini-briefed, pansexual sex symbol. In the album-cover illustration it's difficult to tell who's who; I think Prince is the pious-looking, white-robed guy in the upper right who's ignoring a half-clad cutie and the nipple-shaped peak in a voluptuous mountain range. More importantly, his new lyrics are PG rated, not even the soft R of "Darling Nikki" on Purple Rain. It's hard to believe this is the same Prince who made Dirty Mind in 1980 or who, on 1981's Controversy, claimed "Sexuality is all you'll ever need."
Now Prince has come out of the bedroom. Only three of the nine songs on Around the World -- Prince's lowest proportion by a long shot -- aim below the waist. "Raspberry Beret" is a sweetly wistful seduction song, and "Tamborine," marching along like the Lemon Pipers' 1968 hit "Green Tambourine," makes masturbation seem more innocent than Cyndi Lauper's "She Bop." After the bluesy bump and grind of "Temptation," with one of the lewdest fuzz-tone guitars this side of Buddy Guy, God declares, "You have to want it for the right reasons" -- and Prince promises to be good.
The lyrics on the rest of the album suggest the spacey, out-of-it benevolence one might expect from Stevie Wonder ("The Ladder" and the title cut, both co-written by Prince's father, John L. Nelson), but underscored by Prince's own apocalyptic vision. With its lilting, nursery-rhyme-like melody, "Paisley Park" blithely describes a carefree refuge, which may be death; "America," a mock-Slavic rewrite of the tune we all know, plus a funk beat, threatens a boy who doesn't pledge allegiance with permanent residence on a "mushroom cloud." Prince gets more mileage than Alice Walker from the color purple, his shorthand symbol for the end of the world, which shows up in the first song of the album and in the last.
Where Prince has taken the sweat and other bodily fluids out of his lyrics, he's also reformulated the music. Now that everyone else is making funk tracks out of staccato keyboards, Prince has started to use sustained sounds: flutelike synthesizer on the Nubian-flavored title cut; quasi-calliope toots and what sounds like dozens of quivering vocals on "Condition of the Heart"; strings on "Raspberry Beret" and "Pop Life"; and Pink Floydian stateliness on the gospel-tinged "The Ladder."
Although it's not a ballad album, Around the World only summons Prince's dance-your-thang-off keyboard blips and James Brown guitar scratches for special events. You can call it psychedelic, but don't forget that Prince has always had an ear for floating tempos, from "When We're Dancing Close and Slow" on Prince to "The Beautiful Ones" on Purple Rain.
For all I know, Around the World in a Day may represent the afterglow following the commercial orgasm of Purple Rain. Or it may suggest that Prince's long of session with s-e-x is beginning to make way for other concerns -- we'll doubtless be hearing that in getting away from that adolescent humpa-hump stuff, Prince has grown up. Maybe it's my hormones, but to me Around the World is if anything more childish sounding than any of its predecessors. Prince has traded what he does know for wide-eyed, goofy philosophizing that can be ugly -- as with the wacko anti-Communism of "America" -- as well as lovable. I'm not going along if Prince drifts off, with Earth, Wind, and Fire and Stevie Wonder, into a grit-free never-never land, but at the moment he's still odd enough to be fascinating.
At the end of "Temptation" Prince, ever the cheerful enigma, announces, "I have 2 go now. I don't know when I'll return." The paranoids among us might think that having borrowed mightily from Little Richard, Prince is about to follow Reverend Penniman into the church. Whether the album is an aberration or a new direction, one thing is sure: Around the World in a Day is the Prince album you can bring home to your parents. Even, I guess, if they're ex-hippies.
The return of the acid reign
As Warner Brother's biggest selling artist of the day, Prince' position is presently unassailable. Contrary to his own high self-regard, this does not make him infallible.
In this gap between his status and his capabilities, 'Around the World in a Day' was born. Predictably, his record company, hungry for a follow-up hit to 'Purple Rain', hadn't the guts to tell him it's not quite good enough, it's all a bit rushed, we're not surprised given all your sterling promotion work and constant touring, go home and finish it properly.
But Prince is beyond listening to anyone now, so taken up is he with the paraphernalia of fame. He seems to believe surliness and sultriness are part of the same deal, coming with the minders who enforce his privacy. Like all great stars, Prince wants-to-be-alone, but he wants the public to witness his solitude, even sympathise with it.
If these are the building blocks to his uncomfortable ivory tower, it would seem they're loosely bonded with paranoia, the nagging fear that it'll soon turn into a rapidly downward helter skelter. Thus he shares him company's urge for a rushed follow-up by way of consolidating his position. The problem is, life inside his ivory tower blunts those intuitions responsible for his elevation to it in the first place, Like no other artist since pro-coked-out Sly Stone, Prince had the uncanny knack of combining flesh and flash, with rock and black dance in a music whose very naked ambitions voiced the hopes and aspirations of millions.
Purple Rain: the movie, despite being an occasionally risible entertainment, engagingly plotted those ambitions, ambodied both escape and escapism. It didn't have to forcibly underline its concerns, everyone knew where he was coming from. On "Around the World in A Day' it seems Prince has lost touch, as if he's operating on dim recall rather than direct experience of those greedy passions and emotions that got him under way. Thus so, he resorts toclumsy reportage of abject conditions, unconvincingly woven into addled party pictures of the world.
Possibly he is fed up with his role of Prissiest Star and now wants to be taken seriously. There are clues here to suggest that he'd like this to be his 'There's A Riot Goin' On'. Like that seminal LP it equates a babble of percussion-paddled funk with street action and a psychedelic confusion of varied typefaces, nonsense rhymes and pained objectivity with depth.
But where Sly's record tapped the time that birthed it, brought to the surface the period's underlying tensions and quite brilliantly worked them into a highly idiosyncratic, fearful yet approachable music, Prince's record forsakes any chance of achieving a similarly deep resonance by dropping his songs through a nostalgic timewarp. Direct references to Sly's word don't automatically elevate his to a similar status. Nevertheless, it does furnish Prince with the LP's most intriguing (that is, not entirely successful), cut, an ironic anthem 'America', which plugs the gap between the Dream and the Reality with heavy ambiguities and a neat twist on better-dead-than-red platitudes. Nothing else here quite matches its delirious contrasting of a stirring patriotic swirl and the cynical undertow of the lyric.
Elsewhere, Prince's musical fusions smack more of a dead-end desperation than convincing experiment with form. The ruffs at his collar cuffs have led us to his psychedelic dandy prediliections, so we might safely have guessed he would follow purple rain with a paisley rainbow. But like his clothing accessories, the strings and things he colours his pop with appear similarly as an afterthought. If the divinely drippy 'Raspberry Beret' complete with 'Strawberry Fields' period yearnings, is not without charm, the same claim can't be made on behalf of the title track or 'Paisley Park', which posits his Minneapolis home recording studio as a h(e)aven in Haight Ashbury.
His dip into period mysticism corresponds with a drop in libidinouw punch, even as it ties in with hin conversion to God. To give the former devil his due, he bravely attempt to explain this unlikely trinity of conflicts that constitutes his present self in the closing 'Temptation', which evokes the immense appetites of his past only to debunk them. "Love is more important than sex," Prince concludes after a contrite dialogue with God (included here!) "now I understand. I have to go now. I don't know when I'll return." What a tease! Prince as son of God? Someone tell him Easter's on a Sunday.
-- Biba Kopf
"AROUND THE WORLD IN A DAY," the first album from Prince since his "Purple Rain" album and film made him pop's brightest new star, is being released today by Warner Brothers Records. The album follows Prince's recent announcement, on completion of his long and reportedly grueling "Purple Rain"tour,that he does not intend to perform live again, though he will continue to make records, videos and films.
Sales of the "Purple Rain" album, which won an Academy Award, three Grammys and three American Music Awards, are said to be approaching 13 million (Warner Brothers is not releasing official sales figures). The album's popularity was greatly bolstered by the success of the "Purple Rain" film and by the release of several songs from the album as singles, including "When Doves Cry" and three other top 10 hits. There are no plans as yet to release any of the songs from "Around the World in a Day" as singles, nor is there to be an accompanying film, but the album is strong enough to hold its own. It is ambitious, complex and stylistically diverse but at the same time a unified whole - a "concept album" in the tradition of such 60's classics as the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
In fact, Prince's new album might more accurately have been titled "Around Great 60's Rock in a Day." It is redolent of 60's rock, or at least of 60's rock myths, in many ways, from the cover art, which recalls the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" cartoon feature, to the lyrics, the musical stylings and the vocals. Prince sings like a deadpan David Bowie on one song, recalls Little Richard and his 60's disciples on the next, briefly suggests John Lennon and leads a triumphant gospel singalong before taking the album out in style with a furious electric-guitar solo that positively soars, like the work of a young, brash Jimi Hendrix.
Prince is risking charges of imitation and excessive eclecticism by deliberately invoking so many icons of 60's rock. He is also asking, perhaps demanding, to be taken seriously. If the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper" is the one rock album almost universally revered as a work of art, Prince clearly would like "Around the World in a Day" to be No. 2, at least.
In fact, an early report from record-business sources that the album would be "Prince's 'Sgt. Pepper' " was substantially accurate. It was after making "Sgt. Pepper" and realizing they would never be able to play music of such richness and complexity on stage that the Beatles formally agreed never to perform live again. Much of the music on "Around the World in a Day" would be likely to pose similar problems, and the album was already completed and ready for release when Prince announced that he was giving up live performance.
Several of the album's nine songs summon up and grapple with specific archetypes of 60's rock. It begins with a bucolic, flutelike twittering and a preliterate yawp from Prince's vocal chords. The first words are "Open your heart/Open your mind," an invitation to illumination much like the songs that opened "Sgt. Pepper" and the Rolling Stones' psychedelic "Their Satanic Majesties Request." The next tune, "Paisley Park," is Prince's version of a 60's "love in," and invitation to a (presumably) imaginary place where "colorful people" have a "smile on their faces/It speaks of a profound inner peace."
"America," the song that begins the album's second side, is brisk, driving and decidedly urban; like a 60's protest song, it addresses an idealized spirit of "America" and demands that it "keep the children free." But just as the psychedelic- style songs on side one are notably free of drug references, side two's "America" might be termed a patriotic protest song. No draft cards are being burned here. In fact, one of the song's capsule character sketches seems to suggest that those who reject patriotism and dabble in nihilism may get their just rewards in a nuclear cataclysm:
Almost every sound on the record, vocal and instrumental, with the occasional exception of light percussion, saxophone, backing vocals and understated string arrangements, was made by Prince, who proves with this record that he has mastered the pop-rock idiom in the widest sense, from artsy rock to heavy metal, funk to sweet pop balladry. "Around the World in a Day" may or may not endure as a rock classic; that remains to be seen. But there can be no doubt that Prince has invested a great deal of creative and emotional energy in it. Overall, whether one approaches it as a concept album or simply a collection of superb pop songs, it is an instrumental and stylistictourde force, Prince's finest hour - for now.
-- Robert Palmer
Published: Sunday, April 28, 1985
Prince makes a bid for respect with a '60s-style album
Around the World in a Day
It has taken longer than a day, but Prince has done a musical full-circle. He has gone from making state-of-the-art dance-hall funk to prancing through a work with roots in every psychedelic band that made a record in the '60s. And his salacious "Dirty Mind" has given way to the conclusion -- on this album's "Temptation" -- that "love is more important than sex."
This is Prince's bid for artistic respect, much like the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and Todd Rundgren's "A Wizard, A True Star" earned that status for their creators.
The influences are definitely there, from the cover -- a mix of "Yellow Submarine" cartooning, Jefferson Airplane graphics and Jimi Hendrix symbolism -- to the marriage of strings, Indian flutes, timpani, sound experiments and multi- tracked vocals with spare elements of the high-tech pioneering Prince on "1999" and "Purple Rain." And that's not to mention the latter-day flower-power lyrics. What we get is a period album that re-creates a certain sound of the '60s without many personal stamps from Prince. The Beatles, and John Lennon in particular, bear heavily on "Paisley Park" ("Penny Lane") and "The Ladder" (an "Instant Karma" for the '80s). But the album works best on up-tempo numbers including "Raspberry Beret," "Pop Life" and "America," the latter a funk-rocker that would have done Sly & the Family Stone proud.
There are also moments of indulgence, such as the title track, the manic "Tamborine," the Rundgren-esqe "Condition of the Heart" and a stilted dialogue with God on "Temptation." And in case you're wondering, "The Ladder" is just what Prince was talking about finding when he announced his retirement from touring last month, so the Kid hasn't lost his marketing savvy.
* Gary Graff