Prince's Personal Purple Soundtrack Side Trip
BY JOHN PARALES
SOUNDTRACKS: YOU KNOW THE DEAL. When the average rock musician takes on a soundtrack gig, it means that he or she has (a) broken up with longtime collaborators; (b) fallen on cash-flow problems; or (c) just run dry and needs someone else's images, story and deadline to jump-start the old creative engines. Said musician will also issue public statements on how challenging it is to write a contract, not to mention how hip the film's director is musically and the remarkable rapport director and rocker now enjoy. Sure, rockers turn out wallpapery noodlings like the soundtrack pros or knock out the quick-bucks single to roll with the credits. But in a visual culture like ours, it takes a real subversive to turn someone else's movie into a vehicle for one rocker's private obsessions.
This is what Prince wanted to do with Batman. Doubtless the one-man band from Minneapolis knew from the get-go that Batman -- or as I've started to call it, Logo -- was going to be the biggest tie-in this side of shoelaces ad wouldn't be an unremunerative way to spend two weeks in the studio. He didn't even have to do the boring part -- write dramatic crescendos timed to fit the action; Danny Elfman, who wrote the Batman score, did that.
From the beginning, Prince has played with dualities: black-white, straight-gay, male-female, sacred-profane, and, of course, good-evil. His publishing company, Controversy Music, is named after the song that sets out some of those alternatives; his Lovesexy set was divided into two sets, with nasty songs to start and nice ones to finish. And since the plot of Batman revolved around the paired opposites of Batman and the Joker, with Vicki Vale as the sex object lest anyone get perverse ideas, Prince had a perfect setup.
Prince's Batman soundtrack is packaged as songs written for the movie's characters. Bruce Wayne-Batman gets the good ones and the Joker gets the bad ones, though Prince sings both, and Vicki Vale (sung by Sheena Easton) gets the mushy one; the lyric sheet notes who's who. But you can toss it out, because except for the samples of dialogue from the film, Batman is a Prince album all the way.
It's hard to avoid the suspicion that some of the songs on Batman were already sitting around Paisley Park as part of Prince's vast outpouring of music. Batman may be one hip caped crusader, but somehow I can't imagine him visiting an acid-house music club in "The Future," where he sings, "Yellow Smiley offers me X/Like he's drinkin' seven up/I would rather drink 6 razor blades/Razor blades from a paper cup" -- or telling Vicki Vale a naughty joke in "Vicki Waiting." Ditto for the Joker, who would hardly display the guilty conscience of "Electric Chair."
As a Prince album, Batman is uneven, but it starts and ends with some of Prince's most radical funk. "The Future" has a cool, ominous tone, using the layered chords that turned up on the Black Album and Lovesexy; bitonality is Prince's latest dualism. A breathy, circular synthesizer line, dissonant strings and a peculiar guitar lick -- backward? sampled? who knows? -- all drift alongside Prince's voice, wandering in the urban desolation conjured by lyrics about "systematic overthrow of the underclass."
"Electric Chair" has a harder, rock-funk beat, with wailing lead guitar and power chords piling up; the arrangement holds Yes-like meshed guitars, a bass line (from "Bob George," on the Black Album) and anything else Prince wants to throw in. The lyrics contemplate capital punishment for a dirty mind, but that doesn't stop him from making his proposition, only to screech, "I'm guilty!"
Other uptempo dance songs won't clear any dance floors, even though Prince has done better. "Partyman" is filler; "Trust" and "Lemon Crush" are filler with hooks. The midtempo "Vicki Waiting" is a little quirkier. Structurally, it's a blues number with a bridge, and it's layered with the familiar stringy, slidey sounds of Lovesexy, but while the lyrics are intriguingly off the wall, the song is unfocused. Skip "The Arms of Orion," a duet with Sheena Easton only and Academy Awards nominating committee could love, and think of "Scandalous" as a lesser, racier version of "When 2 R in Love."
That leaves "Batdance," Prince's own funk master mix. It jumps all over the place, from a sample of the Batman TV-show theme, through snatches of "The Future" and "Electric Chair," quickie plot summaries and fuzzed-out lead-guitar solos, to looped Kim Basinger screams. The beat changes three times, Prince gets in a few leers and yells, "Don't stop dancin'!" It's Prince free-associating, like someone recalling the movie as a series of sex-and-power sound-bite climaxes.
As the Joker's hollow, looped laugh carries the rhythm to the end, "Batman" is no crime-doesn't-pay morality tale. Like traditional soundtrack scores, it's open-ended, shifty, and shreds pop structure in favor of pure momentum and cheap thrills. "Batdance" may be the raunchy, snappy movie Prince would have made if he had final editing rights. Happy with his dualisms, Prince knows that virtue without vice, good without evil, just don't tell the whole story.
The Blat !!! Album
KERRPOW!!! Another sock in the face for the camp silliness of the old style TV Batman. Whoever placed the soundtrack to the fortcoming mega-bucks adult Bat-movie in the deviant savant hands of Prince made an inspired move.
His Purpleness's self-imposed residency in a private Gotham City of sleaze, future fear, spiritual wrangling and plain daffiness has equipped him with a utility in a belt of tricks, ideally suited to locating the Caped Crusader in a more 'mature' context. Holy sexual innuendo ! Prince's Batman even had a weird way with dirty phone jokes.
That said, this is far more of a Prince album than it is a movie soundtrack. Although each of the nine songs are attributed to characters in the film, Prince's obsessions far outweight the Caped Crusader narrative tie-ins. And oddly, it's a more committed dance album than anything he's done in recent years.
On a one-off preview listening the tracks go like this.
'The Future': stripped-down rota-funk with an ultra-heavy thud beat, eerie flecks of keyboards and orchestral samples. Prince intones the lyric in a cold monotone making for a grim but groovin' piece of bare-boned funk.
'Electric Chair': a huge, crashing neo-hip-hop beat underpins screaming Hendrix guitars as Prince chants a guilty lust-song in empathy with the Joker. prime, heaving, psychedlic funk Prince.
'The Arms Of Orion': a love duet with Sheena Easton, Prince doing the dewy-eyed falsetto and Sheena trilling prettily over a swell of orchestration.
'Partyman': preceded by Jack Nicholson (The Joker) inviting us to broaden our minds. This is shunting, steaming fun funk.
'Vicki Waiting': now for the Bat-joke. Prince as Batman on the phone to the movie's love interest Vicki Vale "I told her the joke about the woman/ Who asked her lover 'Why is your organ so small ?'/ He replied 'I didn't know I was playin' in a cathedral'/ Vicki didn't laugh at all". Cover your ears Robin !
'Trust': whoop-a-long lightweight speed pop House with a screamy Prince telling us that sexiness is next to Godliness.
'Lemon Crush': sticky fingers time as Prince gets wickedly lascivious. A stalking, stuttering dance beat and multi-speed vocal effects add up to first rate fizzy funk in 'Lovesexy' style.
'Scandalous': co-written with Prince's father John L Nelson, this dims the lights to seduction level for a body-talk ballad. Over the plush slurrs of keyboards, Prince stretches his voice to the limits in an effort to convince his partner to "skip all the 4 play".
'Batdance': the Joker's laugh and a lashing metal guitar lead into a multiple splice-up of the Batman TV theme with rigid House and loose funk beats, 'Purple Rain' guitar dementia and film dialogue samples. A fragmented and brilliantly raving finale.
To be sure there is no 'Kiss' nor 'Alphabet Street' here, and apart from a nod towards House there is little that hasn't already been dealt with in the Princely back catalogue. But given the constraints of fitting in with the movie, there are enough flashes of brilliance to make this a triumph. (9/10)
Sunday, June 18, 1989
'BATMAN' GIVES PRINCE NEW STRUCTURE, FOCUS
Prince has probably released better individual songs ("Kiss," "Sign O' the Times" and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" come to mind) in the five years since "Purple Rain," but he hasn't made a more cohesive, compelling album. One listen to "Batman," and it becomes clear that, for the first time since he wrote the songs for "Purple Rain," Prince was locked in on a single-minded idea for this album.
Having seen the rushes and read the script, Prince composed the nine songs here as musical impressions of the movie, each with a certain character in mind. Of course, The Joker's lust and madness on "Electric Chair," "Trust" and "Partyman" play directly against Batman's tortured optimism/pessimism on "The Future" and "Vicki Waiting" - and both characters can clearly be seen as representative of both sides of Prince's own personality. He is both the sex-crazed "Partyman" and the spiritual lover of "The Arms of Orion."
Although "Sign O' the Times" also effectively explored Prince's obsessions with good and evil, sex and God, "Batman" gives him a structure and focus he's lacked since he romanticized his own life story in "Purple Rain."
If you choose to ignore the album's tie-in with the movie and enjoy the music for its own sake, you won't be disappointed. Although the Sheena Easton duet "Arms of Orion" is a fairly stock movie love theme, the rest of the album fairly burns with multiple Prince voices, searing guitar fills and churning funk-rock rhythms. "Partyman" is paced similarly to the propulsive "1999," while "Trust" trips along at the furious pace of "Baby I'm a Star," showing off Prince's remarkably nimble vocal phrasing. "Scandalous" (co-written with his father, John Nelson) is a soul showcase, the kind of sex ballad at which Marvin Gaye excelled.
"Batman" is tightly arranged and densely packed with a broad range of sounds, but it never seems overly cluttered or prematurely slapped togther, as did much of "LoveSexy" and "Parade."
Coming at the end of this record, "Batdance" seems less confusing and more purposeful than it does on radio. It's an apt summation of an album that could well stand as the new high point of Prince's career.
- Rick Shefchik
Published: Monday, June 19, 1989 Section: FTR Page: 3B
Pop: Prince delivers his own "pow!" for comics' soundtrack
BATMAN: MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK -- Prince (Warner Bros.): You can hear the Boy Wonder say it: "Holy hit singles, Batman! Prince has done it again!" And Robin -- who, we should note, doesn't appear in "Batman," the film -- would be as right as the Riddler. The dash of outside inspiration that led Prince to compose the nine songs on this soundtrack -- six of which appear in the film -- has resulted in the Minneapolis superstar's most most mainstream accessible record in years, a groove-laden outing that's of a piece with his earlier albums like "1999" and "Purple Rain." But it doesn't sacrifice the stylized quirks of more recent efforts like "Sign o' the Times" and "Lovesexy;" snippets of dialogue from the film dart in and out of the songs, and there are plenty of unexpected, but appropriate, musical change-ups. There's a dark, sexual tension in many of the songs, particularly "The Future" -- a gritty aural portrait of Gotham City -- "Vicki Waiting" and "Electric Chair." But there are also dance floor rave-ups like "Partyman," "Trust" and the funk pastiche and first single "Batdance," which isn't part of the film. The shortcomings are the slower numbers: "The Arms of Orion," a duet with Sheena Easton, is inconsequential, while the lush falsetto "Scandalous" could use some visuals for context. Those aside, "Batman" is the Prince record many have been waiting for, and it may just establish his good name on Top 40 radio. No Jokering.
-- GARY GRAFF
While painting a picture dark enough for Batman in the late '80s, this is Prince's most cohesive work since 1999. Spooky basslines and keyboards provide the gloom, while the paranoia of nervy shrieks of guitars and brass is kept on a jangling edge with stop/start editing. Then, by refusing to noodle around being creative, it reminds us why Prince is special: instinctive funk and ballads, tweaked above the pack by pitching in snatches of ideas that nag away but never get fully formed enough to become obstructive. The Future, Electric Chair and Batdance, in particular, treat everything as a rhythm device to build up relentless dance grooves, and the love songs are unashamed in their seduction, feeling no need to justify themselves elsewhere. Maybe its throwaway quality will irritate fans of his recent contrived ramblings, but keeping it simple is how Prince functions best.
Tuesday, June 20, 1989
PRINCE AT BAT: SOME HEALTHY CUTS
By Jonathan Takiff, Daily News Staff Writer
Prince and Batman. Batman and Prince.
As previewed in the powerful music video for "Batdance" that shook TV last week, and as coming home to roost in the sizzling, 9-song "Batman: Motion Picture Soundtrack" album hitting stores today, this is a marriage made in Bat Heaven.
When rock's Prince of Darkness is good, he's very, very good. A caped crusader. The saviour of us all.
When he's bad, look out. This man is dirty and his love bite could be dangerous.
The urban schizophrenia of Bruce Wayne/Batman (portrayed in the film by Michael Keaton) is easy for Prince to comprehend. The musician's sweet-and- sour, sexually ambiguous split personality also empathizes with the nefarious Joker (Jack Nicholson) and the blonde bombshell, Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger).
So on his soundtrack album and in the "Batdance" music video, Prince goes absolutely batty.
He assumes the roles and/or voices of all the film's main characters. The mind-warping "Batdance" video is an edgy, explosively lit and elaborately choreographed hip-hop overture prepping us for the film. (But the song is not heard in the movie nor does the video employ "Batman" film footage.) This real-life Gemini is a dark side/light side figure, half Batman/half Joker.
"One of the original ideas was to have Prince write music for the dark characters only," says producer Jon Peters.
"But as the film progressed, it was obvious from the texture and look of what (director)Tim (Burton) was getting, that we needed a unified approach to the score."
While they were shooting and rough-cut editing Nicholson's big Joker-is-wild scenes last year, the creative team used Prince's "1999" and ''Baby, I'm a Star" as sonic inspiration.
Then, in December, they approached Prince to ask if he'd re-do the tracks for the flick.
Faster than you could say "Holy Comeback, ColdStar" Prince gathered his wings and flew to London to meet the film's creators, hang out on the set at Pinewood Studios and study the daily rushes. Then, late at night, he'd retreat to his cave and start writing.
Though this is not billed as a Prince album, fans will judge it as his, and probably as one of his best albums ever. Certainly it's the most accessible, commercially attuned set since the soundtrack album to his own film, "Purple Rain."
Prince's low-down-and-dirty, jump-start-my-heart numbers as the Joker ("Electric Chair," "Partyman," "Trust") are brilliantly in tune with the character.
As Bruce Wayne, he offers a prophecy of things to come in "The Future," and a love duet with Vicki ("The Arms of Orion," performed with Sheena Easton) that the film's creators must have judged too sappy for their dark vision of the comic-strip characters.
Prince psyches-out Bruce Wayne's persona best in "Vicki Waiting." He suggests the man's perpetual lateness is a sign of his immaturity, his inability to love and act his age:
"Talk of children still frightens me/Is my character enough to be/One that deserves a copy made/This I one day hope 2 see . . ."
Batman, Wayne's alter-ego, doesn't seem to have the same hangups, judging from "Scandalous," his lewd and rude song of seduction that pops up late in the album (and presumably the film).
Also on the record but left on the film's cutting-room floor is "Lemon Crush," a song Prince sings in falsetto as Vicki and, in part, as Prince panting after Vicki. The man does have good taste in women.
Collectors note: a 20,000-copy limited-edition CD of the "Batman" soundtrack ($24.95) also hits stores today. The high-priced model comes in an embossed tin with a round-cut program book and Batman-logo painted disc.
Film-score buffs also will be interested in a second Batman soundtrack album - featuring the instrumental background music from the film scored by Danny Elfman (sometime leader of Oingo Boingo.)
To avoid confusion with Prince's product, the other "Batman" album won't surface until August.