Prince and the Cure's Robert Smith may, at first, seem to have little in common -- apart from a penchant for eyeliner and high hair. But, in fact, they're two suburban doofuses who turned out to be the most unlikely love gods of the '80s. Prince, a short man mincing around in high heels, has managed to parlay his lascivious fantasies into a reported $100 million business deal. Robert Smith has built a veritable cult around his roly-poly loneliness. And they both write guitar anthems for malcontents: "Stairway to Heaven" has nothing on "Purple Rain" or "Why Can't I Be You?"
In the beginning -- the late '70s -- both Prince and Smith toyed with their androgynous qualities. Prince's slight body in silhouette or chiffon can look quite feminine, a fact that he's milked nearly to the point of self-parody (those backless trousers?); and Smith mocks gender lines by cloaking himself in layers of black, then festooning his lips with a dark blood red. That's the perfect game to play for teenagers, boys and girls who are themselves caught up in a tornado of sexual confusion. Prince and Smith are performers who embrace, if not cultivate, idiosyncrasy and mystery -- Prince dressed in a thong, garters and stockings singing explicitly about women; Smith performing in dense clouds of smoke, only occasionally poking his face out so that it's visible. Of course, odd habits appeal to an audience that feels it doesn't fit in. The enigma becomes a deity.
A curious thing happens on "Show," a live album that the Cure recorded during last year's "Wish" tour. Waves of applause swell between songs, which interrupts the solitary nature of being an individual, alienated Cure fan but underscores Smith's power to unite such fans collectively. The Cure play stadiums now. In spite of that, Show doesn't seem much like a live album -- and that's good. There are no unbearable guitar solos or concert versions that completely distort the songs, just the big, echoing sound that has filled many lonesome rooms. The 18-track record seems more like a greatest-hits collection, covering the ground from early brooding to sudden bursts of whimsy, from the solemnity of "The Walk" (1983) to last year's hit, the almost-sunny "Friday I'm in Love." "Let's Go to Bed" and "Pictures of You" are vintage Cure, with Smith's trademark on-the-verge-of-tears vocals way out front. The "I don't care if you don't" refrain from "Let's Go to Bed" captures the angst of youth better than John Hughes ever could. And the images from "Pictures of You" ("You were stone white, so delicate, lost in the dark") describe both Smith and his disciples in detail.
The Prince package is a dizzying sprawl. There are 36 songs between "Volumes I and II;" each disc is available separately, but if they are bought together, they come with an additional disc of 20 B sides and rarities that is otherwise not available. The songs are divided neither by period (the material spans 15 years, from 1978 to now) nor by style, but by degree of raciness: "Volume I's" got the "clean" songs, such as the subversively sexual "When Doves Cry," the rocking "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" and the party classic "1999," plus a live version of "Nothing Compares 2 U" (a duet with Rosie Gaines) and the previously unreleased "Pink Cashmere." "Volume II's" got the "dirty" stuff, such as "Head," the jazz-funk song about a virgin's sexual awakening (among other things) punctuated by Prince's squealing guitar; the disco-dancing "I Wanna Be Your Lover," one of the girlie-man songs on which he revels in the risque ("I wanna be your lover/I wanna be the only one you come for") in an impossibly high falsetto; and the smash hit "Raspberry Beret," a small-town narrative about a motorcycle, old man Johnson's farm and doing it in a barn with horses looking on; plus the recent concert rocker "Peach"; and a rare foray away from the carnal and into the political, "Pope" ("You can be the president, I'd rather be the pope/You can be the side effect, I'd rather be the dope").
The B sides range from the obscure ("200 Balloons," "Horny Toad") to the absurd (the press-loathing "Hello," the lustily titled but extremely silly "Scarlet Pussy") to the favorites of the fixated ("Erotic City," "Irresistible Bitch"). There are also a few outstanding tracks. If "She's Always in My Hair" or "Another Lonely Christmas" are any indication of the reported 500 songs Prince has in his vaults, his label just might get its money's worth -- even if he keeps his word and never makes another studio album.
In the end, "Show" and "The Hits: Volumes I & II" are essential documents of the past decade, if only to close a chapter. Polar opposites as artists, Prince and Robert Smith both capture the imagination of a generation -- Prince with an overt sexiness, Smith with a covert. Even as Prince thrusts himself into his guitar or licks it, even as Smith gives a little wiggle of his hips, there's something raw and vulnerable about them. It's the eternal quest for love, and that may be the secret of the seduction.
-- CHRISTIAN WRIGHT
THAT #@?% !
Review by David Browne
The 36 songs shoehorned into Prince's The Hits 1 and The Hits 2 (Paisley Park/Warner Bros.) are entirely predictable. But who cares? These days, greatest-hits albums rarely live up to their billing. Too often, they comprise a few recognizable smashes, some you barely recall, and the obligatory new tracks that may or may not become actual hits. The Prince collections, however -- available separately or as part of a three-CD set that includes a disc of B sides and rarities -- offer plenty of bang for your buck. They're vital not just as the first overview of his music, but as an affirmation that, at one time, Prince's very strangeness and eccentricities had a point; he was never weird simply for weirdness' sake.
We shouldn't need those kinds of reminders given his track record, but the last few years have been trying ones for Prince fans. Starting with 1989's Batman soundtrack, his albums have been hit-or-myth affairs, crammed with inferior songs and lackluster attempts to update his sound with nondescript rappers. This year's bizarre announcements -- that he would no longer release any new studio recordings and was changing his name to -- were at best puzzling career moves, at worst the stuff of which laughing stocks are made.
There was nothing laughable about Prince's accomplishments during, say, the first decade of his career (1978-88). The Minneapolis elfmeister expanded the range of black music because, to paraphrase someone with much graver career problems at the moment, it simply didn't matter if he was black or white. As heard throughout both Hits albums, what counted was that Prince could be a horny crooner one minute ("I Wanna Be Your Lover"), then a guitar-vamping arena rocker ("Let's Go Crazy") or funk bandleader ("Alphabet St.") -- and all of it sounded fine and natural. Prince also made sex and spirituality interchangeable, yet maintained mutual respect for each -- thus the sequencing of these albums, vaguely divided into "clean" and "dirty" discs.
You could question the very idea of a Prince compilation devoted exclusively to singles, since he was one of the few '80s pop stars who prided himself on making fully conceived albums. And The Hits omit his darker, bumpier album tracks and anything from the much-bootlegged Black Album. Crank up the actual Hits records, however, and such high-minded considerations fall by the wayside. Unlike so many boxed sets, these anthologies aren't weighed down with Significance -- they're simply a blast to hear and even revelatory. The Purple Rain numbers, like "Let's Go Crazy," come off a little sludgy now, while a weak song like 1992's "Sexy M.F." sounds like a marvel of big-band arranging. (And of the inevitable previously unreleased tracks laced through the two albums, the best is the fuzz-blast rocker "Peach.")
The Hits don't completely neglect Prince's oddball side. The B-sides compilation jams together 20 lost treasures of aural weirdness, like the Purple Rain outtake "Erotic City" and frisky indulgences like "Irresistible Bitch." Few are essential, and many of them are little more than slinky riffs and wink-wink lyrics-the type of music that has become the trademark of his recent work. But mostly The Hits remind us that Prince started his career breaking both musical ground and a few sociocultural taboos. Now that he's calling himself and writing musicals based on Homer's Odyssey, we need all the reminders of that era we can get. Hits 1: A Hits 2: A Three-CD set: A-
What's up with old whassisname? First, his recent Wembley gig was the strangest he's ever put on in this country-the little fellow often appeared distracted, bored even, during his songs, and climaxed the whole unsettled shebang with a quite bizarre, almost embarrassing recitation that bore all the hallmarks of a resignation speech. And now this compilation frenzy.
It's hard to believe, but maybe this really does mark some sort of significant career fracture, some sort of ending. Mind you, this is no ordinary best of; other artists scramble for bits and Number-63-for-a-week pieces to fill tracks 10, 11 and 12. Not Prince. Available as two separate all-hits CDs or a triple, those smart enough to go for the latter (the first two discs and a third of weird, wonderful and rare B-sides), will find themselves confronted by no less than 72 assaults on their senses, and sensibilities. And while Prince himself would be the first to admit that size does count, it's not just the high and mighty width of this collection that startles; the sustained quality here is remarkable.
Initial contact with such a gigantic canon leaves the listener shocked by the sheer gluttonous musicality of the man. With other acts, you can hear their teeth grinding and their sinews squealing with the eye-wobbling effort of what they do, with the strain of trying to translate ideas and talent on to magnetic tape. Not so with Prince; he must have his bad days and his dark nights just like anyone else (and he's made plenty of musical gaffes on the welter of LPs he's issued) but the music collected here seems almost immoral in its effortless invention, its carefree ability to absorb and recycle whatever style or nuance its creator has most lately jackdawed.
When the shock of the overall achievement pales, it's only to allow a focusing on the individual songs. When Doves Cry, Pop Life, 1999, Little Red Corvette, Raspberry Beret, Kiss, Gett Off, Purple Rain; all present and correct, fighting for space with equally essential, if sometimes less familiar stuff like the originals of I Feel For You and Nothing Compares 2 U-Number 1 hits rescued from Prince's trash. And that's before you hit a vein that runs Alphabet Street, Sign O' The Times, Thieves In The Temple, Diamonds And Pearls and 7.
The mind fair boggles. There are gripes -- a few too many early tracks where the muse was still doing its Charles Atlas course on sub-Rick James keyboard funk, the churlish exclusion of anything from the Batman soundtrack that rescued Prince's commercial standing, and the teasing omission of the storming My Name Is Prince -- but compared to what's actually on offer they are pathetic, desultory nits on a maharajah's elephant. Most truly essential compilations contain a few stars from pop's astrological map; these three contain a whole galaxy.
PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS
Tuesday, September 14, 1993
15 YEARS OF FOOT-PRINCE IN THE SANDS OF TIME
by Chuck Arnold, Daily News Staff Writer
THE HITS/THE B-SIDES
For the first year since 1983, after "1999" and before "Purple Rain," there is no new Prince album. But how's this for a sad sign of the times? Probably nobody would have noticed.
The most prolific pop musician of the last decade-and-a-half's greatest-hits albums, in stores today, serve as a majestic reminder of when Prince was Prince.
After absorbing them, you know that if Prince really wanted to make a big commercial comeback, he could do an "Unplugged" version of a relatively unknown early hit like "When You Were Mine." But he has never been one to look back, always pushing his art forward like a bored porno star looking for a new position.
"The Hits 1" and "The Hits 2," with 36 between them, can be bought separately or as part of a box set with a third album, "The Hits/The B- Sides." "Hits 1" and "Hits 2" are loosely divided into clean hits ("1") and dirty hits ("2"), but it's virtually impossible to choose between the two. Coupled with the fact that Prince's loyal subjects who already have all 13 previous album releases will just have to add "The B- Sides" to their collections, it's obvious the record company is hyping the box set.
Believe it. Buy it.
"Hits 1" gets off with "When Doves Cry," the biggest single of Prince's career, which elevated him to pop music royalty in the summer of '84. It mixed funk, rock and soul in a revolutionary way that you could dig whether you were black or white or purple.
"When Doves Cry" and other "Hits 1" cuts "Let's Go Crazy," "Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?" and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" also show off some electrifying guitar work, which Prince has shied away from in recent years.
Also on "Hits 1" are two Prince songs popularized by female singers: "I Feel for You," a quirky ditty that Chaka Khan remade with insistent rap flourishes; and "Nothing Compares 2 U," whose plaintive Sinead O'Connor reading is uplifted here with a gospel-infused live duet by Prince and former New Power Generation member Rosie Gaines.
Conspicuously absent from "Hits 2" are any songs from the much-bootlegged "Black Album" and "Scandalous" from the "Batman" soundtrack (the only official album not represented on "Hits 1" or "Hits 2"). But there are plenty of other tastes of how deliciously naughty Prince has been, from the somewhat submissive sexuality of "Dirty Mind" and "Head" to the almost macho bluster of "Gett Off" and "Sexy MF."
And there are two new songs, the hard-rocking "Peach" and the hip-hopping "Pope," that are worthy of being future hits (a third new song, "Pink Cashmere," is featured on "Hits 1").
As for "The B-Sides," it has its share of losers, including "200 Balloons," a blatant ripoff of "Batdance" and "Partyman"; "Escape," a mere extension of "Glam Slam"; and the Sheena Easton collaboration "La La La, He He Hee," which is as laughable as it sounds. But even throwaway oddities like "Feel U Up" and "Girl" have sparks of a genius at play.
About half of the 20 B-sides are A-list Prince. Some are more familiar, including "Irresistible Bitch" and the sleazy Sheila E. coupling "Erotic City." Others - among them "God," his most overtly religious song ever; and "Another Lonely Christmas," his only holiday tune - are obscured brilliancies that, to borrow some hyperbole from "Sexy MF," you could throw in the air and they'd turn to sunshine.