PRINCE STRIPS DOWN
PARADE: MUSIC FROM UNDER THE CHERRY MOON
BY DAVITT SIGERSON
Who but Prince fills us today with the kind of anticipation we once reserved for new work by Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones? Happily, following the commercial and creative letdown of Around the World in a Day (cleverly presented as his Personal Statement record), Parade: Music from 'Under the Cherry Moon' bears the weight of intense hope and scrutiny as lightly as its maker wears the satin capes he favors.
Prince has made it his task to shock us: his work sounds so inevitable we can no longer identify what it was that first surprised us. He did this on "When Doves Cry." Was it simply the omission of bass guitar or the retention of a single line of melody for verse and chorus? The answer lies in the way it was assembled; the result is that most of us can remember where we were and what we were doing the first time we heard it.
"When Doves Cry" and Purple Rain, the blockbuster it introduced, weren't even Prince's best work. That had been achieved one record before -- on 1999. A febrile double album of extended dance pieces, it featured his best song, "Little Red Corvette," and an example of his musical wit, "1999." A lover of sixties pop, he built "1999" around the central riff of the Mamas and the Papas' "Monday, Monday." To complete this tribute-by-triangulation, Prince has now written for the Bangles "Manic Monday," which bears a melody almost identical to "1999" but omits the founding riff that would link it to its original source.
This is the degree of energy and intelligence we have come to expect from Prince. This is the promise he has once again kept -- on Parade. Like Purple Rain, the new album is a soundtrack (for the forthcoming Under the Cherry Moon) and is preceded by the stunning "Kiss." The single has been mistaken as a return to the music of his Dirty Mind period. In fact, it is made with a sparseness and -- most surprising to the ear -- an absence of reverb that bespeak years of learning. Rhythmically, "Kiss" is funk; harmonically, it is rhythm & blues; lyrically, it proves Prince is crossing yet another frontier, into emotional maturity.
The petulant baby -- first trumpeting a purported sexuality and then expecting us to care about a so-called spiritual rejuvenation -- is no more. Not that Prince wasn't intelligent enough to say interesting things all along, between the nonsense. Usually, though, sex was his code word for a kind of achievement in which the gratification of voyeur and audience defined success. This explains the curious the curious lack of love, or even motivation, in Prince's sex songs. Dirty Mind's "Sister," for example, isn't a song about making love to one's sister; it's a song about making love in which the female seducer is cast as the protagonist's sister, much as a pornographer might create a fantasy to titillate his audience. "Sister" is not about what it claims to be about, and neither incites nor shocks.
What really shocks, of course, is the aural landscape of records like "When Doves Cry" and "Kiss." We all may have dirty minds, but few of us are visionaries. In the arrangements on Parade, it is Prince's vision to that is paraded: a simple Weillen waltz like "Under the Cherry Moon" proves an excuse for all manner of orchestral invention; when Prince says on "New Position," "You've got to try my new funk," believe him. In "New Position," on "Kiss" and above all in the sensational "Girls & Boys," Prince conceives a clean, diamond-hard style that could spawn years of imitations.
Far from the funk of Dirty Mind, this style springs from an understanding f orchestration, rather than the innate ability to jam on rhythm instruments. On Parade, all sounds -- snippets of guitar, horn, percussion, voice -- are treated equally, erasing the line between "basic track" and "sweetening." Prince has achieved the effect of a full groove using only the elements essential to a listener's understanding -- and so has devised a funk completed only by the listener's response.
Thanks to Under the Cherry Moon, we get the title song, "Sometimes It Snows in April" and "Christopher Tracy's Parade"; thanks to shooting in France, we get the French touches in "Girls & Boys" and "Do U Lie?" But the growth in Prince's lyrics isn't because maturity is written into the film script. On Parade, sex and love sound real, and perhaps for the first time, they sound related. He's made the adult discovery -- or is it an admission? -- that the people you care about can be the people who turn you on the most. "Kiss" even offers something of a manifesto: in lines like "Women not girls rule my world," "U don't have 2 watch Dynasty 2 have an attitude" and "U can't be 2 flirty mama I know how 2 undress me," Prince smiles at his old ways. On another track, he serves notice that he's "got 2 try a new position."
If Parade harks back to Dirty Mind, it is less in the surface similarities of the falsetto funk style than in its freedom from thematic pretensions. Prince has given us three successive concept albums -- first the unintended masterpiece 1999; next the Cinerama extravaganza Purple Rain, where his exertions occasionally drowned out his intentions; and finally the con job Around the World in a Day, when he summoned craft and packaging to bridge the creative chasm he faced. Having gathered enough laurels on which to rest comfortably forevermore, Prince wants to have some fun with music, or as he puts it, to "go fishing in the river, the river of life." What better time for a new baptism?
It turns out we're not going back to that springy, spunky sound after all - 'Kiss' is on its own as a throwback to 'Head' and 'Party Up' and 'Do It All Night'. Not that Prince doesn't still have a filthy little mind, of course, just that these days he doesn't speak it quite so economically. It's all mixed he doesn't really know how to express, and that's become a drag.
A few things have changed since 'Around The World In A Day', it's true. For starters, there are no printed lyrics, so i don't have to pretend to have given his twee and icky poems my most careful consideration. Then for seconds there's no purple or paisley stuff on the sleeve - just plain ol' black and white narcissim (another throwback to 'Dirty Mind'). Most important, Prince isn't being such a sourpuss primadonna anymore. There I was thinking the little mulatto Amadeus was on the edge of a breakdown and suddenly he's all happy and relaxed and flirty in the 'Kiss' video.
Trouble is, i actually think 'Around The World In A Day' was the better record. For all its neo-psychedelic silliness it had three great songs, which is about three more than 'Parade' has - nothing here as witty as 'Pop Life', as mournful as 'America', or as anguished as 'Condition Of The Heart'. The worst thing about Prince's "maturity', if we can call it that, is that he has given up writing great songs - songs like 'When You Were Mine' - as a matter of course. I mean, if he can find time to bestow a morsel like 'Manic Monday' on four desperate California chicks who will probably never have another hit record in their lives, surely he could craft the odd decent tune for himself.
Prince, instead of writing simple, succinct, sexy songs, is always trying to save the world, which means that he is never content with anything but grandiose 'Sgt Pepper' albums where all the songs run into each onther and vast orchestras make a lot of superfluous noise. He is a master architect of sound but he will show off and spoil it all. His Rundgren-esque technosoup of Sly and Stevie Wonder is beginning to get very predictable.
The LP opens with 'Christopher Tracy's Parade', a typical fanfare for his highness 'Disneyland soundscape and pretty much a follow-through from the ambience of 'Paisley Park'. Who this tracy fellow is I don't know, though going by the closing elegy of 'Sometimes It Snows In April', I would guess that he is a deceased pal of the Minneapolitan midget's.
'New Position' follows with steel drums, a hard pop-funk beat, and yer basic lewd double entendre. Guitarist Wendy picks up for the strange, brief interlude of 'I Wonder U' (performances seem more democratically delegated this time around: P. isn't being such a spoilt-brat autocrat in his studio playpen) which slides swiftly into 'Under The Cherry Moon', title track of the unpromising-sounding flick for which this LP purports to be a soundtrack. I have seen many moons in my time, but never a cherry moon - how about you ? The song is a kind of kurt Weill lullaby co-authored by (Prince Sr ?) John L. Nelson.
Next up, 'Girls And Boys' is an adolescent 'Lady Marmalade' replete with "sauce" French bits and set to the beat of 'Take Me With U'. 'Life Can Be So Nice' bypasses me completely - a highspirited mess - before 'Venus De Milo' trails away at Side One's end as a slight sliver of mood-muzak, grand piano plus sweeping strings and reeds.
Flip the disc and we're straight back into Prince's booming sytnh beat on 'Mountains', which is a pounding Stevie Wonder/ Earth Wind And Fire epic. The Jazzy, smoochy 'Do U Lie ?' is a pleasant and slinky respite from such pomp.
'Kiss' then takes its isolated place in the remorseless parade of overdone semi-ideas, followed by the melodically beguiling 'Anotherloverholenyohead' (yes, it is a stupid title, isn't it). Finally, the showpiece ballad, 'Sometimes It Snows In April' (an even worse title) ends the record on a folksy acoustic noteand mourns the aforesaid departed Tracy. I feel that Prince is, on the whole, best at this most sentimental and foppishly despolate, but this is appalling kitsch and doesn't work at all.
I dunno. Is it possible, or even advisable, to take Prince seriously ? Do I have to watch Dynasty to have an attitude ? I find this record laboured and trite and self-satisfied and won't be listening to it again.
-- Barney Hoskyns
PRINCE TAKES A CUE FROM HIS PAST
GARY GRAFF; DONNA OLDENDORF
Parade -- Prince (Paisley Park/Warner Bros.): Prince takes stock of the various directions he has explored during his eight-year recording career and integrates them into an intriguing and, ultimately, entertaining work. He brings his music back to the dance floor of "Dirty Mind" and "1999" without getting trapped by the same old steps. He also retains the psuedo-psychedelic edge -- and makes better use of it -- than he did on last year's album, "Around the World in a Day." And he checks any pretensions by managing to keep his sense of humor and fun throughout the record. The only thing missing is the hard rock guitar pyrotechnics of his breakthrough record, "Purple Rain," but they wouldn't really fit here, anyway.
The gems on "Parade" -- due in stores on Monday -- are unquestionably the foot-movers, stuff like the quirky first single, "Kiss," "New Position," "Girls & Boys," "Mountains" and "Anotherloverholenyohead." But Prince is equally effective when he about-faces on "Venus De Milo," a soft piano-saxophone duet, and "Sometimes It Snows in April," a moody acoustic piece full of religious metaphors. The lulls come when Prince dips too far into psychedelia on the imitative "Wonder U," "Christopher Tracy's Parade" and "Under a Cherry Moon," songs written more as accompaniment for the visuals of Prince's upcoming film, "Under a Cherry Moon," than as listening pieces. Still, the bulk of "Parade" is listenable and enjoyable, a confirmation of Prince's place as a superior melodist, arranger and player as well as a celebration of his creativity.
Tuesday, April 15, 1986
AN ALBUM OF REASONS TO RAIN ON PRINCE'S 'PARADE'
By JONATHAN TAKIFF, Daily News Staff Writer
Prince's career has been built on provocation - on challenging the values and expectations of the pop-music-buying public. So it shouldn't be any surprise that his new album, "Parade," finds the Minneapolis maverick on the move again - with an eccentric brew that is at turns minimalist and exotically lush, familiar and otherworldly, sometimes sublime and at other times pretty stupid.
"Parade" is the soundtrack for Prince's next film, "Under the Cherry Moon," in which he not only stars but makes his directorial debut. But even with it's suggestive come-on - a half-naked cover photo of the androgynous poster boy - and at least one certified hit single in "Kiss," the score is not the sort that will send millions marching to their record counters or movie theaters, as the enormously popular "Purple Rain" soundtrack accomplished for His Royal Badness.
That 10-million-selling LP represented Prince at his most commercial, churning out gallons of wham-bam thank-you-ma'am hyperkinetic funk rock. And, miracle upon miracles, the confessional, autobiographical thrust of the ''Purple Rain" score perfectly matched the "troubled child/troubled musician" film plot built around Prince's own life. So the "Purple Rain" lyrics functioned effectively as that film's script, carrying the tissue-paper-thin story along.
But the introductory "Parade" now marching through for "Under the Cherry Moon" (not due to hit movie theaters until July, and sure to be featured in Prince's next stage show this summer) is a different, vague and ultimately unsatisfying work, that doesn't stand nearly so well by itself.
Unconventionally conventional by current rock movie production standards, the "Parade" music is almost traditional movie scoring. It is largely background music that sets the scene, heightening the sense of atmosphere without intruding much.
Especially color-coordinated is the French cafe sound of wheezing accordions, tinkling piano and drunken horns, placing Prince's film character in context. In "Under the Cherry Moon" he's playing a down-on-his-heels piano player on the French Riviera who crashes a party and puts the make on a French heiress. Oooh, la-la!
"It's a boy-meets-girl love story, a kind of Pygmalion in reverse. Instead of making a high-society dame out of a tramp, it's about a man trying to loosen up a high-society dame," explains Prince's backup singer Lisa in a Rolling Stone interview.
The movie's theme song, co-authored by Prince and his father John L. Nelson, sounds like something out of a Marlene Dietrich picture from the 1930s or '40s. Very Euro. Very retro.
Even more old fashioned is the vaudeville shuffle "Do U Lie," done up with wah-wah horns and Prince mouthing through an old-fashioned megaphone. It's so kitschy cute you could just fwow up. Let's just pray the music serves a sarcastic point in the pic.
The father-and-son Nelson team are likewise responsible (and to blame, I'm afraid) for the vapid introductory "Christopher Tracy's Parade," which sets up the picture as a poorer man's "Magical Mystery Tour." The overblown production on this track arranged by Clare Fisher in pseudo-George Martin fashion tries to make a mountain out of this molehill with watery strings and horns, discordant notes and backward tape loops, but the fussy effort backfires, badly.
Other songs, by contrast, appear so minimially arranged that one might suspect they are rough rhythm tracks someone simply forgot to finish. On "New Position," Prince's voice is surrounded with nothing but female backup singers and percussion - a drum machine and tropical steel drums.
"I Wonder U" threatens to go further with its African polyrhythms, bits of flute and plunkety guitar, but disintegrates too quickly, seeming only a song fragment.
Things pick up when Prince falls into his more familiar (and still controversial) role of sexual provocateur, heating up his sound with the same old kick/jump hustle that's kept America dancing vertically and horizontally through the 1980s.
"Girls and Boys" is a simple pickup bar scenario, modified here by Prince's use of Indian finger cymbals and hand claps as the sole rhythm section, and some hot spoken verbiage in French.
"Kiss," the set's 600,000-selling hit single, kicks up a dust cloud with its odd lot of thwumps and squeaks, allusions to TV shows, rusty old comic put-downs, exotic Turkish and jazz allusions and especially Prince's squeally, ecstatic, little-girl's falsetto voice. But as hits go, "Kiss" is the only sure shot on this list.
There's no lyric sheet with the "Parade" album, and I suspect it's because Prince is ashamed of most of the words. The lyrics seem even more of a rush job than the music, which is saying a lot. And meaning "a little." Consider these pearls from the Princely pen: "Life can be so nice, wonderful world, paradise. Kiss me once, kiss me twice."
Pulitzer Prize material, this is not, but at least the ditty's got a good beat. And if we're lucky, somebody will be talking over it in the movie.