The Artist Forever Known as Prince - Articles - Soundblab

The Artist Forever Known as Prince

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

With the sad and shocking news that Prince has died, it feels like another gaping wound has opened in the fabric of pop. And it will never heal.

Like David Bowie, who passed away in January, Prince Rogers Nelson bestrode so many genres – funk, soul, rock, R&B, synth-pop. He defined them for the times he lived in, yet was never defined by them. He could switch styles with dazzling ease, and often would in the space of a single song.

Like Bowie, there was no one, absolutely no one, who could touch Prince during his heyday. Along with Michael Jackson and Madonna, he formed a triumvirate of American stars who ruled pop in a way unseen before or since, making their every single and music video into a multi-media event.

And yet, Prince was so much more than this. He was an insanely talented multi-instrumentalist who played almost everything on his self-produced albums. He was an electrifying showman, a spectacular dancer whose voice could jump from a libidinous growl to an exultant scream in a nanosecond.

While other 80s stars sold sex as a fundamental part of their brand, Prince grabbed hold of sex and sexuality as if he’d personally invented fucking, putting it unashamedly front-and-centre in an era of AIDS paranoia and conservative values, inspiring controversy, outrage, and the invention of those stupid ‘Parental Advisory’ stickers. And while a parade of glamorous singers toyed with gender bending, Prince just got on with being the sexiest mutha on the planet, dressing up and expressing his raw sex appeal in a way that transcended gender and easy labels.

Prince also never lost his commitment to DIY values and the underground. Right from his first album, 1978’s For You, Prince did as much as possible himself. Once his success was assured and his record label was eating out of his hand, he built Paisley Park, a Minneapolis compound containing a recording studio and soundstage which served for decades as his base of operations and also a platform for local musicians.

It was named after the paisley underground scene, a collective of LA rock bands, including The Dream Syndicate, The Rain Parade, The Three O'Clock, The Bangles, and The Long Ryders, who filtered 60s psychedelia through 80s pop and indie. Prince, already a megastar thanks to Purple Rain, loved the scene and was inspired to record his own paisley-influenced album, Around the World in a Day. He also got personally involved, writing for The Bangles and signing The Three O'Clock to his (yep) Paisley Park label.

As well as this, Prince nurtured and helped out acts from his hometown of Minneapolis and elsewhere. Sheila E, The Time, The Family and others all benefitted from his patronage, allegedly even receiving Prince-penned songs for which he took no credit. Prince was giving unsung talent a leg up right till the end. His 2014 Plectrumelectrum album was one of his strongest since the early 90s, and came with equal billing given to his new hard-rocking backing band, 3RDEYEGIRL.

Prince was also a sonic innovator, standing out a mile in the depressingly staid world of mid-80s pop. Just listen to the elemental guitar histrionics that kick off ‘When Doves Cry’, giving way to a minimalist beat over which Prince loops his own voice doing a weird little croak in time to the dying jerk of his guitar. That’s quite a risky way to begin a single designed to promote both your new album, Purple Rain, and film of the same name. It doesn’t scream ‘FM radio fodder’, and yet it got to number one in the US.

The song then develops into a psychosexual nightmare played out over a twisting, writhing funk behemoth with no bass, a trick he’d repeat a few years later with ‘Kiss’, on which he’d carve out a vast, bottomless chasm of funk using just a beatbox, a xylophone, sparing splashes of guitar and his own squealing, aching vocal. But then, Prince could make you shake your booty if you allowed him access to only a kazoo and a ruler.

It’s probably fair to say Prince’s star dimmed a little in the 90s. As a result of his epic battle for artistic control with Warner Bros, he changed his name to an unpronounceable squiggle and took to releasing triple albums which tested the patience of even his most hardcore fans. Yes, there was great stuff to be found on the likes of 1996’s Emancipation, but you had to dig through a worrying amount of tepid funk to find it.

However, Prince was one of pop’s great eccentrics and iconoclasts, doing exactly what he wanted and barely pausing to find out if we liked it or not. Because of that inextinguishable chutzpah, that ‘fuck you’ spirit, it’s hard to view anything he did as an outright failure, because he did it all completely on his own terms, always.

What’s more, the last few years had seen an impressive renaissance, with Plectrumelectrum, Art Official Age, and the two HITnRUN albums containing some of his strongest material ever. Just check out ‘MARZ’, a stampeding garage-rock-out, or ‘June’, a spine-tingling slow jam on which his Purpleness asks you what you had for lunch today and ends the song noting that his pasta is burning on the stove. It’s every bit as bonkers, sexy, funny, smart and brilliant as the best of his 80s stuff.

Just like Bowie, we won’t see Prince’s like again. That’s one of the hardest things. There’s no one to take his place. No one who can switch genres and instruments the way he could, no one who can make you gasp at the same time as making you want to dance, laugh, and love. No one who would have the sheer brass balls to make the biggest single of their career and leave off the fucking bass.

So tonight, give yourself some time to celebrate the life and music of Prince Rogers Nelson. Let’s mourn the passing of a true one-off. Let’s turn the music up loud and let him guide us, one more time, to the Purple Rain. 

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