4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Iconic and influential 80's pop album.,
This review is from: Purple Rain (Audio CD)
Still probably best known for its relationship with the film of the same name (which I haven't actually seen), Purple Rain continues the pop-direction that Prince had been moving towards with 1999, with songs like Little Red Corvette and Lady Cab Driver being taken to their logical conclusion with songs like Let's Go Crazy, the first track on the album, and that perennial favourite, When Doves Cry. I love the way the album begins, with that slightly gospel sounding synth-organ and Prince preaching the opening lines "dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life... electric word life means forever and that's a mighty long time, but I'm here to tell you, there's something else... the after world" before the whole thing takes off in a shimmering burst of production-heavy pop.
Certainly, the production is a little dated in many places, particularly on a song like Take Me With You, with Prince and his band relying heavily on dreamy keyboards, synthesisers, drum machines and a dominant bass, with interweaving female harmony vocals (in the case of Take Me With You, curtsey of Purple Rain co-star and Prince-protégé Apollonia, but also iconic turns from Wendy and Lisa, most notably in the intro to Computer Blue) and the odd stab at the guitar breaking through the 80's slush. As a result, it may sound a little anachronistic to listeners weaned on more recent acts, though certainly, from a rock and pop perspective, if you can overlook similarly dated arrangements of certain albums from Madonna, The Cure, Kate Bush or any early electro-act, then you can probably over-look the production/instrumentation here.
Prince elevates at least three of the songs to a more epic, cinematic sphere by adding string arrangements, sometime organic, sometimes synthetic, but always adding a further layer to the songs and the overall mood of the piece. The Beautiful Ones is a great ballad that has a much more organic sound that the previous tracks, and features a fine falsetto vocal from Prince and some great instrumentation, whilst Darling Nikki, at the time the album's most controversial moment, is a great grinding, seedy, sexed up vignette that finds a libidinous Prince playing every instrument himself and, in the process, creating a remarkable album high that manages to sound humours and edgy simultaneously. This brings us to When Doves Cry, one of the three or four solid classics on the album and easily one of the purple one's defining moments.
When Doves Cry seems like a more personal song for Prince, or perhaps he's just expressing the themes and ideas of the tie-in film (I don't know... I'm not that familiar with the man's biography), but regardless, his vocals are fantastic, his range of instrumentation (once again, a track that Prince played every instrument on) is peerless, as he creates a contrasting drum/keyboard hook to complement the lyrics, and adds some outstanding heavy-metal style guitar playing. Certainly, this could be considered one of the greatest American pop singles of the 1980's (...or, of all time) and really, hasn't dated in the slightest. Baby I'm A Star is a nice bit of fluff, nothing remarkable, though it does act as a nice coda to that other great single, I Would Die 4 U (I fell in love with a cover version of this from a few years back... and then discovered Prince's original), an up-tempo pop song with lyrics that seem culled from the most heartbreaking of ballads.
Speaking of which, we then have the closing track... eight and a half minutes of searing emotion, fantastic playing and a great overall performance from Prince and the Revolution. Along with Let's Go Crazy, Darling Nikki, When Doves Cry and I Would Die 4 U, Purple Rain is another fine reason to buy this album. The vocals are impassioned, the instrumentation minimal and in keeping with the emotion at the heart of the song, and, if that wasn't enough, the storming (and decidedly epic) guitar solo during the last few minutes is perfectly judged and shows that Prince's musical influences go beyond pop, funk and old style R&B, to embrace rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and (if we recall the other guitar solo on When Doves Cry) early Van Halen.
As I said before, I tend to prefer more stripped down and personal music, in which we can hear the songwriter really expressing something personal... a style that Prince doesn't necessarily favour. Regardless, if you can overlook the occasionally 80's style production and look beyond the bombastic arrangements, you'll find a great, up-tempo pop album, with some absolutely astounding (and really quite beautifully created) pieces of music.