Monday, May 5, 2014

I'd Love to Turn You On #105 - Prince – Around the World in a Day

The massive success of Purple Rain made Prince a superstar.  He was in as rare an air as there is, with only Michael Jackson on the same plane commercially and no one in his class creatively.  Yet Prince was a restless musical genius, bursting with new ideas he just had to get out.  He was not about to coast on the success of Purple Rain, releasing single after single to keep the hit machine rolling.  A new album was about to be unleashed on the public while Purple Rain was still topping the charts.  However, this new album was to be a completely different animal.  Many artists have attempted to follow a smash commercial hit with something more experimental and challenging but no one who ever done it was as big as Prince was in 1985 and no album was as different from its predecessor as Around the World in a Day.

The album isn't talked about much these days, but at the time the public's appetite for new Prince music was such that even this left field excursion would get several tracks played on the radio and sell a whole bunch too.   The press dubbed it Prince's psychedelic album and compared it to Sgt. Pepper.  It certainly does have plenty of psych flourishes and Prince was almost certainly aware of the Paisley Underground scene going on in Los Angeles (more on that later).  But what the album shares most with the Beatles' classic is the attempt to sneak underground and experimental elements into the pop mainstream.  The mass public of the sixties was ready to accept the Beatles' experiments because they loved the Beatles.  They felt the same way about Prince in the eighties and while Around the World in a Day hasn't become a lasting classic like Sgt.
Pepper, the mere fact that it was successful and kept Prince in the spotlight is testament to Prince's talent, charisma, and popularity.

The album kicks off with the title song and immediately challenges its pop audience with eastern textures and percussion.  Slightly more familiar ground comes with the infectious melody of "Paisley Park."  Here, Prince taps into the mid-60s pop-psych vibe that L.A.’s Paisley Underground bands like The Three O'Clock and The Dream Syndicate were also hitting.  The song is important enough that he named his studio and record label after it.  Another psych-pop masterpiece is "Raspberry Beret," the album's biggest hit, with a trippy video to go with it.  It's also the most joyous song on an album that can get a little dark at times.  "Tambourine" ends side one with a bit of stone cold funk, a reminder that gettin' the dance floor movin' is still a top priority.  Side two (yes I'm still thinking in vinyl terms, though the CD is what we're selling here) opens with a blistering critique of "America," a particularly bold statement right in the middle of the Reagan 80s.  No less relevant, yet cloaked in another infectious melody, is "Pop Life," a critical look at modern stardom and the state of the world.  If any tune on the album deserves to be considered an all-time Prince classic, this is it.

Around the World in a Day stands as his greatest creative achievement.  At the height of his success he followed his muse and we all reaped the rewards.
For the last two songs, Prince turns to his two favorite subjects, God and sex.  While these twin obsessions are often painted as a contradiction, Prince knows full well that religious devotion always contains a strong sensual element and erotic revelry often becomes quite spiritual.  "The Ladder" has a strong gospel vibe with a spoken parable even, yet it builds to a fervent climax just as strong as any bedroom jam.  "Temptation" is the album's epic closing track and starts off with pulsing funk jam and the erotic lyrics Prince has always been known for.  Then, a little over the halfway point, the bottom drops out.  We've suddenly entered a morality play where Prince struggles with his urges and desires in the face of a judgmental higher power.  A brave and challenging album ends with its bravest moment yet.  Prince would continue to challenge the public's notion of pop, soul, rock and funk throughout his career, but
            - Adam Reshotko

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