There are so many things that could be said about Prince, it’s almost impossible to put anything into words. The man was a firecracker of creativity; one of the most prolific artists the world has ever seen. He was an enigma. He was a man whom, in live performance, never seemed to do the same thing twice. Love Prince, or hate him, he was unique. Here was one of the world’s last true untouchable megastars whom, even in the twilight of his career, never played it safe or by the rules. It made him infuriating; it made him bizarrely entertaining, but above all, it made him so different.
He fought with record companies. He did things his own way or not at all. While that meant that things never really followed a linear path, when the surprises came, the rewards could be spectacular. Just a couple of years before his untimely passing, he played dozens of guerilla gigs in inimate venues with little to no prior publicity. Fans queued for almost a whole day outside of Camden’s Electric Ballroom after rumours spread that Prince would be there. Their loyalty paid off – you wouldn’t have got that kind of spontaneous fun from Michael Jackson.
Prince was nothing if not unpredictable. Instead of releasing material in a conventional way, in the 90s, he issued multi-disc sets, regarless of the commercial returns, gave an interview via an interpreter while wearing a heavy gauze over his face and hinted that he had a whole world of unheard music that was too good for the record company. The record company, of course, were bound to find this all far less amusing.
It’s possible to spend hours picking apart the whys and wherefores behind Prince’s trains of thought, but it’s the huge legacy of songs he’s left the world that of the most importance. His 80s catalogue alone presents a career’s worth of songs that most artists would have killed to have written. Even then, he gave some of his best compositions away – ‘Manic Monday’ became a smash for The Bangles and it’s almost impossible to imagine ‘Nothing Compares 2U’ would have been half as good had he kept it for himself. His work with The Revolution, spanning three near-perfect albums in ‘Purple Rain’, ‘Around The World In A Day’ and ‘Parade’ remains a high watermark in terms of 80s pop. A creative benchmark encompassing soul, rock, pop, funk and occasional psychedelia, those albums made him the day’s equivalent and natural successor to George Clinton, but those recordings have a style of their own which sound only like Prince…and at the same time, almost nothing that Prince would record again. Even the much maligned Batman soundtrack is fun; sure, it represents the decade’s worst excesses, but for people of a certain age, it still resonates and is full of memories.
1991’s ‘Diamonds & Pearls’ provided another move into something unexpected. It’s in retrospect we can see how it stands up while presenting new angle to an already well established career. It marks a rare occasion where Prince briefly traded in complete control. The results are tight but loose; it’s one the most joyous albums of the era – almost certainly the most carefree of Prince’s official releases. Like the world’s greatest trick, the album was a lightning in a bottle affair that even someone so naturally gifted failed to recreate a second time. Deeper in a huge body of work, he played rock with a power trio – the recordings remain unreleased on CD but are a far cry from the pop, soul and funk casual onlookers would expect; he released jazz-fusion material that could stand alongside the best recorded by musicians who carved a career from the subgenre. His interest in music knew no boundaries. He even wrote a score for a ballet – granted, only his most devoted fans ever heard it. Somehow, when not even trying, Prince could strike gold: ‘Chaos & Disorder’ is a frighteningly good work for something cobbled together to get out of a record contract…
Tackling Prince’s catalogue, spanning some thirty-nine proper studio albums and more besides, is a rich and dense adventure. It’s not always superb, but it’s always interesting. Remember him through some of his overlooked works as well as the classics: crank up the dance-oriented ‘Come’; get freaky with ‘The Rainbow Children’; lose yourself in the over-indulgent ‘Emancipation’; marvel at the gloriously sleazy ‘Dirty Mind’. Whatever you do, do it like you really mean it. Listen like never before – there are hidden gems around every corner.
A world without Prince in it is a less interesting world. It’s deeply saddening to think that a man who made songwriting seem as natural as breathing will breathe no more creativity into the world. He will leave his influence on all manner of musical genres as well as leaving behind a huge vault of unreleased material. Whether we’ll ever get to hear that, of course, is an entirely different matter.
“May U Live 2 See The Dawn”