- 25 Jun 20
36 years ago today, Prince released his sixth studio album, Purple Rain. To mark the occasion, we're revisiting Bill Graham's review of the classic album, originally published in Hot Press in 1984.
Prince may be a pop playboy forever searching for his perfect playmate but he doesn't necessarily copy the seduction schemes of other black musicians. Prince is a very different mix-master.
For though Prince may understand all the contemporary synth and rhythm machine tricks, he isn't using them like his scratching N.Y. brothers. Instead he's stepped aside from the funk to manufacture his own deceptive and disorientating brand of black rock.
If Sam Phillips sought a white man with a black sound and found Elvis Presley, on Purple Rain, Prince oft adopts a reverse play, mocking up as the black man with a whitened sound. At the very least, Prince is a most masked marauder.
Just check the title track. Both the tune and production of 'Purple Rain', even down to the echoes, choking vocals, evoke none other than John Lennon who must be grinning in his grave at the cheek in Prince's tribute. It isn't the only time Prince plunders ideas from surprising sources. For instance, 'Let's Go Crazy' is based around a keyboard style updated from Johnny and the Hurricanes. Somewhere inside Prince, is there an E.L.O. struggling to escape?
Equally in certain strategies if not sound, there's a Jimi Hendrix. Purple Rain often sounds like the work of a man who's decided that since white American rock has become so commonplace, he might as well run in that constituency.
Those daring games of styles can, however, make for an unsteady perspective. It's never easy to discern when Prince is playing mischievous, gleeful parodist and when not. Does he really mean those screaming stadium guitars that close 'Let's Go Crazy' or is he just sharing a joke?
A fully rounded view isn't helped by two factors. Purple Rain is the soundtrack to a film in which the music may take other meanings. Also it comes with the most unreadable lyric-sheet ever consigned to an inside-cover, one that would even defeat the lens of Sherlock Holmes.
Still this much can be deciphered: Prince is still obsessed with love and lust. "They both have 4 letters but they're entirely different words," he explains on 'Computer Blue' before reminiscing about his capture by 'Darling Nikki' who he met "In a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine". Listening to Prince may make you blind!
But also colour-blind. Purple Rain is for anyone intrigued by Philip Lynott's solo albums, barrier-breaking music without a naff tune that automatically gives pause for thought. For in the music pack, Prince is just as often the joker.