Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing the First 20 Years of Prince Albums (Part 2)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

Parade (1986, Paisley Park)

A –

This soundtrack to the film Under the Cherry Moon was greeted with Prince’s best reviews since Purple Rain, and it’s a very fine album, but it’s also hard to understand why critics took so much more of a liking to this album than Around the World in a Day unless they were just happy over the fact that Prince was no longer on a psychedelic-pop fix and was back to making R&B/funk jams again, because the songwriting is actually spottier here than it was on its predecessor, and even most of the singles here aren’t quite as strong as usual. (Indeed, only one of the three singles included here made the Top Ten, while the second single missed the Top Twenty, and the third didn’t even come remotely close to reaching the Top 40 at all.) Still, even if there’s not a whole lot of songs here that quite rank with the brilliance of “Raspberry Beret,” “Pop Life,” or “America,” this disc makes a fine album piece, and it’s brilliantly sequenced, with most of the tracks segueing into one another quite naturally. The best cut here is the Number One hit “Kiss,” still a much-loved party jam to this day. While nothing else here quite reaches the same heights (the follow-up single “Mountains” sounds great as a record, but it lacks a particularly strong hook to make it all that memorable a song), there’s a fair number of minor gems scattered throughout, namely “New Position,” “Girls and Boys” and the lovely album-closing ballad “Sometimes It Snows in April.”

Sign o’ the Times (1987, Paisley Park)

A +

Second only to Purple Rain as Prince’s finest album, this double album wasn’t quite the commercial monster that Purple Rain was (nothing here made it to Number One), but it’s a really major artistic statement, and unlike the double-album 1999, which could arguably have been trimmed to a single disc, there are too many good songs on this package to be able to reduce this album down to one disc and not lose some of its artistic impact in the process. The title cut – a very raw and sparse bit of socio-politically-charged funk that musically sounds vaguely like Sly & the Family Stone’s “Family Affair” reinvented for the late ’80s – was a Top Ten hit, as was the funky and somewhat ominous-sounding party jam “U Got the Look,” a duet with ‘80s pop princess Sheena Easton (who had scored a major hit years earlier with the Prince-written “Sugar Walls”), but the best of the singles here is arguably the breezy and lighthearted rocker “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” the extended vamp-out of which features one of Prince’s all-time greatest guitar solos. The singles are nearly upstaged, though, by the surrounding album cuts, and tracks like the playful “Starfish and Coffee” and “Play in the Sunshine,” the jaw-dropping ballad “Adore,” the party jam “Housequake,” and the ominous slow funk grooves of “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and “Strange Relationship” are just a few of the major cult classics contained here. Definitely not to be missed.

Lovesexy (1988, Paisley Park)

C +

A rushed replacement for The Black Album, which got pulled from the presses at the last minute, Lovesexy is still a worthwhile pickup, but if you also own a turntable, you may want to opt for the vinyl version of this album, if only because the CD pressing of this album is annoyingly programmed with all of its nine songs merged into a single track. Naturally, because of this album’s history, it’s not exactly Prince’s most carefully-constructed album and it’s undeniably his spottiest outing yet, but it’s also not a complete throwaway, either, and the best cuts here definitely make up for the filler. Highlights include the playful Top Ten hit “Alphabet St.,” the lovely ballad “I Wish U Heaven,” and the dance jam “Glam Slam.”

Batman (1989, Warner Bros.)

B -


Strangely, while three cuts from this soundtrack made the Top 40 (one of them even a Number One hit), none of the cuts from this disc have appeared on any of Prince’s various hits compilations over the years, so this remains the only place to find any of these songs on a full-length package.  While its individual songs may have been largely lost to time, this is actually a more inspired outing than Lovesexy, and it’s obvious just how much joy Prince had working on the music for this movie.  Even if not all the cuts work outside the context of the movie (the Number One hit “Batdance,” which is little more than a montage of audio clips from the movie set to a largely instrumental backing track that changes rhythm repeatedly and consequently doesn’t really work as a dance cut, has definitely aged the least well of any of Prince’s Number One hits over the years), there are plenty of other cuts that still sound great, especially the wildly underrated funk jam “Electric Chair,” “The Future,” and the Top 40 hits “Partyman” and the ballad “The Arms of Orion” (the latter a somewhat saccharine but still very beautiful and well-sung duet with Sheena Easton).

Graffiti Bridge (1990, Paisley Park)

B

This soundtrack to Prince’s third movie isn’t technically a Prince album per se – five of the cuts are performed by outside guests such as The Time, Mavis Staples, or newcomer Tevin Campbell – and all but three of the cuts actually originated as outtakes from albums going all the way back to Controversy.  Still, despite its patchwork nature, this is actually a surprisingly strong Prince album – not exactly as strong as Prince’s first two soundtracks (Purple Rain and Parade), but every bit as enjoyable and cohesive as the Batman soundtrack.  Of Prince’s own songs here, the highlights are the very underrated Top 40 hit “Thieves in the Temple,” “Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got,” “Elephants & Flowers” and the overlooked gem “Joy in Repetition,” but the special guests also hold their own as well, and Tevin Campbell (only 13 years old at the time this disc was released) proves himself to be a star in the making with his rendition of the Prince-written “Round & Round,” which would go Top Ten.

Diamonds and Pearls (1991, Paisley Park)

B + 

The Purple One’s first outing with his new backing band The New Power Generation isn’t exactly a top-notch Prince album (if only for a slight excess of filler and the fact that Prince dabbles with genres here that don’t exactly work for him, most notoriously the rap exercise “Jughead”), but it’s also not nearly as bad as critics make it out to be, and it’s undeniably still Prince’s most satisfying album in years. The Number One hit “Cream” may be an obvious rewrite of T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On),” but that doesn’t make it any less charming or memorable, and the other Top 40 hits are even more memorable, be it the party jam “Gett Off,” the gorgeous balladry of the album’s title cut, or, best of all, the wildly underrated and politically-charged “Money Don’t Matter 2 Nite,” where Prince tones done the funk in favor of a more adult-contemporary-friendly, Philly-soul-styled soft-R&B-oriented groove to surprisingly successful results. Other highlights include the jazzy “Willing & Able,” “Strollin’,” and “Insatiable.”

The Love Symbol Album (1992, Paisley Park)

A

Technically, the title of this album is the same unpronounceable symbol that Prince would adopt as his stage moniker in the following years during his contractual battle with his label, but it’s more easily and commonly referred to The Love Symbol Album or, just simply, The Symbol Album.  Whatever you call it, it’s a leap forward in quality from its predecessor and is his best outing since Sign ‘o the Times.  The haunting acoustic shuffle of the simply-titled “7” is one of Prince’s all-time most underrated singles, and the other singles (most notably the funky mission statement “My Name Is Prince” and the incredible power ballad “The Morning Papers”) are fine as well, but what’s most impressive is just how cohesive an effort this is overall. Like Sign ‘o the Times, a lot of what makes this album is so excellent is the strength of the surrounding album cuts, be it “3 Chains o’ Gold,” “Blue Light,” “Sweet Baby,” “I Wanna Melt with U,” “The Continental,” “Damn U,” or “And God Created Woman.”  Even if you’re not likely to recognize many, if any, of the songs here (except for possibly “7,” although even that one is rarely heard on radio these days), this is as well-crafted an album Prince has made in at least five years.