UNF Spinnaker

Album review: Purple Rain by Prince

Sydney Chatani, Program Director

INTRODUCTION:

In light of current events, and June being Pride Month, the staff at Spinnaker has decided to use our platform as an opportunity to highlight Black and LGBTQ+ artists. This week, our selected review is of the 1984 album “Purple Rain” by Prince. Hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Prince rose to prominence in the late 1970s with a heavy funk/synth pop sound and continued to become (arguably) one of the greatest artists of the 1980s. Notable for his androgyny, gender fluidity, and defiance of stereotypes regarding gender and race, Prince was one of the first mainstream artists to embrace his fluidity. In doing so, he broadcasted an important message to his listeners — it’s okay to differ from the norm.

TRACK-BY-TRACK REVIEW:

  • Let’s Go Crazy: Opening the album with a synth driven spoken-word intro, Prince calls on listeners to rise above temptation. Stating “if the elevator tries to bring you down, go crazy,” he suggests instead of giving into harmful temptations and vices, channel that energy into happiness and focus on oneself. The instrumentals themselves are upbeat and chaotic — heavy hitting percussion, guitar riffs implemented throughout the track, and (because this is the 1980s we’re talking about), all the synths. 
  • Take Me With U: This track is an ode to love. More specifically, it’s about not wanting to be anywhere if your significant other isn’t with you. Throughout the track, Prince describes the feeling of not caring about where they are, or what they’re doing — as long as he’s with his significant other, then everything is okay. While the lyrics are admittedly simplistic, the instrumentals and production are what make “Take Me With U” a brilliant song. It’s not often you see a pop song open up with a drum solo and violins, only to make an immediate switch to a more rhythmic, harmonious driven structure. It’s infectiously catchy and my favorite from “Purple Rain.”
  • The Beautiful Ones: “The Beautiful Ones” is Prince’s take on a classic, timeless topic: unrequited love. During its five minute run-time, he begs his love interest to be with him rather than another man, going so far as to state “if I told you that I was in love with you, if we got married, would that be cool?” The most interesting part of this track to me is that it’s intense over-the-top desperation, but it doesn’t come off as cheesy. 
  • Computer Blue: Lyrically, “Computer Blue” is the shortest track on the album, with only one verse and chorus focusing primarily on frustration with Prince’s love life — or rather, lack thereof. The standout part of this track is easily the instrumentals. The guitar riffs are dynamic and eerie sounding, complemented by intense funk beats, distorted synths, and snippets of screaming. 
  • Darling Nikki: One of the most controversial songs Prince has released in his career, “Darling Nikki” describes a sexual encounter with a woman named Nikki. The song was so descriptive, that it fueled cries for music censorship and led to the creation of the parental advisory sticker. Contrary to other tracks on “Purple Rain,” “Darling Nikki” has more of a raw, hard-rock sound, rather than sleek and clean-sounding production.
  • When Doves Cry: The first single to be released off of “Purple Rain,” “When Doves Cry,” is one of Prince’s most popular songs. Notable for a recognizable guitar solo and lack of any bass, the song was written specifically for the film “Purple Rain” — a semi-autobiographical depiction of Prince’s life. The instrumentals are mid-tempo and features layered harmonies from Prince, drum machines, and synthesizers. 
  • I Would Die 4 U: The shortest track on the album opens with a strong statement: “I’m not a woman, I’m not a man, I am something that you’ll never understand.” It’s speculative at best as to whether Prince was referring to his relation with his faith as a Jehohvas’s Witness, or exploring his gender fluidity. Regardless, this line specifically holds an important message for listeners. The track itself is one of the most upbeat on the album, featuring fast-paced drum beats and various synths.
  • Baby I’m a Star: Transitioning directly from “I Would Die 4 U,” “Baby I’m a Star” is a continuation of track seven. Following the trend of upbeat, fast-paced drums and synths, Prince speaks his truth in this track. Regardless of how some may perceive and criticize him, he sees himself as a star, stating “you might not know it now baby, but I are, I’m a star.”
  • Purple Rain: With a whopping nine minute run-time, “Purple Rain” is Prince’s grand masterpiece — not only from this album, but his entire career. The lyrics see him longing for a pure, peaceful love. Though the symbolism of purple rain is debatable (it is unknown whether it is meant to reference the meaning of the color itself, or religious imagery with the story of the prophet Daniel and the King of Babylon), the overall message of desiring a wholesome love is clear. Similar to track three, it’s a power ballad, but doesn’t come off as cheesy. 

SUMMARY:

Perhaps the finest album Prince has released in his career, “Purple Rain” is much more than just a movie soundtrack. While the lyricism of the tracks are applicable to the movie adaption, they also act as a message of comfort and hope to listeners. Tracks, such as “Take Me With U” or “Purple Rain” are instantly relatable, whereas others, such as “I Would Die For U” and “Baby I’m a Star” ensure that it’s okay to be different and encourage listeners to embrace themselves for who they are. Instrumentally, it’s brilliant. While it’s definitely dated (there’s no way you can listen to the album and not immediately assume it’s 30 years old), it’s timeless in the sense that regardless of outdated production techniques and music stylings, it still holds up as an innovative, solid album in 2020. 5/5 Spinnaker Sails.

Standout Tracks: “Take Me With U,” “Computer Blue,” “Darling Nikki,” “When Doves Cry,” “I Would Die For U,” and “Purple Rain.”

___

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