This was an incredibly fertile period for Prince. Before the year was up and while Sign ‘O’ the Times was still generating hits, he had intended to release another album, but pulled the plug on it just as it was to go into production. That aborted project came to be known as The Black Album, and it became possibly the most bootlegged LP of all time. Actual pressings of it were rumored to have fetched $10,000 or more. Its wide circulation warrants inclusion here.
More than a band project than Sign, The Black Album was Prince’s funkiest album yet. From the opening “Le Grind” to the closing “Rock Hard in a Funky Place,” the funkathon eased up only for the tender “When 2 R in Love.” The jovial “Cindy C” was a saucy paean to Cindy Crawford, “Dead on It” pokes fun at rappers and “Bob George” was a funny, sinister tale of a jealous husband turned murderer. Any enthusiast is urged to hunt down a copy of this one.
Former Revolution bandmates Wendy and Lisa also released their self-titled debut in 1987. The album was a mildly engaging brew of jazz- and folk-influenced pop that at the very least demonstrated that the girls were indeed talented in their own right. The catchy “Waterfall” was one of the highlights. However, Wendy and Lisa, as well as their subsequent efforts, were more pleasant than distinctive or memorable. More impressive was the self-titled debut of longtime Prince sidekick Jill Jones. Prince was highly involved in the project, and it showed. The rock-funk tune “All Day, All Night” was one of many highlights.
With The Black Album derailed, it only took a few months for Prince to come up with its replacement, Lovesexy. This ambitious, musically complex LP showed off the Sign ‘O’ the Times band to good effect and was easily Prince’s most devout statement of spirituality. The tunes, except for the overblown “Glam Slam,” were solid, the grooves were for the most part funky and the artistic vision was reasonably clear. Amazingly, Lovesexy is better and more accomplished than The Black Album.
Lovesexy’s highlights include the bouncy “Alphabet St.,” the powerful ode to liberation “Anna Stesia” and the swinging title track. The LP’s only drawback was that some of the music was overarranged with parts sometimes stepping on one another. Prince also donated the song “Good Love” to the Bright Lights, Big City soundtrack. Sung in Prince’s electronically altered, or Camille, voice, this tune was a bubbly pop-funk number.
A natural match was struck in 1989 when Prince was contacted to compose songs for the much-ballyhooed Batman movie. Quickly warming to the film’s conflict of an enigmatic hero battling dark and evil forces, which so closely paralleled the soul searching of his previous music, Prince came up with an entire album in just a few weeks’ time. Having jettisoned the Sign ‘O’ the Times band, the Batman LP was another one-man endeavor.
Considering how swiftly the disc was produced, it was an astonishing piece of work. After all, it did return Prince to the top of the charts. But the collection’s nine songs are a decidedly mixed bag. The novelty hit “Batdance,” happy-go-lucky “Baby I’m a Star” retread “Trust” and sugary, bland Sheena Easton duet “The Arms of Orion” should not have made the final cut. However, tracks such as the brooding “The Future,” “Vicki Waiting” with its off-balance harmonics, and the highly erotic “Scandalous” kept the album from being merely a vehicle of whim. Prince began assembling his new band around that time and also discovered Candy Dulfer, an equally attractive and talented Scandanavian saxophonist who would go on to solo success.
Beginning around 1987, Prince began showing much more interest in his musical forefathers. While he had never released any recordings written by others, he was increasingly interjecting cover tunes into his live performances. This back-to-roots fascination led to the signing of R&B warhorses George Clinton and Mavis Staples to his Paisley Park label. Prince mostly left Clinton to his own funky devices, but he played a large role in Staples’ solo debut Time Waits for No One.
As the lead singer of the gospel-pop group the Staples Singers, Mavis established herself a vocalist of uncommon fire and soul. She proved she still had it on hot cuts such as “Jaguar,” but it wasn’t until her 1993 follow-up, The Voice, that she and the music fired on all cylinders. Buoyed by the gritty funk of “You Will Be Moved,” “The Undertaker” and “Melody Cool,” The Voice is one of the most pleasing Prince-associated projects to ever surface on Paisley Park.
Prince took aim at reviving Purple Rain mania in 1990 with a planned sequel and album, titled Graffiti Bridge, and new material from the reunited Time. The magic of 1984 went asunder as the whole undertaking fell far short of its intended mark. The muddled film was held back for several months and made one think that maybe Under the Cherry Moon hadn’t been so bad after all. The soundtrack was an unfocused affair that included appearances by the Time, teenage sensation Tevin Campbell, George Clinton, Mavis Staples and Prince’s new band the New Power Generation (NPG).
But as disjointed as it was, the album had some highly accessible funk-pop that would undoubtedly have been more successful had the movie been more competent. Only Campbell’s youthfully exuberant “Round and Round” realized its potential, even though Staples’ “Melody Cool,” the Time’s “Shake!” and Prince’s “New Power Generation” were equally worthy. The LP also contained Prince’s most compelling creations since Lovesexy in the evangelistic “Elephants and Flowers,” neoclassic “The Question of U” and mesmerizing “Joy in Repetition.”
The much-publicized Time reunion album Pandemonium was like old times in the sense that Prince was the primary force behind it, but it lacked the raw firepower of the band’s first two releases (with all the original members). Which is not to say it wasn’t enjoyable. The Janet Jackson-like title song, wacky dance single “Jerk Out,” and funk-rockers “Blondie” and “Skillet” were all serviceable. But the best grooves were the James Brown-influenced “Chocolate” and the cocky, drums-driven “Release It,” which was only available on Graffiti Bridge.