Prince - Around The World In A Day
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Personally, I find Controversy to be the most disappointing album of Prince’s career. There were far worse albums in Prince’s vast discography, and The Gold Experience and Lovesexy both disappointed me after hearing members of the quasi-cults they’ve spawned blabber on about their greatness. But Controversy is still a more genuine disappointment, as it’s the one album of Golden Age Prince that fails to advance his sound in any way, staying comfortably within the funk-rock-pop established on its predecessor Dirty Mind—with inferior tunes to boot. The boundless talents of Prince Rogers Nelson weren’t meant to stay within one style, one sound or even one moniker—under names like “Jamie Starr” and “Alexander Nevermind“, Prince wrote for his own underlings (The Time, Apollonia 6, Sheena Easton) and, for the hell of it, The Bangles (“Manic Monday”).
The ridiculously talented should be restless; unfortunately, the record-buying public and the majority of music critics tend to prefer predictability. So when Prince followed up megasmash Purple Rain with the eerie, psychedelic Around The World In A Day, a detour from the funky dance-rock people expected from that skinny motherfucker with the high voice, the reaction was predictable. Middling reviews and a dramatic record sales drop, from 13 million to 2 million sold, marked the end of Prince’s brief tenure as a mega-platinum artist and began a steady decline down the sales charts. And although 1986’s Parade has since been critically rescued from initial indifference, and even Controversy has its defenders, ATWIAD has not had a similar reevaluation. It deserves one, for although it is not a high point for Prince, it is one for Prince and The Revolution.
No, they were never a genuine backing band, and The Revolution’s actual musical contributions are as minimal as ever—keyboardist Dr. Fink doesn’t even appear on the record, while Prince performs “Condition Of The Heart”, “Tambourine” and “America” (minus the not-so-vital tambourine of Brad Marsh) completely on his lonesome—but the source of ATWIAD’s neo-psychedelic sound is none other than Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman, the only proper members of The Revolution to have an interesting post-Prince career. The education on 60s pop they gave the Purple One was what made the “Strawberry Fields Forever”-like “Paisley Park” possible. Though only credited with writing the string parts on “Pop Life”, their fingerprints are all over the multitude of orchestral parts throughout.
Opener “Around The World In A Day” makes the album’s mission statement to “escort u to 2 places within your mind / The former is red, white and blue / The latter is purple, climb, climb” over a fantastic combination of Eastern percussion, oud, and cello, the sort of East-West fusion The Beatles never quite believed enough in to achieve. The purple world is a melancholic dream world because some cannot reach it—the lonely woman in “Paisley Park” may or may not forgive her “naughty” husband and reach the park, while none of the sad souls of “Condition Of The Heart” are likely to be mended—while others are too lost in the illusions of the red, white and blue world.
Political songs aren’t really a Prince forte, but “America”, a scorching indictment of the American Dream, sees through the Reagan era more coherently than “Ronnie, Talk To Russia” or even “Sign O’ The Times”. A reworking of “America The Beautiful”, “America” is loaded with stinging insights on how easily the poor are forgotten: “Communism is just a word / But if the government turn over / It’ll be the only word that’s heard.”
Then, there’s “Pop Life”, a song that never much went anywhere on the charts, but may be Prince’s most underrated single ever. Of course, the kids can hardly be blamed for not wanting to dance to this downbeat groove. It even taunted the elements of the very life they lived: dreaming of fortune (“is the mailman jerking you ‘round? / Did he put your million dollar check in someone else’s box?”), snorting coke (“what you putting in your nose? / Is that where all your money goes?”), and even participating in the androgyny craze (“was it a boy when u wanted a girl?”). Mocking though it is, “Pop Life” doesn’t take the dangers of 80s life lightly, or unfunkily, thanks to Tim Barr and Annette Atkinson’s fat bass lines. Still, one can understand why ATWIAD’s other single is much better remembered. It was a little tune called “Raspberry Beret”.
The real flaw of ATWIAD is sequencing: “Condition Of The Heart” and salvation story “The Ladder” were meant, respectively, for the end of sides one and two, not the middle; throwaway “Tambourine” and the overlong “Temptation” do the honors instead, and they are easily the two most disposable songs of the platter. Yes, they may be almost as raunchy as Controversy closer “Jack U Off”, but neither is as fun and weird as that fine piece of ridiculous rockabilly, so neither works in quite the same way. And both the album and the songs—“Condition Of The Heart” is one of Prince’s most tenderly powerful ballads, while “The Ladder” only seems unnecessary because Prince later trumped it on “The Cross”—are irrevocably damaged in the shuffle.
The pleasures of Around The World In A Day are multifold and unique in the Prince discography; the psychedelic sound would never figure heavily on later records, nor would Wendy and Lisa, with the final Prince and The Revolution album, Parade, a group record only in name. Of course, change is the proper way of the extraordinarily talented artist. The public that clamored for another Purple Rain are kindred spirits of the hip-hop masses that somehow weren’t bothered when DMX released three identical records in three years; the Prince enthusiasts who own The Black Album but not ATWIAD are just fools. Paisley Park forever.
By: Josh Drimmer
Published on: 2004-11-30
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