Purple Rain (Deluxe) [Expanded Edition]
NPG Records/Warner Bros.
This is the one people have been waiting for – particularly since the sad news last year. Prince was readying this release – it was planned to happen in his lifetime, it was further delayed across the last year – its 30th Anniversary well and truly gone now. Purple Rain (Deluxe) [Expanded Edition] arrives in a few new versions – a 3CD/1DVD set being the highlight in terms of the material; there’s vinyl and picture-disc versions too.
It’s hard for me to listen to Prince now. Not because of a profound sadness – though in the end I guess that’s exactly what it is. But he seemed to define a version of Infinite – infinite talent, infinite skills, infinite songs, infinite energy…to think of Prince now as finite is hard. More than that it’s just weird. At the time he released Purple Rain there was a movie and an album – the combination of the two made him a superstar, one of pop music’s shining lights; the success of the music on the album meant he never had to work again. He had just concluded the most extreme, erm, purple patch of his career – writing and producing for other artists, releasing an album a year under his own name, creating – and then inhabiting – his own “competition” and all the while, he was stockpiling material for the famous Vault.
So it’s sad listening to Prince now but it’s also quite joyous listening to Purple Rain, for what once seemed finite – a tight, pretty-much perfect 9-track “soundtrack” album – now sprawls over three discs…
It’s joyous too because it remains an extraordinary album. I have other Prince albums I get more from but this is the one that made him the superstar, gave him the freedom to really stretch and soar and make some of his most amazing music. But he arguably never bettered this in terms of making pop music. It’s also delightfully strange pop music – even the big hits aren’t straight; they ride on sexual energy and winning combinations of R’n’B and rock’n’roll – electric and eclectic – from the guitar shriek of the opening mantra Let’s Go Crazy through Take Me With U’s big, bold drums and chorus to the extraordinary balladry of The Beautiful Ones, the psycho-sexual moodiness of Computer Blue and Darling Nikki and the innovative bass-less hit, When Doves Cry. It’s just faultless. But none of it feels like any sort of cookie-cutter pop material. Not then. And not now.
I Would Die 4 U had him reworking the “What Am I?” trope from Controversy and other earlier material, gender-bending, or gender-fluid/neutral. The only song on the album I could care less about is Baby I’m A Star; that feels like just a jam from/for the film. Nothing else on here does. It all runs on its own poetry, its own feel and fluidity and provided an incredible score to the film – which you might care nothing about at all but it’s still an important piece of the puzzle; visually it was a representation of Prince and his ego and his mystique. And it meant a lot for that. It’s either a cult-hit of near-nonsense, nearly plotless and with wooden acting or it’s the benchmark for most rock’n’roll movies that have followed – and in my world it’s both.
The title track was nearly the millstone around Prince’s next but he celebrated it – particularly toward the end of his career – as the profound gospel-edged ballad that it was; its searing solo the Stairway To Heaven of the 1980s, another benchmark, another wonder. The album was magical to me when I first heard it – at the age of 9 – and it still feels that way. It’s still intact. Probably more so than I am. Its heart remains in the right place, it still surges correctly, it still celebrates the profound and the profane in that secular/sexual dynamic that fuelled the best of Prince’s work.
So now we have the b-sides and outtakes to go with it – kicking off with the nearly 12-minute The Dance Electric.
Some of these will be known to Prince fans, there’ll still be some things here you maybe never collected up, or never got to hearing.
In that way of the collected ephemera there’s not a lot that challenges the original album, there’s plenty though that points again to that thought of Prince and his work as infinite. Love and Sex is a prototype for several songs that we got to hear across future albums, and Electric Intercourse, riding on a similar sort of drum-machine link as The Beautiful Ones and incorporating the Prince style of piano we got to know across Nothing Compares 2 U, Moonbeam Levels and The Question of U, would have worked on the album, would have stood up over and above Baby I’m A Star but could it have replaced anything else? I guess not.
The best-known b-sides here are 17 Days and Erotic City – each is as good as anything (save for maybe Doves Cry and Purple Rain) on the album; both are mini revelations, reminders of the wizardry, both are well known to Prince fans but it’s important to have them and hear them in this context.
And so it is for a lot of the other material here – the long “Hallway Speech” version of Computer Blue (as used in the film), Purple Rain’s b-side God – sometimes a live favourite and certainly one of the special Prince songs.
Maybe you don’t need the radio-edits of the hit singles but it’s all here anyway. And it’s all profound and utterly mesmerising and sad and astonishing and full of a weird wisdom and near-untouchable and now weirdly finite.
Just as Prince and his career became finite. A solemn but significant moment hearing all of this and having the official re-release of this album. A sense of wonder and sadness all at once. As should always be the case when you think of or listen to the beautiful ones…