Back to the beginning, again.
It seems appropriate to write about this on Good Friday.
In retrospect, Lovesexy’s theme is quite a clichéd one – salvation through sex. The album itself is an unbridled, joyful marriage of adoration and erotica. The live show was a bible-thumping, sledgehammer, tour-de-force of proselytising and playfulness. We were all invited to join the cult of Prince. The ecstasy on the faces of the Dortmund crowd – an awe-struck look I know I mirrored, sat in the my parents’ front-room watching the show on TV, admits as much. The whole triple hit of Sign O The Times, The Black Album and Lovesexy allowed converts to look through paisley coloured spectacles and fall under the spell of our wonderful leader. Dark tales, dark nights of the soul, looking good if he’d smile a little more, SpookyElectric, “Don’t buy the Black Album, I’m sorry”, Hundalasiliah! It’s a fucking good story. At its heart is a seemingly Damascus-like epiphany, one played out each night in concert. Anna Stesia. “Save me, Jesus, I’ve been a fool. How could I forget that you are the rule?” Anna Stesia, a play on ‘anastasis’, the Greek word for resurrection. Prince was reborn. God was Love. The girls and boys in the moment, in the ecstatic moment, believed in the God above. And I fell for it.
The Catholic church is a funny organisation. I’m sure I’ve written all this before – excuse me. I find it hard to marry the message of the Jesus of the New Testament with the power hungry, money hungry, insatiable lust of the church. The truism of Catholic Guilt has a strong core cause. When Lovesexy came out, I was struggling with my own faith. At the time, to me, it boiled down to trying to justify the image of a Jesus being basically a “god” who asked us to be nice to one another and a church created in his name that prosecuted and vilified aspects of life, that grabbed gold and mismanaged. It felt out of touch with me. It didn’t have the answers to the questions I was asking of it. So I left it.
I was caught in a cycle of doubt and, I now understand, beginning to evolve the atheistic belief structure that I hold today. It was in its infancy when I heard Eye No and the other eight songs on Prince’s 10th studio album. I was caught by the journey Prince appeared to be on. I was quite taken in by this, “He’s inside all of us, he just want’s to come out a play” philosophy. It seemed to make sense. In retrospect, of course, it does makes sense. Lovesexy is an album that preaches the idea of humanitarianism at the expense of religion – from a certain point of view. Prince would probably argue that he’s speaking about the influence of God. On listening to the album now, the belief appears to stem from internal belief of self, not of divine providence. Again, from a certain point of view. A sense of hwyl or mana, maybe. Perhaps, 29 years later, it is where now Prince and I differ. The most disappointing aspect of all this, I suppose, is the fact the we both found different answers. The hedonistic, epicurean, cynical world-weariness of Prince’s work led me to believe that, ultimately, atheism would be his conclusion too. Prince’s answer was the Jehovah’s Witnesses. (CONJECTURE ALERT – an answer that may have ultimately led to his early death.)
But. The music. Lovesexy is quite the outstanding album. Much, quite rightly, is being made of Sign O The Times, in its 30th anniversary year, being Prince’s masterpiece. I would add the words “one of” and put an “s” on the end of one of the words in that phrase. I still consider Lovesexy a masterpiece. It may, of course, be all to do with timing – the when and the why I heard the album. There was a piece in Slate, recently, about how we are nostalgic for the music of our teens. I will admit that there is a certain truth in this with regards Lovesexy. Sign O The Times is a eclectic amalgam of a period of Prince’s recording history. Lovesexy is a focused demonstration of a musician’s creative ability.
The album was recorded over the Christmas/New year period of ’87 to ’88, excepting When 2 R In Love. And you can hear the intensity in the density of the music. Eye No is ten songs all being played at once. The whole album carries an off-key, “harmonised” dischordance that plays beautifully on the ear. Eye No, in particular, is a glorious example of this. At the culmination of the song, for instance, as the “yes!” calls come to their climax, the music builds to a crescendo and then a climbing scale of trumpet and saxophone carries the song to it’s end. Atlanta Bliss’ trumpet, at that point is off the scale. And then the album jumps into the blues-coda, pop-bop of Alphabet St. and as the song gets to the climax, here come those horns again, slightly off-key and building in volume. Why does Ingrid Chavez not say “g” in the alphabet? G-spot? God?
Glam Slam, another song seemingly built on conventional lines, holds so much noise in its mix. If you go back to Annie Christian, on Controversy, you can hear Prince’s guitar throughout this song, deep in the mix, a blindingly brilliant punk-rock solo hiding in the depths. Prince does this again on Glam Slam. It is quite astonishing – especially as there are some wonderful histrionics up high in the mix to mask. He does the same in Anna Stesia, too…and Lovesexy. And, of course, we have the melodramatic organ end to the tune. Proper theatre. Drawing us toward the centrepiece of the album.
Knowing how religion panned out for Prince, it’s quite difficult to listen to Anna Stesia now with the ears you heard it with the first time. The sincerity of the quest and the questioning of self and creator is one of the things that took me by the collar and shook me up. It’s such a shame. It’s such a great song. Again, the dischords keep coming. They are a chorus in this album. Highlighting the uncertainty of the man? Maybe, perhaps illustrating his appreciation that his love and lust mix will not to be everyone’s taste. Whatever caused Prince to do this, though, adds a qualitative difference to his music on Lovesexy. Rhythm and melody are one thing. Well constructed lyrics, etc. But the recurring use of jarring noise is a fundamentally important aspect to this record. Just as is the shifting patterns in the drumming. This is a masterclass in programming. The shift beats, half beats, missed beats on this album are beautifully wrought. Listen to Dance On and tell me it isn’t. The sound of Lovesexy is unique in Prince’s music. Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss’s horns provide an organic, human counterpoint to the electronic rhythms and drum patterns. The mix is layered, as mentioned, to the point that some of the best guitar of Prince’s life is buried and requires focus, and decent headphones, for you to hear. It’s like a dismissal of the guitar as an instrument. It’s bold and it works. There is a drive and determination, an identity about the sound of this album, much like the way Dirty Mind change Prince’s sound, back in 1980.
There is a curious juxtaposition of this sacred and profane in the sequencing of Lovesexy, When 2 R In Love and I Wish U Heaven. The shock, pacify punch and counter-punch is odd. Lovesexy is a seeming paean to God. It is a paean to fucking. So is When 2 R In Love. I Wish U Heaven has a bizarre naivety at the heart of its lyrics that are so at odds it the previous two songs, it can only be Prince fucking with us. Except, of course, by the time this song makes an appearance in the live show, there is a genuine gospel-induced tinge to the delivery and intent of the song. The simplicity of the message of the song is lovely, but the humour of its appearance after two songs so explicitly focused on the art of making one drip on the floor was lost.
And then we finish with Prince returning to type, the eschatological prophet splashing paint on an apocalyptic canvas, wending his way through man’s many follies. And the programming and the dischordance and the guitar drive the song to its end. And the album ends. The waters wash over us. Water – a baptism metaphor that runs heavy through the album…spoiled in the end that the sound effect of the rushing water that cleanses us and leaves us ready to carry Prince’s message to world was used on Dave Lee Roth’s Skyscraper album too. You see? Prince was of this world.
I loved Lovesexy, back in 1988. I still do. It is a testimony to how driven Prince could be. It is a fine example of the musicianship of Prince and of those around him. It is a showcase for his creativity.
It is the album that put me on the path I’m walking now.
I think I’m over with the beginning though. It might just be time to move on.