(MUSIC FROM THE MOTION PICTURE UNDER THE CHERRY MOON)
So I listened to this tonight, and am hoping that I can just knock this review out without it having to become a long, drawn-out review of attrition; a battle between my desire for perfection (that should probably read ‘competence’) and my total lack of a killer instinct when it comes to this kind of thing.
At the moment I am embroiled in a poll over at one of the message boards I frequent. It is a poll about the albums of the years 1985-94 inclusive, and therefore I decided it was time to revisit some of my favourite Prince albums. This one had been my favourite, but a listen the other day to the excellent Around The World In A Day raised questions as to which was top.
This album, much like the later Lovesexy, is less a collection of songs than a single song-suite, just divided into twelve different movements; I love that method of album construction. Quick question: when was that first done? The earliest I can think of off-hand is What’s Going On?
As with the previous year’s Around The World In A Day, the opening track here is a strange mishmash wherein Mr. Nelson just throws a ton of sounds into a pot for a few minutes and sees what happens. But while ‘Around The World In A Day’ was an intro for the big-hitting (in terms of quality, rather than commerce) likes of ‘Paisley Park’ and ‘Condition Of The Heart’, this album’s ‘Christopher Tracy's Parade’ is the beginning of a trio of tracks that last a total of just over six minutes.
In that time, we get all kinds of sounds, never settling in until the fourth part of the album, ‘Under The Cherry Moon’ (the title of the film that this album is apparently a soundtrack to. I haven’t seen it because I suck). A slightly off-kilter ballad, it sums up Prince’s approach to pop music: very memorable melodies that are very strange yet still catchy, accompanied by some very individual arrangements.
‘Under The Cherry Moon’ plays like some opiated sex lullaby, and I love it – what else sounded like this in 1986? As good as it was XTC’s Skylarking has nothing on this for pop-psychedelia. The songs are definitely meatier from here on, though each still leads directly onto the next with nary a pause for breath.
Both ‘Girls & Boys’ and ‘Life Can be So Nice’ are the first real tastes of ‘traditional’ Prince (if, indeed, there can be such a term for his mid-80s output), as he goes straight for the romantic in terms of his lyric, and to the hips musically. The former uses the French language to very effective ends, it has to be said. A fine batch of energetic pop with that Prince edge – of course, Blur were miles wide of the mark when they penned a tune on the same topic, nearly a decade later…
From here, the album goes into full-on crazy mode, as hinted by the previous album. ‘Venus de Milo’ is an absolutely gorgeous sub-two-minute interlude that sounds both of its time (the lead melody could be from a sleazy late-night soap opera), yet also something that no pop star should really be doing.
It both acts as an intro to the next stage of the album, but also as something of a breather, in which the listener can unwind between bouts of layered pop orchestration and, Prince himself can stretch his legs before heading back on the road.
The ‘road’ would be the lush pop of ‘Mountains’, continuing the textured not-quite-normality of the two songs just prior to the interval. The strangeness continues with what is, on paper, a familiarly yearning ode to the lover who can’t fully be trusted (‘When I lie awake in my boudoir I think of u dear / Do u think of me, or do u lie, do u lie?’).
Musically, though, it is another story entirely. The vocal melody is as another off-kilter lullaby; paranoia as condescension, perhaps? Maybe Prince is under the impression that kid gloves are the best strategy for unearthing the truth as to what is going on inside the head of his lover. The music, similarly, is almost jaunty in its breezy naïveté.
The faux-innocence is dropped as the album reaches its best-known single, ‘Kiss’. Fortunately, the intervening years seem to have blown the sands of time into just enough of a dune to obscure Tom Jones’ ridiculous cover of the song, so this absolute gem of a stripped-down single is left free from besmirchment (I seem to have just invented that word).
Pretty much the definition of what Funk should be in the mid 80s, ‘Kiss’ is a thrilling deconstruction of the genre, as the skeletal essence of the funk is both sexually charged and unstoppable for the duration of the song.
What sounds like xylophone is added for some texture, but that is almost just a canvas on which Prince’s androgynous falsetto paints the picture that he’s not bothered what qualms or weaknesses you have; he just wants that kiss. And as the few minutes come to an end, he froths himself into quite the frenzy as he screams ‘Ain't no particular sign I'm more compatible with / I just want your extra time and your… kiss’.
Obviously, the song is an aural metaphor for Prince’s sexual excitement. As he builds and builds in a linearly-increasing crescendo, he is repeating the aforementioned phrase of his desire, again and again, and louder and louder, until!
It’s suddenly over, and that equally familiar jaded Prince is back, in a flash. ‘Anotherloverholeinyohead’, aside from being a pain to type, is another compelling single on an album, which really is not a straight-up pop release. And as satisfied as Prince no doubt was all through the 80s, he articulates that dead-eyed, disappointed reaction to the end of a relationship that we are all familiar with:
I gave my love, I gave my life, I gave my body and mind
We were inseparable. I guess I gave u all of my time
And now u plead insanity and u don't even know the score
Why can't u learn 2 play the game?
Of course, Prince being Prince, he is never one to give up, and attempts to present the case for his being the only one this person would actually need:
Sure as there's a sun,
I'm gonna be the 1 and if
u don't understand face to face,
Baby I'll tell u down on my knee, yeah.
It’s the way he tells ‘em. Anyway, the album (and I’m sure the film explains this) is book-ended by songs that concrn themselves with one Cristopher Tracy. Conspicuous though they seem, the content is beyond reproach.
The closer, ‘Sometimes it Snows in April’ is just a beautifully mellow piece. Sounds at the start of the song actually remind me of Sigur Rós (when they were good), in a Slaughterhouse 5 ‘all time is visible at once’ kinda way. The vocal perfoprmance is just magnificent, as it resonates with emotion while never straying over the top.
As the end of the album, it lacks the bombastic, ‘epic’, feel of a ‘Purple Rain’ or ‘Temptation’, but that’s for the best. This is a different kind of album, and it seems somehow fitting that the near-seven minute duration eases the listener out of the emotional intensity and back into the real world.
I say that, but today when the album finished, I just sat motionless for a few minutes, making the most of the serene mood that song had put me in. And, as I experienced one song lead right into the next (apparently, Prince wanted the album to just be one track, upon original release of the CD), it really felt like the end of a very satisfying, if tumultuous, journey.