Monday, May 29, 2017

Purple Power Rankings #405-391: I Think My "Love Machine" is Broken...

405. Undisputed (Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, 1999)
--An old, uninspired Chuck D. laying down bars over synthesizers seemingly left untuned since the Controversy days. This one set the disappointing tone of the entire Rave album early on: Bring in an all-star cast, then don't let them do much of any importance. For his part, Prince brings in a boast about starting trends rather than following them, then saddles it with a Moses metaphor. Not the way to get back in touch with the streets.

404. Love Machine (Graffiti Bridge, 1990)
--Elisa Fiorillo's album I Am was criminally slept on. Her turn on this track as the vocal stunt double for Ingrid Chavez's drunken angel? Eh, not so much. Meanwhile, Morris Day and Jerome Benton get roped into being surrogate mouthpieces for Prince's "let's get this chick in a bubble bath" fetish. All three performers deserved better.

403. Strange But True (Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic, 1999)
--The uplifting thoughts conveyed by the couplet "All understand and all stand under this affirmation now/By the power invested in me by God/All negativity bows" are more than offset by the cranky gripes about lies, alibis and gold diggers (still more shots at Mayte, one might guess). The man is still grieving over his son and his marriage, but he's doing it by lashing out at others. Understandable, but still hard to listen to.

402. Mad Sex (Newpower Soul, 1998)
--The entire NPS album sounds like it was cranked out in a weekend. "Mad Sex" seems like it took less than half an hour and most of a bottle of port (TF is up with lines like "Till the animal prints u flaunt so lovely/Is full of little bloody holes"?). Are we harpooning these bitches now, P? Seriously? And this is still the only pop-rock song I've ever heard use the word "mulatto," especially as many times as he trots it out in four minutes.

401. This Could Be Us (Art Official Age, 2014)
"Baby, I will rock your whole moral philosophy."

--On the more chilled-out lounge mix of this track, rookie producer Joshua Welton still doesn't come up with anything approaching the "iconic" status of the Prince/Apollonia meme that gave this song its title and concept. As for the lyrics, ponder this boast:
"'Cause what I got make U weak in, in the knees
Take your energy (oh baby), make U sleep for a week
Sex with me ain't enough
That's why we gotta do it metaphysically"
So...what, you're gonna read Immanuel Kant all night? Is this like the scene in Bull Durham where Nuke thinks he's getting laid, but Annie just reads him Walt Whitman poems?

400. Da Bang (Crystal Ball, 1997)
--Mildly interesting hard funk with a slight blues vibe in the verses, but we could also say the same about "Calhoun Square," "What's My Name," and several different tracks from Ball. Lyrically, he's in "Poom Poom" territory, and that's not a fun place to be: "Like a puppet on a string/I'm gon' dance and I'm gon' sing/I will do most anything/If you promise me da bang, bang, bang..." Way to break down the boys-thinking-with-the-wrong-head stereotypes.

399. Make Your Mama Happy (Crystal Ball, 1997)
--Go to school, get paid. Millions of new college grads nationwide only wish life worked this way. The horns and nicely layered vocals give us an uplifting vibe (Sly and the Family Stone's Fresh album, cited in the liner notes, are a very valid touchstone), but the words being sung are so paint-by-numbers that Schoolhouse Rock might have turned this one down.

398. Freaks On This Side (Newpower Soul, 1998)
--The shouted call-and-response chorus makes this one sound like a jam that might have torn up a live concert hall. In the studio, though, the whole thing feels slightly canned. And dig, if you will, the difference between what this song actually sounded like and what we'd imagine if we saw this title on, say, Dirty Mind. There would be knowledge gained of the "process of creation," all right, just from a perspective more, shall we say, biological and less theological.

397. No More Candy 4 U (MPLSound, 2009)
--Prince tries to get savage on the kids screwing up the music industry, and just comes off as the cranky old man. Again. Props, though, for this piece of direct wisdom: "2 all the freaks in the magazines who never paid no dues/No more candy 4 U, U can't sing, it's true..." (Wait, this coming from the man who decided to throw Carmen Electra in a recording studio? Oy.)

396. Everywhere (The Rainbow Children, 2001)
No, Joel, that's not what he means by "on the one."

--A pretty song with horns for days, but one that falls somewhere between a Vegas revue intro and a Joel Osteen megachurch anthem. If you're not predisposed to dig the religious message, you've probably never even listened to The Rainbow Children. If you are, this might be one of your favorites off The Rainbow Children. (I'm not, I have, and it's not, in case you couldn't tell.)

395. Another Lonely Christmas (The Hits/The B-Sides, 1993)
--Aaaaand here's where I start getting called a blasphemer, laying waste to one of the exalted Purple Rain B-sides (this one rode with "I Would Die 4 U"). The song feels like a character study, shoehorning an awkward reference to getting blitzed off banana daiquiris on the heels of skinnydipping and Pokeno memories. The guitar rides hard and Prince tries his damndest to sell the emotion in his vocals, but the story's disjointed and trite. I could possibly be talked into buying this as memory's unreliability in the face of grief, but this is still one of the few B-Sides comp tracks I'm inclined to skip.

394. Annie Christian (Controversy, 1981)
--Emblematic of man's natural desire to find a boogeyman to blame his problems on, rather than confronting the demons within himself. Annie, naturally, is the Antichrist made flesh, sort of a grown-ass distaff version of The Omen. She takes the blame for killing John Lennon and trying to assassinate Ronald Reagan. The stark arrangement conjures the proper amount of fear, but the lyrics still childishly paint evil as an external, abstract concept instead of an integral part of every human being's overall psychology. For a man who had, just minutes earlier, deftly explored the relationship between man's sexual and spiritual natures (see "Controversy" and "Sexuality"), this all feels ridiculously simplistic.

393. Beautiful, Loved & Blessed (3121, 2005)
Now? No? OK then, I give up.

--Admit it, you still don't know who the hell Tamar is. Probably a good reason for that, because she's not terribly memorable on a vehicle expressly designed for her. The Washington Post, in its 3121 review, described this track as "a Soul II Soul leftover." If I'm Jazzie B, I'm a little insulted. The track has a fantastic positive message, but it needed to be delivered by a singer with a bit more fire. Imagine what Rosie or even Elisa could have done with this.

392. Mr. Nelson (HitNRun Phase One, 2015)
--Seems like a placeholder, a joint held together by samples that allows producer Joshua Welton to stretch out while the star of the show runs backstage for a costume change. Prince can't resist, though, popping back out for an arcing guitar solo. Funky enough in spots, but still a glorified segue.

391. Dionne (The Truth, 1997)
--A lament over a potential missed connection, "Dionne" finds Prince in a slightly experimental jazzbo kind of mood, sort of like he'd stumbled across a Pandora station blending a lot of Steely Dan and Chick Corea. The track settles him down a bit after its more fiery predecessor "3rd I," but in, um, truth, that earlier fire is what The Truth needed more of.

NEXT TIME: Struggles with social injustice, environmental damage and cybernetic isolation. Don't worry, it won't be as depressing as all that sounds.

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