This album is actually more than just a sequel to previous year’s Dirty Mind. And even if it were just that, there’s no shame in repeating the formula of one of the decade’s greatest dance-funk records. But Controversy feels more like a natural update on that formula – the grooves are just as memorable and plus, a new element is emphasized: Prince’s life philosophy. What I mean by that is all the social and political commentary in the lyrics, perhaps best summed up in a line from the title track: “People call me rude, I wish we all were nude / I wish there was no black and white, I wish there were no rules”.
I must admit that I’m one of those people who got into The Purple One only after he died. His albums had been on my to-get list for ages, but reading so many tributes from people both famous and not whose life was changed by that music suddenly made them a priority. It felt like the right time to explore them, and boy was it just that. Even from the very first listens, Prince connected with parts of me that I didn’t even know were there before. I suddenly realized the importance of a solid rhythm, of a good groove. Sometimes a song that can get your whole body moving is just as emotionally compelling as one that stimulates your intellect, perhaps even more so. It made me get more funk/soul albums as well as listen with new ears to those I already knew, but never really felt. Lastly, it made me interested in the man himself, with all the enigma behind his music, the crazy stories, the stage persona, the interviews, the appearance, the clothing.
The title track which I’ve quoted before is a good representation of what Prince was about. He defiyngly answers the questions that people have been asking in the wake of his success with even more questions (“Am I straight or gay?”) – he knows that this type of ‘controversy’ should take second place to the actual quality of the music. And this track’s got plenty of that: the hooks are instantly memorable and the bass-synth-guitar groove could go on for hours as far as I’m concerned. Sexuality immerses us even more in the Prince world, one where people don’t need money, races don’t exist and children are not allowed to watch TV until they can read; but more importantly, one where sexuality is all one needs and letting your body be free is the answer. Were these just words written on a paper I would maybe have a hard time taking them seriously, but combined with that aggressive groove and the commanding vocals (love those screams and yelps), I’ll be damned if I’m not sold. Prince uses every trick in his book to push the idea forward and make the listener part of his world, with damn convincing and powerful results.
Things cool off then with Do Me, Baby – another sex song, but by all means the other side of the same coin. If Sexuality was aggressive then this is smooth and sensual to the core, proving that Prince can just as easily go to the other extreme. Rumor has it that he recorded it in an intimate-evening type of setting with candles and dim lights and his girlfriend by his side. I would not be surprised if this was true. The album never really lives up to this stunning 1-2-3 punch of the first side, but none of it is bad either. In fact, most of it tells you all you need to know about early-80s Prince, before he became a worldwide superstar. No matter how sexually explicit he got, it never, not even for a second, felt forced. Even the lyrics to Jack U Off, which no doubt shocked the audiences back then, now sound like the natural extension to that sexy, sweaty rhythm. It feels authentic man, none of that shock value type of crap. The controversy is the result, not the purpose, and that’s what makes Prince still stand out among so many imitators.
Categories: Album Reviews