Let’s just set the record straight: Sign ‘O’ The Times is Prince’s greatest album. With the state of the battle for 80s pop-stardom being as tight as ever in 1987, Prince (though not the biggest of them all) was spurting out projects of varying genres and styles that undercut artists like Madonna and Michael Jackson and forced them to suffocate on his dust. Unfortunately, he choked as well after the lackluster commercial success that preceded it, along with the overwhelming abandonment he felt from his Black American fanbase. Anxious to win them back, he engaged towards a project aiming to fulfill their changing desires.
Then came December 1st, 1987; “Blue Tuesday”, as it was referred to in the Lovesexy ‘88 tour program. The story goes that after having a “bad trip”, Prince came to the realization that if he were to die, The Black Album would’ve been his last piece of work. This made him very uncomfortable due to the negative theme that the project displayed. He, then, called off the production of the album a week before it hit the shelves and ordered them all to be destroyed, which didn’t really happen. Instead it garnered a tidal wave of bootlegs, and 30 years later had resurfaced in vinyl copies that sold for thousands a piece.
In the following months, Prince got to work on its one 45-minute track substitute. This story seems fairly appropriate since the album format tips its hat to the period of psychedelia in the 1960s that was meant to simulate a drug induced trip.
And is Lovesexy ever the excursion.
(And yet, a tragedy. It’s a pity that Lovesexy didn’t amount to what it deserved, having just as much variety as Sign, and pushing the boundaries of musical creativity even further. But after the disappointment from The Black Album’s absence, the American audience was not having it. This only worsened when stores across the country refused to sell the album because of the cover, a picture of Prince nude (with nothing showing) surrounded by flowers whose stems they described as “phallic”. Photographed by Jean Baptiste Mondino, it was meant to convey a statement of truth, and what’s more truthful then completely bearing yourself to the world?)
The journey begins with a short poem by Ingrid Chavez, with a sample of Roger Limb’s “Passing Clouds” and a variation of sounds that seem to interpret as flying away from a fiery chasm to a concert in the sky. “Eye No” is the introduction to yet another conflict with the coexistence of sexuality and strict religion and the roles they played Prince’s life, letting the world know that God is alive, even if he’s much more quiet than the rampant “Spooky Electric” (the Devil). “Alphabet St.” is a funk so contagious no amount of avoidance or vaccinations can keep it from entering a person’s brain and making a home for itself. Called an “aural cartoon” by the man himself, this song combines rap (courtesy of Cat Glover), a fun, braggadocio outlook that one could only expect from Prince (from the 10 years previous, he had every right), and a lead guitar part that guides the song and molds it all together. The music video that accompanies it contains some subliminal messages that flash on and off in an instant, such as the vertical “DON’T BUY THE BLACK ALBUM, I’M SORRY” and “H is 4 punks” in reference to the growing heroin usage of the time. It segways with a reciting of the alphabet by Chavez where she, oh so conveniently, skips the letter G. One could only assume it must have been handled already.
After just serving a finished plate of pop radio sound, Prince attempts to lick it clean with “Glam Slam”, a pattycake canticle that puts Miss Mary Mack to shame. I am a proud member of the “Glam Slam” defense team, we exist. From Rolling Stone calling it “the album’s blandest melody”, to its inability to break out as a single among the American audience, “Glam Slam” never really settled in the ranks it deserved. Even with a design much more appealing to radio than others, it was still too far ahead from what mainstream audiences could handle at the time. Complete with a full symphony, our dearly beloved dissipates into an interlude that can only be described as a “fizzle”, which serves as a proper diluent for the incoming intensity.
“Anna Stesia”, pronounced like “anesthesia”, entails Prince’s struggle with loneliness, and finding himself having to resort to anything to fill that void. He calls out to her “Anna Stesia come to me/Talk to me/Ravish me” begging to be numbed. It’s not a taste that the normal fan is familiar with, because we don’t really see Prince as figure who struggles with love (among other things) in a way that leaves him so, well, messed up. Not to say it isn’t factual, but because the ideation of love through his musical vision at the time had really only ever been an adventure, even if the destination hadn’t gone as anticipated. When The Black Album was called off, Prince was on ecstasy, confirmed by the people who were there at the time who had taken note of his dilated pupils, but the full issue was more layered. He was depressed, and for the first time in his career he never felt more out of touch with everything. “Anna Stesia” isn’t the Prince we thought we knew, but it is a Prince that we are more in touch with; and is more in touch with himself.
“Dance On” is another quarter in the purple jar of “The World Is Self Destructive, But Let’s Have Fun”, a state-of-the-world anthem with a title that lands on the side the spectrum that speaks more to the point, much like Lana Del Rey’s “When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing”. The titular track is the main sermon of what Lovesexy is. By definition (‘the feeling u get when u fall in love, ‘not with a girl or boy but with the heavens above’), “lovesexy” is another term in the Prince glossary meaning a love for God. As previously stated, Love and God are both the same and also two entities, interwreathing into each other without end. Sex is the worship, and if God really is alive, then he’s living his best Ashley Furniture Homestore life after what we were all a witness to in the last minute.
Unlike the first and second acts of the album, the third act act seems to take its time with less weight on its shoulders. Even with the line “Doubts of our conviction follow where we go”, it’s obvious that before our very ears Lovesexy has lost some insecurity. After the divine confection has been baked to perfection, “I Wish U Heaven” is the sprinkles and decorations that provoke more fun. But wait, where’s the frosting?
Soft and pastel, “When 2 R In Love” is a sweet sounding track that simulates the gentle rain that succeeds a Category 5 hurricane. Unsure of what might be to come, listeners heed with equal enjoyment and caution, knowing at any moment the storm could take a turn and Prince will hook them in again with another number that calls for the attendance of dance. Left orphaned by the The Black Album’s last minute cancellation, it was given a second chance to see the light of day by carving out a spot in the wing of its new caregiver (“I Wish U Heaven”) to nestle in. (It leaves one to wonder how many “When 2 R In Love”s are still trapped within the Vault.) Quite frankly, “When 2 R In Love” is one of the greatest songs on the album. Not only does it hold its own without requiring the intensity of its peers, it validates Prince’s expansive capability that mutes the faultfinders. For those who say “Too much”, he responds “You should be so lucky.”
“Positivity” at first seems like a strange choice to end Lovesexy on. Surely, a piano ballad that solidifies the message of the album by using Prince’s own personal experience as reference would have sufficed, but that’s what you get with Prince. Questioning his decisions, searching for a true answer that doesn’t exist to the public. Or might not have existed elsewhere besides his brain. But as you continue on and wonder if you really did have your plus sign today, a new declaration arrives. “In every man’s life there’ll be a hang up/A whirlwind designed to slow you down/It cuts like a knife and tries to get in you/The Spooky Electric sound”; and there it is again, the lesson in all this. But it isn’t finished until you’re hit with one last curveball, a quick verse that provides the scary truth of the consequences if you crumble beneath all that Spooky crawls for.
It’s only right that Lovesexy ends with a baptism. After soaring off to a different world (probably, the heavens) to escape the fiery ring that holds our planet hostage and taking you to a concert among the clouds, it lands you back on earth, surrounded by the purity that puts out the flames and is restored inside once again. This is our chance to start anew, becoming the person that Prince wanted us to be. Being superior, at least, to the wretchedness that seems to surround us more than we give it credit for.
Maybe this wasn’t a trip at all, but, instead, a creation of the unconscious while submerging deeper below the waterline. The ring of fire being the burning of the throat as we swallow the water, the screech being the cry for help. Spooky disguising himself right in our sights as the Good, much like the escapisms Prince used to defeat his loneliness. Or maybe this isn’t us at all, and Prince is the one on the trip. Yeah, I probably should listen one more time, just to make sure I’m getting this right.