Welcome 2 Paisley Park

Want definitive proof that Prince couldn’t sit still –as if the 30,000 albums he’s recorded in the past thirty years weren’t definitive proof enough? Well, while the Purple Rain juggernaut was busy taking over America (film, music and tour), the Minneapolis midget and his band, The Revolution, were busy recording another album.

You figure in the midst (or at least in the direct aftermath) of a smashing success, most artists would chill for a minute and bask in the accolades, but nooooooo, not Prince Rogers Nelson. 1985’s Around the World in a Day, released barely 9 months after Purple Rain, found Prince and his bandmates expanding their sound, drawing from elements as disparate as international music and psychedelia to create a winning musical stew.

One would figure that after Purple Rain’s success (not to mention 1999, the breakthrough album that preceded it), Prince would stick to the sound that made him a superstar. While Around the World is recognizable as a Prince album (sexual themes, prodigious use of the Linn drum machine, general weirdness, etc.), it sounds nothing like the albums that came before it.  It was immediately evident that Prince was gonna march to the beat of his own drummer (or drum machine, as it were) no matter what.

Around the World is often judged as Prince’s psychedelic/hippie/Beatlesesque album, and that’s not necessarily accurate. The album starts off with sort of a hippie vibe, thanks to the lyrics of the title track and Paisley Park (both of which describe a sort of utopian paradise, the latter of which apparently lives in your heart), and the album’s artwork has a bit of a flower-power vibe, but ultimately, it’s just not that easy to pigeonhole.

First off, Prince is too funky to be anyone’s hippie, as songs like the percussive Tamborine and the deceptively serious Pop Life (which makes cases for education and against drug abuse in its’ lyrics behind an irresistibly funky, bass-led groove) prove.

The music here is far more experimental than one would expect from someone who’d just made an album as commercially successful as Purple Rain, and Prince expands himself creatively on several occasions here.  A Middle-Eastern flair on the title track marks Prince’s first foray into sounds from other countries, while America marks one of Prince’s definitive political statements, interpolating a portion of  America the Beautiful to create the pro-America, pro-democracy vision people thought Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. was about.   Definitively Eighties (“communism is just a word/but if the government turn over/it’ll be the only word that’s heard), America is also one of the hardest-rocking records Prince has ever made, all insistent backbeat and power chords.

While songs like America and the spiritual ballad The Ladder are more serious than anything you’d find on Purple Rain, don’t worry.   Prince is still very much in tune with his erogenous zone.

From the flirty, summery Raspberry Beret to slightly more graphic songs like Tamborine, this is still the same guy who said he “sincerely want(ed) to fuck the taste out of your mouth”, but he’s grown up enough to cloak his sexual songs in metaphor so as to stop the Tipper Gores of the world from coming after him. He’s also grown up enough that he’s got some internal conflict about sex vs. love, as the sax-drenched album closer Temptation makes clear.

With almost a quarter-century’s worth of perspective, I can see how this album would’ve freaked out some people (especially record executives) after Purple Rain. Aside from maybe Raspberry Beret (one of Prince’s finest pop singles), nothing on Around the World in a Day is especially commercial.

The album is sort of a crystallization of the various sounds (pop, funk, soul) and themes (sex, spirituality, politics) Prince tackled over the years, with an adventurous new twist and a sense of daring that he’d go on to perfect two years later with Sign O’ the Times. It may not be the middle of the road, but Around the World in a Day, one of Prince’s most underrated albums, finds him a long way away from careening into the ditch.

Track Listing: Around the World in a Day/Paisley Park/Condition of the Heart/Raspberry Beret/Tamborine/America/Pop Life/The Ladder/Temptation

–M. Heyliger