Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review of Prince's Album 1999

In 1982, Prince solidified his status as the most provocative and innovative young artist on the music scene with his stunning double LP 1999.  Only Prince's fifth album, 1999 was his big breakthrough and set the stage for the massive success of Purple Rain two years later.
1999 is an important album for a few reasons.  For one thing, it helped Prince further expand his fan base with crossover hits like “Little Red Corvette,” “1999,” and “Delirious.” It also showed that he could reach a wide audience without watering down his unique sound or softening his sometimes risqué themes and lyrics.

What set 1999 apart from Prince’s previous studio efforts is that he was pushing forward a more electronic-based sound. He was experimenting and creating a great deal with synthesizers and drum machines (specifically the Linn-LM1) while recording the album, and these experiments are reflected in the songs.
And this seminal album also helped introduce the Minneapolis sound to a larger audience. Many credit Purple Rain with putting the Minneapolis sound on the map, but 1999 also played a huge part in getting the sound out there.  
With 1999, Prince again displayed his great versatility in the recording studio. All the tracks on the album were written, arranged and produced entirely by him. He also played most of the instruments on the LP. The collection showed his continued growth as a musician, songwriter and producer.
And as he had done on previous records, Prince cross-pollinated different music styles to create a singular sound for the tracks on 1999. His genius at melding genres is evident on “Little Red Corvette,” a brilliant soul/pop/rock amalgam. The song is a torrid tale about Prince’s sexual encounter with a promiscuous young woman where he gets more than he bargained for. On this track, Prince shows his skills at writing clever sexual metaphors and double entendres. And he sonically creates a sexually charged atmosphere with sensual, slow-building synth lines. The song also has an irresistible chorus, and Revolution guitarist Dez Dickerson serves up a majestic solo.
“Delirious” is a song that only Prince could have dreamed up. It sounds like 1950s-era Carl Perkins hopped into a time machine and transported himself 25 years into the future and had a jam session with Devo. It’s new wave/rockabilly with some soul and gospel thrown in the mix.
“Let’s Pretend We’re Married” is a propulsive electro-funk groove in which Prince sings about the joys of wild, no-holds-barred sex marathons to help him forget about his former lover. The track gradually builds to a sonic climax that matches the ribald lyrics.
His Royal Badness delivers some ferocious funk on “D.M.S.R.” This powerful groove will make even the shiest wallflowers get up and work their backsides. The track boasts a wicked bass line, some dirty guitar licks and funkified synth vamps.
The apocalyptic title track is an infectious, high-energy dance groove. The lyrics reflect on the pervasive sense of fear and anxiety many felt in light of the heated arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the early 1980s. Prince sings that he’s going to party 'til the wheels fall off, because nuclear Armageddon could be near. On this track, he shares lead vocals with Dickerson, Revolution keyboardist/vocalist Lisa Coleman and background singer Jill Jones. Their vocal trade-offs work really well here and add some extra punch to the track. And the indelible main synth line is a great hook.
“Automatic” is a superb new wave/funk hybrid.  Prince fills the nearly ten-minute track with heaps of joyful noise. The synth lines here are amazing, and The Purple One delivers a scorching guitar solo, as well as some super-funky bass poppin’. This is one of Prince’s most underrated songs.
“Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)” is a bizarre but intriguing track about Prince’s frustration and confusion that his strong attraction for a girl is unreciprocated. He creates a creepy and ominous mood with this outré electronic groove.  And he sings the lyrics in a low-key but soulful fashion and breaks out with some bone-chilling banshee screams near the end of the song to express his frustration, yearning and desire. This is the weirdest track on the album, but you can’t deny its inventiveness.
“Free” is a beautiful ballad that stands out from most of the other tracks on the album due to its conventional sound. The song has a stately quality about it. Prince sings most of the lyrics in a soothing falsetto and ends the song with some gospel-infused wailing.
“Lady Cab Driver” is an innovative funk cut where Prince shows off his studio wizardry and incredible chops as a multi-instrumentalist. The track has a nasty slap bass line and some quality drumming, both courtesy of Prince. He also delivers a blistering guitar solo and some great synth parts. The lyrics express Prince’s desire to escape from all the hate, intolerance, discrimination, greed and insanity in the world. During the bridge, he recites a litany of grievances he has with the world, while exacting his revenge through rough, angry sex.
“All the Critics Love U in New York” is an experimental track where Prince has a go at smug hipsters. The track has some terrific guitar work by Prince and a percolating electronic groove.
“International Lover” shows that The Purple One is a master of the slow jam. The song brings to mind the sensual soul of R&B greats like Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Teddy Pendergrass but done in Prince’s own inimitable fashion.
1999 was Prince’s most successful album to date. It was his first album to make the top ten on the U.S. Billboard Top 200 album chart, peaking at #9. The album went on to become the fifth best-selling album of 1983. Due to this album, more pop and rock stations began playing Prince’s music. Additionally, this was Prince’s first album to feature his band The Revolution. 
This album has had a significant impact on popular music. You can hear its influence in a number of genres today, including R&B, pop, hip hop, electronic and alternative.

Download 1999 at Amazon

Related blog entry: Prince Tears the Roof Off the Sucka at the Forum in Los Angeles

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