Finding a new favourite Prince album
I've just finished reading this weighty Prince tome by Matt Thorne. Good timing, obviously. Tonight I'm playing a bunch of Prince records - my favourites (and yours?) at Mighty Mighty, 9pm-1am. And that was absolutely the impetus for heading back to this book. Part of my 'research', part of the prep.
I say "heading back to this book" because I'd given it a quick glance around a year ago. On first attempt it seemed impenetrable; I wasn't in the right space for it. Couldn't commit to it.
Actually, by just diving in, by having that reason too - focusing on a lot of music by Prince - I found it to be an easy, engaging read. But, as the author tells you almost immediately, it is a book for the die-hards. Not really one of the casual fan; I have no idea why I was scared off the first time. I've always been one of the die-hards when it comes to Prince. Heck, I wrote defending his music across the 1990s.
What I liked about Thorne's huge book was I found myself disagreeing with the writer as often as I agreed. People always seem desperate to throw in that qualifier when talking about music writing or any opinion writing, the almost breathless, "I don't always agree..." Why would you want to? Agreeing means you already thought that way, you weren't challenged. Who wants to read a book to just nod along? A pointless exercise - better to shake your head in disbelief at times, to consider a different point of view, realise you've been looking at it a different way, maybe even the wrong way. And, importantly, to head back to your record collection - I've always believed that music-writing is doing its job if it sends you back to the music. Or on to the music - if it's new music that's being discussed.
Matt Thorne's Prince bio isn't really a biography as such; if it is it's a biography of the music, not just a discography, but a look at how this music has happened, what it means, where it arrived from, where it might end up. The biographical details around Prince's life are there - the basic ones. But the book is unashamedly a geek-guide. Thorne really knows his stuff and has extensive knowledge around the bootlegs and rarities, the side-projects, the protégés. All of this is actually pretty stunning to read, to try to take it all in, process it. (Hence my first feeling of being daunted).
A few years ago I offered a basic trace-around of some of Prince's first-decade achievements. To see the full list in this book is jaw-dropping. Even non-fans should be stunned by the productivity, the work ethic, the passion, commitment. The solipsism of it all. But you're not really going to get a non-fan reading this book. Obviously...
Reading this book had me finding b-sides, going back to records and boots I hadn't heard in years, and though I didn't agree with a lot of Thorne's picks for "underrated" and "best" albums I did find a new favourite Prince record.
A wee while ago I started giving Lovesexy more of a chance - I'd always kinda liked it, but certainly it seemed to not get the respect, or audience, it deserved.
Anna Stasia has often been part of Prince's live sets - and it's such a good song. And there it is almost sorta buried in an album that people have written off. I guess because it followed Sign O' The Times - and how on earth do you follow that? And because there had been such a great run of albums. And that cover might have put a few people off. Then there was the fact that it was released on CD as one single 45 minute track, a medley. I know that put me off when I first had the CD, it took a vinyl copy of the album to really win me over actually.
Maybe Prince was just over-exposed (no pun around the album cover intended). The start of the rot had to set in...though I reckon that was really only the case with Graffiti Bridge; the first time he tried to repeat himself, aiming for another Purple Rain. And failing of course.
Anyway, it was cool to find a new favourite Prince album out of reading this book. I did that nerd-thing where I played each album almost in time with the book, when reading the chapter about Controversy I played that album, same with Dirty Mind and 1999 and Around The World In A Day and Parade and Batman and...well, you get the picture. But the one album I played more often than any other during the time reading this fairly giant book was Lovesexy. I'll almost certainly beplaying more songs from that record tonight than during the last Purple Reign DJ set.
Reading this Prince book - and the way I approached it with the music - reminded me of the time when I devoured that wonderful Neil Young bio, Shakey (still my pick for pretty much the best music bio out). And I sat down with the albums and worked through them in order. And I found new favourites, hearing some things for the first time. And even better, just feeling like it was the first time...
That might sound like your idea of a nightmare. But to me it's part of the process, and part of the fun of being a fan. Or a giant nerd. In the end they're the same right?
Here's my review of Matt Thorne's Prince book.
Might see you tonight at Mighty Mighty.
Postscript: Not remotely music-related but yesterday there was a lot of talk around the passing of a pop-culture icon, The Ultimate Warrior. So here's my tribute to one of my childhood heroes.
You can also check out Off the Tracks for The Vinyl Countdown, reviews and other posts