238: Old Friends 4 Sale

Unreleased (1985) / The Vault… Old Friends 4 Sale (1999)
l never used to understand the scorn for the updated Old Friends 4 Sale. Maybe because I heard it before the unreleased original, but to me the two versions didn’t sound too dissimilar. Yes, the haunting melancholy has been slightly bleached with time and we’ve lost the personal references about Dez leaving and Wendy joining The Revolution (first verse), The Time disbanding and the subsequent fallout with Morris (second verse) and Prince’s bodyguard selling an exposé to the National Enquirer (third verse). The newer, vaguer lyrics barely make sense, but the string section is the same one recorded in 1985 and still the shining jewel in this ballad of betrayal. Or so I thought. Not long ago I heard the pre-orchestral demo and realised the strings were a distraction all along. Without Clare Fischer’s input we’re relying solely on the vocals to carry us along and hooo boy do they move. A pit of bleak despair has opened up for us to fall into and it’s now clear his later performance is more 9pm showtime than this 4am hotel room rendition, bloodshot and wrecked. There’s no clearer contrast than in the dying seconds: compare how Prince struggles to summon the lifeforce to deliver the final lines in the 1985 recording, while in 1991 he’s chipper enough to throw in a Louis Armstrong-style croon afterwards. Pain has been replaced with theatrics; despair replaced with flair. If you’re after authenticity then the original wins hands down, but is hearing somebody’s spirit break in real time really entertainment?