51: Lovesexy

Lovesexy (1988)
During my first week learning to snowboard, I went to a festival on top of a mountain. Afterwards, I had the option of either taking the ski-lift down or doing my first black run. I was young, foolish and bullet-proof and never even contemplated taking the safe, sensible option. As soon as my snowboard pointed down the slope I realised my error. Everyone was leaving at the same time and it was so crowded I didn’t have the experience to stop or slow down without taking out the person to the left or right of me. As I hurtled through the melee of people, my conscious mind was so focused on avoiding a collision that it no longer concerned itself with remembering basic technique or unhelpful feelings like worry or panic. It was laser-focused on whatever fate threw my way at increasing speeds. I felt an exhilaration I’ve never felt since. This is what Lovesexy is to me: a gleeful surrender to the present moment. I’ve always found the highlights of Prince’s best songs are the points where he sounds like he’s lost control. The emotional breakdown in The Beautiful Ones; the unravelling desperation at the end of If I Was Your Girlfriend; the blurting out and immediate retraction of smashing up his ride in Adore. However, with Lovesexy it’s less a loss of restraint – an artist letting his emotions run away with him for his art, before carefully corralling them back under control – and more like a complete submission to an ego-obliterating higher power. What part of his life is he revealing to us here? It’s a poorly-kept secret that a bad experience with an ecstasy tablet caused him to pull the Black Album. It doesn’t take much of an imaginative leap to hear him glorify the drug in Superfunkycalifragisexy under the euphemism ‘squirrelmeat’ and he presumably didn’t want that on his conscience. Instead he released his ‘gospel album’ that told you to say no to any drug other than God. The ecstasy incident is most noticeably alluded to on Anna Stesia, where it’s retold as a battle for his soul between the devil (Spooky Electric) and God, culminating in the epiphany that ‘God is Love’ saving him from the numbness of his vices. He appears to reaffirm this divine message in the liner notes where he introduces the title track by defining Lovesexy as “the feeling you get when you fall in love… not with a boy or or a girl but with the heavens above”. However this could be an attempt to recalibrate the balance after the song itself careers wildly into uncontrollable lust, getting increasingly more sexually explicit after Cat’s vari-speed vocals morph into Prince’s Camille voice: a switcheroo that gives me goosebumps every time. The track deliberately blurs the lines between sex and divine love. Both involve a submission of self. A surrender of ego. And it’s in this overlap that Prince paints his concept of Lovesexy. But he’s painting with colours made newly available to him via narcotic means. Lovesexy is the ride before the crash. The acceleration from which there’s no gentle return to Earth. It’s not the everlasting high with no side-effects that Alphabet St paints it as. But the comedown is for later. On the mountain, as I zipped in and out of people, I thought I’d finally ‘got’ snowboarding. I hadn’t. I wasn’t in control. The only way I was stopping was by crashing, which luckily happened without taking anybody else out. It hurt. But I don’t remember the pain. I only remember the blissful surrender to forces beyond my control that preceded it. And if I had the talent of Prince I would have created a track like Lovesexy to memorialise it. Right now the feeling makes him want to dance and want to cry. All in life becomes easier, no question is unresolved. There may be trouble ahead but while’s there’s music, and moonlight, and love, and race cars burning rubber in your pants, let’s face the music and dance.

108: I Wish U Heaven

Lovesexy (1988)
On the Lovesexy album, I Wish U Heaven is quiet and understated. It lasts for only two minutes and 43 seconds, mindful you may already be balladed out after the preceding When 2 R in Love. Not wanting to draw attention to itself it’s quite happy to do its thing as a gentle hymn to the god in you. Given its own 12″ though it turns into a three-part, ten-minute epic. No way was this going to be his shortest single. It had ambitions. Part 1 is the album version with swagger. There’s a cheeky lip smack after the word ‘kiss’ and if the video’s anything to go by Sheila E has been given snare duty, but it’s now buried lower in the mix. Otherwise, it’s business as usual until part 2 when we’re hit by an aftershock of Housequake. As makeovers go this one’s pretty extreme. The Elysian harps are replaced with hard funk stabs and a blast of his Blue Angel guitar is introduced with an impression of Scarface. Part 3 continues the beat but ups the aggro and is now a completely new song. The I Wish U Heaven chorus occasionally appears towards the end – a twitch of a phantom limb – but we’re now listening to Take This Beat, an early iteration of What’s My Name? Here all thoughts of heaven and bliss have vanished and Prince has turned into Jamie Starr dissing your sister and threatening to “slap yo ass”. The phrase “I Wish U Heaven” suddenly sounds sinister. A title that’s turned from lullaby prayer to death threat in ten minutes. What. A. Ride. They do say it’s always the quiet ones you have to watch.

151: Dance On

Lovesexy (1988)
The Lovesexy album is a kaleidoscope of intricate wonder but at the midpoint sits a sparse and jarring track – the machine gun funk of Dance On. Sheila E’s drum beat (possibly cut up and rearranged by Prince’s sampler) is too angular to hang anything off except the most bowel-loosening bass rumble. And with the lyrics forgoing the album’s celebratory brief to paint a picture of societal decay, you realise the song has its sights on becoming Sign O’ the Times part 2. Dance On is skittish and awkward and moves like a brick in a washing machine, yet against all known physics it’s also deeply funky. If you’re dancing to it you need a 5th dimension to fully do it justice.

179: Alphabet St

Lovesexy (1988)
Yes THAT Alphabet St. The one even folk who don’t like Prince sing along to. Don’t mistake my triple-digit listing as apathy. There’s just a lot of competition. Alphabet St is a Day-Glo, gangly puppy. A harlequin skeleton where every joint’s an elbow. How does it even stand upright, let alone jerk its body like a horny pony would? Being one of his most-played hits you forget just how damn weird it is. Even without the video it’s an all-syrup Super Squishee ride through kids TV, brought to you by the letters L, S, and D… or W, T, and F. But not G. Ingrid Chavez famously misses out the seventh letter while reciting the alphabet. On a web Q&A in the early 2000s, I remember Prince being asked about the omission and his reply was Ingrid had something else on her mind. Everyone got the intended drift. But maybe what really distracted her was the sheer lunacy happening around her. Is that a cuica? Sure, why not? The 12″ version is even more chaotic and subtitled “This Is Not Music… This Is A Trip” but if this remix is any kind of trip it’s a self-indulgent one through his Fairlight synthesizer’s sound banks. Without vocals, the relentless button-bashing is too masturbatory to fully love. An unreleased and more restrained part 2 is slightly better, yet both parts are infinitely preferable to what would become of Alphabet St in later live shows. The swift morph into a sped-up country hoedown is an ignoble fate to befall such a loveable rogue. Shine on you crazy cartoon diamond.

195: Positivity

Lovesexy (1988)
On first glance, Positivity seems the least positive song on the album. The opposite of an uplifting closer. It lacks the ecstatic abandon of Lovesexy or the neon “yeah yeah yeah” lunacy of Alphabet St. Even the brooding darkness of Anna Stasia quickly ascends into beatitude. The ballads soothe, and Dance On moves but Positivity sits stern-faced, delivering affirmations in a downbeat voice over a mono-beat – a perfect inversion of the album opener, Eye No, which radiates “no”s over shapeshifting, ebullient funk. But sometimes the sweetest nuts are the toughest to crack. Concentrate on Positivity’s snare drum like a black dot on one of those optical illusions and the contradictions fade as the cheat codes to everlasting happiness begin to reveal themselves. The marimba dances in your peripheries. Wild beasts play in the marginalia. Moods drift. Trees fall. Walls collapse. Don’t get distracted. Hold on to your soul, you’ve got a long way to go. Karmic tornadoes buffet you, as do questions and temptations but stay focused on the tantric beat. Are those military drums? The snare is now a cowbell. When did that happen? I thought I asked you to concentrate on it? When the beat finally disappears look around you. You’re now bathing in the waters of your baptism, listening to the same synths that greeted you on the start of your Lovesexy journey. This time they’re not obliterated by Elysian fire. You’ve levelled up. The world is in a higher resolution yet somehow has softer edges. Is this the New Power Generation? Or Satori? Uplifting anthems are for n00bz. Where we’re going we don’t need major thirds.

275: Eye No / The Ball

Lovesexy (1988) / Unreleased (1986)
On its own merits Eye No is the perfect Lovesexy opener – a technicolor gateway to a world of futuristic psychedelia. It sets up all the themes of the album and lets you know straight away that this is a record unlike any you’ve heard before. But when compared to earlier incarnation The Ball, you begin to miss the predecessor’s grit and grime. Eye No starts to sound a little too sterilised; the lyrics a little too wholesome. What was a thousand-petaled corona of light crowning the very concept of funk quickly becomes Britney covering (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. The opposite is true too: The Ball can sound like a premium export from whichever planet George Clinton comes from or it can lack the direction and nuance of its successor. The fat to Eye No’s tallow. The songs are two out-of-phase waves cancelling each other out. Destructive interference. I believe this is a curse sent by Prince for anyone straying away from officially sanctioned releases. A pharaoh’s revenge for opening the vault. A plague o’ all your bootlegs. But from this point on I’m going to break the hex and phase-shift the waves. The two songs will now compliment instead of compete. Eye No will forever dance with the ghost memory of The Ball’s looser, stankier funk, and The Ball will be superposed with all the gravitas and anticipation of Lovesexy’s opening sequence (where we’re introduced to the concept of the New Power Generation for the first time and are only three songs away from our date with Anna Stasia). The waves now bolster each other. Constructive interference. To misquote Stevie: when you believe in things you don’t understand, you suffer – superposition is the way.

392: Glam Slam

Lovesexy (1988)
The second single from Lovesexy features a child-like melody backed by an elaborate composition and has filthier lyrics than first impressions suggest. Do what a butterfly? It didn’t make huge waves on release, nor later when it was left off his 1993 Hits collection (it was however included on 2016’s 4ever comp but neglectedly mis-labelled by Amazon on the pre-order as Grand Slam). Glam Slam is the weakest song on Lovesexy but that’s like having the title of poorest billionaire. It’s still a breathtaking whirl of textures that does funny things to my disposition and without the pattycake chorus would rank a hundred, two hundred places higher. The last two minutes are a vamp of nymph-like synths and an outro to cleanse the palate before the acid-sharp intensity of Anna Stesia is unleashed. The fuzz before the epiphany. Wear as cloud armour and run towards fire.