How strange was it to see Prince at the Brit Awards this year? Amid the going through the motions shite, he looked amazing; every inch the sort of otherworldly megastar that time has forgotten. Yet while you couldn’t take your eyes off him. it was also hard not to snigger as he leant back, teeth gritted, ringing out the solos from ’Purple Rain’. Frankly, there was no denying that the histrionics of the song that made him famous sounded more than a little dated. He was playing to the crowd, and that's not what Prince, at his best, is about. He’s an innovator, and if you want proof, forget his biggest album and instead seek out the follow-up. ’Around The World In A Day’.
You know how people go on about Radiohead being ’challenging? About what a bold move it was to follow the globe-conquering ’OK Computer' with ‘Kid A? Well, that’s nothing: this is more the equivalent of Oasis following ’(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’ with a similarly out-there record, but one that, while effortlessly taking in pop. rock, funk, psychedelia, folk and electronica. doesn’t forget the tunes. In 1985.
Prince was. thanks to the zillion-selling ‘Purple Rain' album and film (which he'd custom-orchestrated to propel himself into stardom), the world's biggest pop icon. He could have easily bashed out a Mk II' sequel, but that's not what genii do. And while at the time it may have been declared a disappointment by fans and critics alike, it's this record, rather than its very-much-of-an-era predecessor, that sounds like the work of a true musical genius.
"Open your heart, open your mind". runs the first line of the opening title track here -good advice for anyone expecting more of the obvious thrills its creator had supplied them with just months previously. Spiralling, eastern-tinged keyboards and off-kilter drums blend with Prince's layered vocals, setting the stage for what follows. 'The Ladder’ filters ‘Sgt Pepper’-style psychedelia through slick ’80s production values: ‘America’ is concerned with politics (‘Little sister making minimum wage/Living in a one-room
jungle-monkey cage") than with partying, yet is followed by the eight-minute, sex-obsessed ‘Temptation’. By the end. your head will hurt from the speed and frequency of lyrical and musical changes contained within. And yet. even when he’s being this clever, Prince can't help being catchy. The singles ‘Raspberry Beret', the slap-bass assisted (no. honestly - it’s great) ‘Pop Life’, and the strolling ‘Paisley Park' are three of the finest pop songs The Purple One has ever crafted, while album track 'Condition Of The Heart’ is a pristine plastic soul ballad, which neither he nor any of his peers would match for years afterwards.
Yeah, most people now think of Prince as the sex-obsessed short-arse that once changed his name to a symbol (and wheeling out his greatest hits at awards ceremonies is unlikely to change that), but fuck that. The sharp kids - and you can count The Neptunes. Timbaland or any of the few other people currently making genuinely futuristic music among them -know that he’s one of the most inspiring musicians of the 20th century, and never more so than on ‘Around The World In A Day'. You can either turn away or you can be blown away: the choice is yours.