Love say “Take my hand, it’ll be alright.
C’mon, save your soul tonight.”
I had a really hard time picking what album to cover this month and kept putting it off. But then I fell down an unexpected rabbit hole and ended up deep in early 90s Prince, which is a pretty great place to find yourself. It all started because our stupid president released his first campaign ad for 2020 and used some music from his favorite (probably) Christoper Nolan movie, Batman: The Dark Knight Rises and had it almost immediately taken down by Warner Bros. for unauthorized use. He has a long history of using music for campaign things without permission, but that’s neither here nor there. So I ended up dipping back into the only Batman soundtrack that actually matters, Prince’s soundtrack for Batman (1989), and decided to just continue on through from there.
Since I last wrote about Prince, I’ve gone through his entire catalog, and can sincerely say there’s not a single album with his name (or symbol) on it that I don’t love. But a run of albums that really stand out to me are the early-mid 90s, specifically 1991’s Diamonds And Pearls. It kicks off with this huge vocal-driven gospel track, “Thunder,” that immediately lets you know that you’re in Prince’s church now. Even though this record isn’t one of his universally beloved or top 5 albums, it’s a really fascinating era for Prince. It’s his first with a full band lineup since The Revolution disbanded five years earlier. This time, The New Power Generation brings a real 90s party vibe with them. Every song on the record shines with the quirky production, hip hop beats, and rap verses that immediately take you back to the early 90s. And the album itself perfectly captures that tone. Diamonds And Pearls is a whole lot of fun, but hidden under the party are some deeper undertones. Even with that, though, the vast majority of the album is just about sex and dancing. And there’s a whole lot of real 90s slang. You know I eat that kinda thing up. Who couldn’t love deep metaphors like “Mack Daddy In The House” and “clocking a freak in the low pro?” Plus, the cover (up top) has one of those sick holograms!
But even moreso than the new music styles Prince was embracing, this era is interesting because Prince was kicking his feud with his label, Warner Bros, into high gear to get out of his contract. (For more on that: I highly recommend his 1996 triple album Emancipation, his first release after he finally succeeded.) This album explicitly lays out the struggle Prince is having after the dopey dance track, “Jughead,” in a perfect example of the dichotomy of this record.
“What you need is a manager” “For what? Money minders are like parasites. They pose as wheelers and dealers for your rights. And most companies say that you need em! Not me! But I’ve kicked back, observed, and watched ’em bleed ’em. Artists young and old. Where’d this unwritten law come from anyway? That years after the contract, you should still be getting paid? Boy, I go broke and hit the skids before I take care of a rich sucker’s kids. Hell, A contract ain’t got no pension plan. Years after this, my kids are still gonna make the grand.”
Moments like this really stuck out to me when I realized I only initially grabbed Diamonds And Pearls because of some jackass trying to steal someone else’s music to fearmonger in a propaganda video. There’s a lot more here than just catchy songs like the title track, “Diamonds and Pearls,” or singles like “Cream,” and “Gett Off.” It’s more than Prince fully embracing the 90s sound. It really is a time capsule for 1991, both for Prince and for the world around him. Immediately after “Jughead,” comes “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night,” which seems like a sexy 90s slow jam, until…
Hey now, maybe we can find a good reason to send a child off to war.
So what if we’re controllin’ all the oil, is it worth the child dying for?
If long life is what we all live for, then long life will come to pass.
Anything is better than the picture of a child, in a cloud of gas.
And you think you got it bad.
It got me thinking about the context of the world in 1991. This album came out in between what I would consider the two defining moments of George H. W. Bush’s presidency. The first Iraq war had been over for just over 7 months and that imagery was obviously still very present in the public’s eye. And just over the horizon, about a year later, the first President Bush was about to pardon most of the people involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, to finalize the cover up of one of the biggest presidential scandals in American history. And who was the Attorney General who pushed this gross misstep of justice? William Barr, of course! The man who wrote the “synopsis” of the Mueller report. So maybe this fun trip to the early 90s was a bit less of an escape than I thought it would be. Nostalgia can be a great tool to dip into and get away from it all for a bit, but I’ve been trying to remember that a lot of the bad parts about the times I fondly look back on are still here and have only gotten worse. But like everything, it’s more important than ever to contextualize the whole picture. We still found reasons to dance and fall in love in the 90s and we sure as hell will now, too. Don’t let the bastards get you down.