Dig If You Will the Picture: Track by Track with Purple Rain (Side 2)

When Doves Cry
When Doves Cry

Prince blazes out of the side two gates with a jarring guitar solo set over a weird industrial beat and horror movie sounds in the last and greatest of the album’s fake-out openings. Then we get into an irresistible keyboard hook and Prince starts singing nonsense real smooth and electronically over a mournful drum machine (making people across the world wonder how he managed to make a drum machine sound mournful) “Animals strike mysterious poses?” Sure.

The song fills out its sound exclusively in the treble frequency, rising tensions until Prince proceeds to wear his heart on his very frilly lace sleeve. The song becomes like a dance rock confessional, like something Sly Stone recorded when he started going crazy, only with far more energy and swagger. It’s one of those pure moments in pop music where disparate emotions and concepts are joined in a unique way and it all makes sense. Seduction and sex and self-doubt and parental reflections and betrayal and isolation and sweat and nerves and dreams:

it’s a mix of heightened emotions that’s actually pretty accurate to the real experience of courtship.

It’s a dance song with no bass line. Prince sings in mid range, but everything else is hig pitched, especially the pinched little high-pitched arpeggio figure that plays underneath the choruses. It’s really bizarre that this song was a number one hit; there’s no way a song this edgy and minimal would chart anytime other than 1984. Were people not paying attention? Did they only hear the hook and tune out everything else?

I Would Die 4 U

And here is the release from all five minutes of Freudian tension on “Doves.”

It’s like relief and love, in song form. I don’t live like this anymore, but if it was one of those moments where the drugs peaked about three hours ago and diminishing returns are setting in and rising sun is streaming in through the window and there’s somebody naked and soft in the room, this is the song I’d want playing while we made love like the world was ending around us.

Even in 2011, the beat remains next level. It’s these lovely hand-clap snares pulsing like a passionate heart. Meanwhile, keyboards make cartoon rocket-ship noises and Prince whispers the lyrics through miles of reverb. There’s a tidy little guitar break, too.

Baby I’m a Star

This is a big, brassy showstopper. If they ever do (or have done?) a Prince episode on that show Glee, this is probably the song they’d play last.

“I Would Die 4 U” fades right into it and I’ve never once been able to get over my disappointment that “IWD4U” is over. Maybe it’s a good tune. I really have no idea.

Purple Rain           

And ladies and gentlemen: the title track!

Because it’s 2011 and every single thing about this album has been picked over like a corpse left in dessert full of vultures, it’s impossible to hear this song without hearing the 25 plus years of commercial gospel and R&B that sound exactly like it. But it is so weirdly heartfelt it just barely transcends how familiar its sound subsequently became.

My friend, the amazing guitar player Dave Cinquegrana nailed the song for me last year when he called it the black man’s “Stairway to Heaven.” That’s some apt shit right there. Both songs have had their greatness trapped in amber for too long to be clearly evident anymore.

But it’s hard for me to be objective. It was the last song the aforementioned Dave played at my wedding and I will love it forever.

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