Archive for February, 2012

I only want to see you in the Purple Rain

This is Prince’s original recording of Purple Rain, sans several minutes of jamming at the beginning, an extra verse in-between the standard second and third verses and a minute or so of the final guitar solo. I get it, an eight minute song is already pushing it, unless you’re in the prog-rock business. That said, I do wish he’d just kept the original like this. Sure it’s sanctimonious, sure it’s kitschy, but that’s what Prince is. The power of this man is to turn (often perverse) semantics into intensely funky tales. There is no-one else in the audience except the girl he’s singing to, and anyone who’s seen Purple Rain (which I completely recommend) can remember the sheer amount of close-ups between him and Apollonia.

I personally don’t give a shit what Purple Rain is, or what it’s supposed to symbolise. I don’t care that every Prince song is about sex, love or dancing. I care because this insane, idiosyncratic man puts his all into the music he creates. People don’t always like it, because it isn’t neatly definable. It’s too dirty for pop, too robotic for funk, too heavy for dance, too electronic for R&B and too muddy for rock. It’s this strange, convoluted sound, that makes you groove as much as you want to rock. What stands out is not only his bizarre intellect and prodigious output, but how genuine he is. While admittedly some of Prince’s material is hardly the sort that is generally regarded as being “written from the heart”, there are moments, like this, where he does dissolve some of the barriers he puts up between his audience and himself.

And damnit he’s sexy.


Slim Slow Slider

It’s not often that a voice gets better in old age, but in this particular instance I’m more than willing to accept a little nonconformity. Some 40 years after the release of his perennial cult favourite, Astral Weeks ¬†(1968), Van Morrison finally took to the stage of the Hollywood Bowl for two concerts in which the album was performed in its entirety, finally giving all the material the live airing that was denied it at the time of the album’s release. The result was arguably one of the finest live albums around, one that bucked the recent trend of ‘classic’ artists performing note-for-note renditions of their most popular albums to instead substantially reinterpret the material in the improvisational spirit in which it was originally recorded.

Perhaps most significant about the album however is its preservation of a simply incredible vocal performance from the then 63-year-old Morrison, one that is, for my money, better than that recorded by the Van at age 23. While much of Van’s recent original output has tended towards to comfortable, competent and uninspiring combinations of soul, pop, country and blues that have done little for his voice other than to demonstrate its professionalism, the return to the lushly orchestrated, yet thoroughly freewheeling jazzy-folky soul of Astral Weeks¬†reveals the full capabilities of his soaring bellow of a voice. On cuts like ‘Slim Slow Slider’, here extended with one of the live album’s several jubilant codas, we can see how Van’s voice has deepened without losing its power or tone, as happens to many vocalists, and has become something far more nuanced and moving than the, admittedly still impressive, keening yelp of his earlier years. Not only has Van still got it; he went and made it better.