REPRINTED FROM ROLLING STONE – JUNE 6 1985
PRINCE IS UP TO SOMETHING, no doubt about it, on Around the World in a Day. The packaging will pass for psychedelic, as will the name of Prince’s recording studio and custom label, Paisley Park. And audio embellishments like finger cymbals and lost-in-space synthesizers — not to mention the album’s first lines, “Open your heart, open your mind” — would have been right at home in lysergic times.
Let’s not take Prince’s psychedelic trappings too seriously, however. His new album is about anything but diving into a mind-altered substance. On Around the World — as on Purple Rain, which it barely resembles otherwise — Prince takes another step toward cleaning up his act.
Prince deserves credit for making an album at all — especially an album the breaks ranks with the previous six. He could cruise for years on the sales of the Purple Rain LP, the movie’s boffo box office and the truckloads of nickels in cover-version royalties. Instead, he holed up in the studio, as he usually does, to make Around the World virtually by himself. It’s easy to forget, listening to the ping-pong of parts, that Prince puts his music together overdub by overdub — a triumph of planning as well as virtuoso execution. He lets friends in for background vocals and percussion and hires specialists for saxophone, cello, and oud (the North African lute), but all the essentials — guitars, synthesizers, drums, wolf whistles — are played by Prince alone. Only God, who makes a cameo appearance, knows when he had time to lay down the tracks.
Prince has apparently decided he’s tired of being a bedroom-eyed, bikini-briefed, pansexual sex symbol. In the album-cover illustration it’s difficult to tell who’s who; I think Prince is the pious-looking, white-robed guy in the upper right who’s ignoring a half-clad cutie and the nipple-shaped peak in a voluptuous mountain range. More importantly, his new lyrics are PG rated, not even the soft R of “Darling Nikki” on Purple Rain. It’s hard to believe this is the same Prince who made Dirty Mind in 1980 or who, on 1981’s Controversy, claimed “Sexuality is all you’ll ever need.”
Now Prince has come out of the bedroom. Only three of the nine songs on Around the World — Prince’s lowest proportion by a long shot — aim below the waist. “Raspberry Beret” is a sweetly wistful seduction song, and “Tamborine,” marching along like the Lemon Pipers’ 1968 hit “Green Tambourine,” makes masturbation seem more innocent than Cyndi Lauper‘s “She Bop.” After the bluesy bump and grind of “Temptation,” with one of the lewdest fuzz-tone guitars this side of Buddy Guy, God declares, “You have to want it for the right reasons” — and Prince promises to be good.
The lyrics on the rest of the album suggest the spacey, out-of-it benevolence one might expect from Stevie Wonder (“The Ladder” and the title cut, both co-written by Prince’s father, John L. Nelson), but underscored by Prince’s own apocalyptic vision. With its lilting, nursery-rhyme-like melody, “Paisley Park” blithely describes a carefree refuge, which may be death; “America,” a mock-Slavic rewrite of the tune we all know, plus a funk beat, threatens a boy who doesn’t pledge allegiance with permanent residence on a “mushroom cloud.” Prince gets more mileage than Alice Walker from the color purple, his shorthand symbol for the end of the world, which shows up in the first song of the album and in the last.
Where Prince has taken the sweat and other bodily fluids out of his lyrics, he’s also reformulated the music. Now that everyone else is making funk tracks out of staccato keyboards, Prince has started to use sustained sounds: flutelike synthesizer on the Nubian-flavored title cut; quasi-calliope toots and what sounds like dozens of quivering vocals on “Condition of the Heart”; strings on “Raspberry Beret” and “Pop Life”; and Pink Floydian stateliness on the gospel-tinged “The Ladder.”
Although it’s not a ballad album, Around the World only summons Prince’s dance-your-thang-off keyboard blips and James Brown guitar scratches for special events. You can call it psychedelic, but don’t forget that Prince has always had an ear for floating tempos, from “When We’re Dancing Close and Slow” on Prince to “The Beautiful Ones” on Purple Rain.
For all I know, Around the World in a Day may represent the afterglow following the commercial orgasm of Purple Rain. Or it may suggest that Prince’s long of session with s-e-x is beginning to make way for other concerns — we’ll doubtless be hearing that in getting away from that adolescent humpa-hump stuff, Prince has grown up. Maybe it’s my hormones, but to me Around the World is if anything more childish sounding than any of its predecessors. Prince has traded what he does know for wide-eyed, goofy philosophizing that can be ugly — as with the wacko anti-Communism of “America” — as well as lovable. I’m not going along if Prince drifts off, with Earth, Wind, and Fire and Stevie Wonder, into a grit-free never-never land, but at the moment he’s still odd enough to be fascinating.
At the end of “Temptation” Prince, ever the cheerful enigma, announces, “I have 2 go now. I don’t know when I’ll return.” The paranoids among us might think that having borrowed mightily from Little Richard, Prince is about to follow Reverend Penniman into the church. Whether the album is an aberration or a new direction, one thing is sure: Around the World in a Day is the Prince album you can bring home to your parents. Even, I guess, if they’re ex-hippies.