Sunday, 26 June 2016

Christina Hoff Sommers and Camille Paglia: The full interview

My two favourite feminists break down gamergate, intersectional feminism, the "male gaze", and lots more. I always say, if even 30% of modern feminists were capable of thinking like Based Mom and Based Goddess, I'd still be one.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Parade (1986)

Purple Rain sold the most, and Sign ‘O’ The Times is widely considered his greatest artistic achievement but for my money, Parade is Prince’s most perfect album.

After the hard rock of Purple Rain and the 60s psychedelica of Around The World In A Day, Parade returned to the robotic funk of his roots but with a pallet of exotic orchestrations and a new skinny, honking horn sound on tracks like ‘Girls & Boys’ and ‘New Position’ that seemed to hark back to the 1930s as much as the black and white movie he directed, Under The Cherry Moon, that these songs were ostensibly a ‘soundtrack’ to. Like Hemingway, Prince’s great secret was his discovery that taking things out made what you left in all the more powerful, and tracks like ‘I Wonder U’ are barely there at all, and all the better for it.

It’s easy to forget but Parade is essentially Prince’s only great ‘concept’ album, in that it begins with a parade for ‘Christopher Tracy’ - his character in the movie - and ends with a song mourning that fictional character's death. And every song along the way is perfectly formed and seamlessly slides into the one beside it like threads in a Persian tapestry, most triumphantly at the point ‘Life Can Be So Nice’ kicks in. The great songs for me are, obviously, Kiss, but equally Girls & Boys, the soaring, immortal ‘Mountains’ and his most paradoxically heartfelt ballad, ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’. But, probably more than any other of his albums, this one needs to be heard in its entirety every time.


As an afterword, I really have to add a youtube video isn’t the best way to hear any of these records, and should be used only as an low-res sampler for you to get a hard copy of the real thing, ideally on vinyl, at least until a decent remaster comes along.

Around The World In A Day (1985)

This was the strangest of Prince’s imperial phase of 80s records, a swirling psychedelic extravagance completely out of step with everything else going on that decade, and as the follow-up to the phenomenally successful Purple Rain album, its indulgences confounded most listeners who judged it a failure and so it sold far less, even though it contains the immortal ‘Raspberry Beret’ and the lesser known but equally perfect ‘Pop Life’.

But its inability to be categorized is precisely why this album is so great: What ‘kind’ of music is ‘Around The World in a Day’? What ‘kind’ of music is ‘The Ladder’? or ‘Temptation’? Or ‘Condition Of The Heart’?

That last song is the one I always used to sit people down with and ask, with all the surging orchestra of sounds, all speeding up and slowing down, coming in and going out - and all played by him (with the exception of the finger cymbals, if I remember correctly)…  which instrument did he play first? I finally figured out years later by process of deduction it had to have been the piano, but that doesn’t make it any less inexplicable or extraordinary.

I saw a nice video today where black writer Marc Bernardin made the insightful statement that growing up in the 80s Prince was to black kids what Bowie in the 70s was to white kids, and that’s so true: At a time when being a black man on MTV meant you were either Luther Vandross or Run DMC - both very narrow and confining models of masculinity - Prince was as much The Beatles and Liberace and Joni Mitchell as he was James Brown and Funkadelic. Prince alone demonstrated you didn’t have to be anyone but yourself, that you could dream up the life you wanted to live and the person you wanted to be and make it real.

Sign 'O' The Times (1987)

Not ideal sound quality but good enough for the genius to shine through.

For the uninitiated saplings wondering what all the fuss is about, my recommended cuts are first of all Sign O The Times itself and then the run of If I Was Your Girlfriend, Strange Relationship and I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, which no-one ever talks about but for my money has his best ever guitar work  - yes Purple Rain is a better solo but the strange, winding odyssey he goes on before coming back to the hook at the end is so detailed and sublime, and even more extraordinary when you remember that’s him sat behind the drum kit, that’s him playing bass, that’s him singing backup, that all of this was dreamt up and brought forth in real time by a solitary human being without a computer.

Unlike the other great pop stars of the 80s, Michael Jackson and Madonna, who never played a note on their records - or even Springsteen, who played guitar and wrote the songs but was at the mercy of his band as to how they ended up - every instrument, every note, every harmony, every brush stroke along the way was all played by one man, a painter at his easel, alone in a room with his boundless imagination, 30 years ago. Nothing ever sounded like this before. Or, let's be honest, since.