A maximalist magnum opus that’s sold 25 million copies and counting, Purple Rain catapulted Prince into the immortal pop pantheon with its audacious blend of machine-tooled sex-funk, heavy metal guitars, porno-suggestive lyrics and MTV-friendly, high-gloss showmanship. The accompanying film may have been a polished turd of soapy melodrama but it transformed its diminutive star into a towering icon of the video age.
Remastered in 2015, the original 1984 album still sounds gloriously eclectic and mostly electrifying. From the skeletal robo-funk and Hendrix-oid guitar eruptions of When Doves Cry to the controversial, overblown perv-pop wank fantasy Darling Nikki and the epic blow-out finale of Purple Rain itself, this is Prince in his imperial pomp, cranking everything up to 11 with his tongue in both cheeks. Usually somebody else’s.
Prince’s untimely death last year led to feverish speculation about opening up his legendary archive of shelved recordings, and this expanded reissue package certainly delivers in that regard. Can you guess what most of the ultra-rare and previously unreleased tracks are about? As a subtle clue, one is titled We Can Fuck, a prototype for the George Clinton duet later renamed We Can Funk. It’s a walloping drum-machine groove marathon, but fairly routine by Prince’s standards.
More interesting is Electric Intercourse. Bumped from the original album, it’s a salaciously syrupy, slow-burn seduction ballad. And Wonderful Ass is just fabulous: a playfully hilarious paean to devotional rear-end worship. It was reportedly written for alt.rockers Violent Femmes, who rejected it as too risqué. Wisely, perhaps, since Prince radiated a unique force field of sex-god charisma that mostly shielded him from accusations of sexism.
Another luscious curio is Our Destiny/ Roadhouse Garden, part Broadway show tune and part disco-sleek groove. Heard only fleetingly in the film, Possessed is an agreeably angular blast of new wave electro-funk, while the ambient instrumental Father’s Song, written by Prince’s jazz pianist dad John Nelson, is a sublime sci-fi lullaby.
Inevitably, some of the bonus tracks are duds. The Dance Electric is the kind of boxy, Huey Lewis-style synth-funk jam that Prince could churn out in his sleep, while Velvet Kitty Cat and Katrina’s Paper Dolls are twee, lightweight sketches. But overall, the extra material makes Purple Rain a richer, deeper, stranger and ruder album. Fifty shades of purple, most of them delicious.