Today’s POP RESCUE from a fate unknown, is the 1982 fifth album 1999 by the late American singer, songwriter, musician and producer, Prince. Was this album ahead of its time, or is so last century? Read on…
This 11 track album opens with the robotic reassurance of ‘Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you’, before bursting into the familiar synth and guitar sequence of titular hit song and lead single, 1999. What is there to say about this song? It is a stroke of genius from that very first note, and it’s also an absolute masterpiece in music and of course in marketing. Prince throws his vocals around this song with great ease, ably joined by vocalist Lisa Coleman (of Wendy & Lisa). It’s a perfect opener and quite rightly a hit. It reached #25 when originally released in 1983 in the UK, but along with next track, it hit #2 in 1985. Obviously it saw a return in 1999 itself, and reached #10. It also returned in 2016, but failed to hit the top 40.
Next up is Little Red Corvette, which stood as the album’s second single. This one opens slowly with some slowly building synths and beats as Prince leads us to the roaring chorus. By contrast, this track one has a gentler tempo, but allows for some electric guitars to dominate the synths. It’s pretty catchy. On original release in the UK it flopped at #54, but returned as part of the double-A side single with 1999 in 1985, to hit #2 in the UK. It returned to the chart upon Prince’s death, reaching #70.
Delirious follows this, and despite teasing a funky bass, it throws in a somewhat comedy high-pitched synth line that sounds a bit like Sooty and Sweep playing a 1950s rockabilly hit. That aside, Prince’s vocals and lyrics are quite nice, but it’s not the catchy song of the previous two tracks. Despite this, it was the album’s 3rd single, but wasn’t released in the UK chart.
Next up is fifth and final single Let’s Pretend We’re Married, which throws in a stead bass drum and snare drum machine beat. A chugging synth joins in. This simple sequence continues for almost 1 minute before Prince begins to sing. This is a bit of a foot-tapper, and catchier than Delirious, but at 7 minutes and 21 seconds, it lasts just that bit too long. The track was not released in the UK, and therefore didn’t touch the charts.
That’s followed by D.M.S.R (which stands for Dance, Music, Sex, Romance) which again relies on some thick 80’s synths and drum machines. It’s joined again by some lovely guitar work, that gets funkier as the song builds. Once again, the track is long, weighing in at 8 minutes and 16 seconds. Still, it’s musically nice to listen to, even if the lyrics run a little short.
Automatic follows this, and this was the album’s 4th single, although wasn’t released in the US. Instead, it saw release in Australia in a much shortened form of <4 mins. Here though, it’s 9 minutes 28s long. I can see the robotic style for this song, and it conveys this well amongst vocal effects and samples, simple layered 80s synths sequences, and sharp drum machines, but it just goes on for too long. It was probably quite radical in 1982, and echoing Kraftwerk-lite.
That’s followed by b-side track Something In The Water (Does Not Compute), which again takes the robotic clanging sound effects, with Prince’s vocals leaning towards him also being a robot. A frantic high hat underlies the track, as Prince and backing vocals build the song up.
Next track Free opens with some passing marching, before a piano ushers in some heartfelt vocals of Prince. He’s joined by electric guitar, and I imagine that somewhere in the studio there could easily have been 80’s Elton John, wondering whether he’d get this song instead of Prince.
The tempo picks up for Lady Cab Driver, as we hear cars honking, and someone (presumably Prince) hailing a cab as some funky bass and guitars join him. This really lifts the album here after the heavy reliance on electronic 80s sounds. Towards the end, Prince seemingly plays a different kind of ‘instrument’ going by the ‘backing vocal’. Again we’re in long track territory, with the song weighing at 8m 18s. However, there’s a wonderful guitar roaring solo from about 5m 43s that’s worth sticking around for.
All The Critics Love U In New York is up next. It’s a simple track over which Prince’s whispering near-spoken vocals in the verse are a bit buried in the mix until the chorus. It’s long and repetitive, but wholly inoffensive (aside from the reference to masturbation).
The album closes with International Lover, which takes a different turn to everything we’ve heard so far. It’s a ballad, catchy, a bit corny, but Prince shows off just how high he can reach vocally. At times he sounds like a female jazz singer, getting the chance to really show off his vocal power in the soar to the mid-section. ‘Good evening, this is your pilot Prince speaking’ he mutters, promising a flight equipped with ‘everything your body requires’.
Over all, the influence of computer-generated music is huge here, and Prince adopts this in abundance, giving us a wonderful early 80’s sound that echoes Kraftwerk.
Whilst title track 1999, Little Red Corvette, and International Lover are the most commercial and accessible here, the album does include some lovely sounds. However, many of the tracks are somewhat thwarted by the long duration that they have. To us now, almost 40 years since this album was released, the tracks sound long and tedious and perhaps over-indulgent, whereas I’m sure that 1982’s fresh-eared listeners would have found these thoroughly exciting.
An edit on a few of the tracks would have helped this album score a few more stars with us.
- POP RESCUE 2020 RATING: 3 / 5
- 1982 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #30, certified Platinum by the BPI.
- POP RESCUE COST: £1.99 from a British Heart Foundation store.