Thursday, May 9, 2013

"Hundalasiliah!": The Story of Lovesexy and Why It's One of the Most Underrated Prince Albums

Prince - Lovesexy (1988)
"The feeling you get when you fall in love, not with a girl or boy, but with the heavens above." - Prince

What better time to discuss why Lovesexy is one of the most overlooked albums in Prince's career than the 25th anniversary? But, first off, for those of you that don't know, keep reading for a history of the album.

In order to properly discuss the history of Lovesexy, one must also include the story behind "The Black Album" from the end of the previous year. Feel free to skip past this if it's old news for you!

Original planned release of "The Black Album"
The Legend of The Funk Bible
Prince himself has never really talked much about "The Black Album," other than the Prince-terminology explanation of its pull from release in the Lovesexy Tour booklet, which we'll get to later. Despite this, many close Prince associates have discussed the many rumors that surround the album, and that have helped give it the legendary status that it has today (anything that Prince didn't say himself is considered a rumor in my eyes).

"The Black Album" is said to have started off as a series of songs composed for a birthday party that Prince threw for Sheila E., a long-time collaborator, singer, and drummer for him. Among these tracks were "Le Grind," "Bob George," and the wild instrumental "2 Nigs United 4 West Compton" (I'd like to hope that the lyrics to "Bob George" were not written yet). Prince then took some pre-recorded songs including "Superfunkycalifragisexy", the rap parody "Dead on It," ode to supermodel Cindy Crawford "Cindy C.," and "Rockhard in a Funky Place" (originally planned for the unreleased Camille album) from different periods in 1986 and compiled them together. He finally recorded "When 2 R in Love" in October of 1987, making it the final track recorded for the album. 

The physical release of the album (both LP and CD) was to be in a plain black sleeve with no printed artist, album title or track listing on the outside, but a track listing on the actual disc (albeit still no artist or album title). On the spine of the release, the catalog number (originally 25677) could be found. However, there was no other indication of an artist or album title. Due to the nature of the release, fans just simply called it "The Black Album" (the more prominent title) or "The Funk Bible" (due to the spoken word intro to the first song, "Le Grind").

"The Black Album" was created in response to music critics and fans that had begun to say that Prince's music was too "pop-oriented" and that he had abandoned his black audience. Prince compiled the album quickly out of spite and possibly a bit of anger to respond to these critics. Warner Bros. were also not fans of the idea of releasing the album so soon after Sign "☮" the Times, released earlier in the year. Let's be honest, when did Warner ever support Prince's ideas? But that's a story for a different time. Despite this, the shelving of the album was completely Prince's decision. He grew to believe the album was evil, and powered by "Spooky Electric" (the Devil). Close associates (specifically sound engineer Susan Rogers) have attributed this feeling to an ecstasy trip that Prince encountered after completion of the album. As a result, a week before the album's release, he pulled all 500,000 pressed copies from release. He later explained this decision in a way that only he could, describing the battle between "Camille" and "Spooky Electric" in the 1988 Lovesexy Tour program. Here's an excerpt (taken from

“Camille set out to silence his critics. No longer daring - his enemies laughed. No longer glam, his funk is half-assed...
Tuesday came. Blue Tuesday. His canvas full, and lying on the table, Camille mustered all the hate that he was able. Hate 4 the ones who ever doubted his game. Hate 4 the ones who ever doubted his name.
Tis nobody funkier -- let the Black Album fly. Spooky Electric was talking, Camille started 2 cry. Tricked.
A fool he had been. In the lowest utmostest. He had allowed the dark side of him 2 create something evil.
2 Nigs United 4 West Compton. Camille and his ego. Bob George. Why? Spooky Electric must die.”
Prince even included a hidden message in the music video for "Alphabet St." (1988) saying, "Don't buy The Black Album, I'm sorry." The album would later be released in 1994 as an effort to fulfill Prince's contract at Warner Bros., which he was desperately trying to end. At the time, it is said that he was still not in favor of the album spiritually. Therefore, it was released as a limited edition with very little promotion. After the shelving of "The Black Album" and Prince's spiritual rebirth, he returned to the studio for seven weeks, recording new tracks. He used 8 of these new songs along with The Black Album-penned "When 2 R in Love", and Lovesexy was born.

The Words of Lovesexy: Spirituality and Sexuality

Prince - Lovesexy (1988)
Released on May 10, 1988, Lovesexy became the 10th studio album by Prince. The cover art has become infamous in itself, bearing a completely nude Prince. Initially, some record stores displayed this album in a black outer sleeve due to the content. Upon actually hearing the record, however, it becomes evident that it makes perfect sense for him to be nude on the cover. It symbolizes purity and rebirth, which are two of the main recurring themes throughout the album. 

Lovesexy was an album that was the complete opposite of The Black Album. Though both albums share "When 2 R in Love," they are totally different in concept and theme. It is interesting how well "When 2 R in Love" fits on Lovesexy, communicating yet another message of love versus being in the middle of the somewhat-chaotic Black Album. 

"The Black Album" showed Prince's "darker" side. However, it also included comical themes as well with gangsta-rap parodies like "Dead on It" and "Bob George". It serves as Prince's ultimate in-your-face backlash to the black audiences that had criticized him. It's sort of like he was saying: "You want 'black' music, well here it is." Though it is one of the most recognized underground albums, and has since become the most bootlegged album in music history, it seems as though it was just thrown together and almost can't be taken seriously.

Lovesexy, on the other hand, is full of much more light, spiritually-oriented music that's sexual at the same time. Both lyrically and musically complex, this album is the best representation of Prince's ability to unite his spirituality and sexuality as one. One of the best examples of this comes out of track 3 on the album, "Glam Slam":

This thing we got-it's alive!
It seems 2 transcend the physical
One touch and I'm satisfied
Must be a dream, it's so magical
The interesting thing about these lyrics is that, knowing Prince's nature, they can most definitely be attributed to lust. However, they also have another meaning. When you think about it, these same lyrics could be applied to God as well. Though the chorus says "Glam slam, thank you ma'am," the meaning of the song still has a double context. Prince is possibly even implying here that God could be female.

He does the same thing again in the lyrics of the title song:
This feeling's so good in every single way
I want it morning, noon, and night of every day
And if by chance I cannot have it-I can't say
But with it "eye" no heaven's just a kiss away
Coming out of the darkness, one must reach the state of "lovesexy," uniting spirituality and sexuality. This concept in itself is genius. Many critics and even some fans of Prince fail to acknowledge his extraordinary lyricism in certain aspects. Religious imagery can be found in his music as early as Controversy. However, it becomes much more prominent in Lovesexy.

In the lead (and only major hit) single from the album, "Alphabet St.," we see Prince put forth a message on the power of words in rapping to a girl in the beginning of the song, and by the end, speaking on cruelty in the world. The album is filled with positive and uplifting messages in addition to the spirituality. Other examples include the socially conscious "Dance On" and a song that personally has gotten me through some very tough times, "Positivity." In the latter song, Prince asks the questions, "Have U had yo plus sign 2day? Do we mark U present, or do we mark U late?" The word "YES" is constantly repeated despite "NO" being more a part of the other parts of the album. It is interesting that Prince constantly uses the word "no" in place of "know" in the lyric booklet. Yet, by the end of the work in "Positivity", all you hear is "yes". The message that can be inferred here, from the way the lyrics are worded, is NO to Spooky Electric, and YES to God. In the first track, "'Eye' No", Prince says:
No! Is what Spooky Electric say, it's not ok
But "Eye" no love is the only way 'til my dying day
In essence, he's saying no to the devil, and at the same time, saying he knows the way to God. Lovesexy tells sort of a non-chronological story. Ultimately, it is a concept album of sorts that speaks of a lost soul that eventually finds its way to God and positivity.

"Love is God, God is Love"
"Anna Stesia," track 4 and closer of side 1 of the record, can be considered one of the most complex songs Prince has ever composed, when it comes to both musicality and lyricism. An entire different post could be made here on the song itself, but I'll try to sum up the remarkableness of it in just a few paragraphs.

The keyword here is "try."

"Anna Stesia" tells a story of realization, rebirth, and resurrection. The title likely comes from the name "Anastasia," with Greek origins meaning resurrection. It has also been said that the title could be derived from "anesthesia." Could it be both? Or neither? Only Prince truly knows. However, with the chorus of the song stating, "Anna Stesia come 2 me, talk 2 me, ravish me, liberate my mind," it makes more sense for it to be attributed to resurrection rather than an allusion to being put under.

The song begins with about four seconds of silence, followed by single notes on a piano creeping in. The sound is almost haunting. Prince asks two questions in the first verse:
Have U ever been so lonely that U felt like U were the only one in this world?
Have U ever wanted 2 play with someone so much, U'd take anyone boy or girl?
Then, the second verse goes further in depth to what can be interpreted as battles that Prince had with himself before he truly discovered God, and how he discovered Him.
Between white and black, night and day
Black night seemed like the only way... So I danced
Music late, nothing great, no way 2 differentiate
I took a chance...
Gregory looks just like a ghost
And then a beautiful girl, the most, wets her lips 2 say,
"We could live 4 a little while, if U could just learn 2 smile, U and I could fly away."
It seems as though he is specifically speaking about "The Black Album" in this verse. The darkness that he felt at the time seemed like the only way to go to silence the critics, so he obliged. Gregory looks just like a ghost? Finding that the name "Gregory" has Greek origins in meaning "watchful" or "alert", could Gregory be his conscience watching what he was doing? Or did he just see Greg Brooks and think he was a ghost? Next, Anna Stesia (or resurrection) comes to him, implying that he can rise above all the darkness. He then sings in the bridge:
Maybe, I could learn 2 love, the right way, the only way.
Perhaps U could show me, baby.
Maybe I could learn 2 love, if I was just closer to somethin'
Closer 2 my higher self, closer to heaven... closer 2 God (repeats 2x)
He then proceeds to pour his heart out to Jesus, claiming he'd been a fool not to see his power and that now he understands. The song then closes out with the chant (likely the voices of Cat Glover and Sheila E.), "Love is God, God is love, girls and boys love God above."

"Anna Stesia" was a genius way of Prince explaining his way of capturing where he had been led astray, and how he got back on the right track. In the live performance of the song from the 1988 Lovesexy Tour concert in Dortmund, Germany (found at the right), this becomes even more evident. The amount of emotion and passion that was put into this performance is unlike any other performance from the show, and is arguably the highlight of the entire concert. The mini 'sermon' that he preaches along with the music near the end of the performance only adds to the notion that he found the right way to love and the right way to God. The song was performed as the last song of Act I of the show or the "darker" half where a couple of songs from The Black Album were also performed. Even with the tour shows, Prince still told a story of this period of darkness and how he has changed since then. Act II of the show was then heavily bombarded with other, more uplifting and spiritual material from Lovesexy and some other hits. "Anna Stesia" served as the ultimate transition between the darkness and the light. Thus, further proving his new-found glory.

And That Says What?
So, all this deep analysis to say what? Well, for starters, in the United States, Lovesexy did not fare very well commercially, while it did excellent overseas. Could it be that America was not smart enough to see the message that Prince was communicating at the time? There's no way to tell for sure, but in recent years, reviews of Lovesexy have been much more favoring. Some even discussed some of the messages behind the music as well. The point of all this is to say that still, Lovesexy is certainly not the only underrated Prince album, but the messages and double connotations that reside in the lyrics, and the overall musicality of the work make it one of the more prominent ones. The average person that has heard this album may not realize all that happened in regards to the creation of the album, and what the album has to say. Judging by popular culture, "Alphabet St." is really the only song that has remained a part of Prince's legacy from this album. Nonetheless, concept albums like Pink Floyd's classic The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) has been greatly praised for musical and lyrical greatness, which it absolutely deserves. In sum, Lovesexy is right up there with the other great musical masterpieces.

From a personal standpoint, Lovesexy is not my favorite Prince album of all time. However, if it were at all possible to make a top five, I am positive that it would be included. In essence, this album is a perfect example of what Prince does best: musical diversity, lyrical genius, and of course great instrumentation. Everything about this album is perfection, from the arrangements during the instrumental section of "Glam Slam", even down to the funky version of the word "hallelujah!" that is shouted in "'Eye' No" as "hundalasiliah!" A bit of his controversial side even showed with the third and final single from the album "I Wish You Heaven," being paired with the other-end-of-the-spectrum B-side "Scarlet Pussy." In contrast to The Black Album, Lovesexy is very much, but not limited to a "pop" sort of effort. This, however, should not be a surprise to any follower of Prince's career because he has played different musical styles since the very beginning. His music is not "black" or "white". Prince does what Prince wants. And we love him all the same for it. Happy 25th anniversary to Lovesexy, one of the greatest albums in Prince's near 4-decade career.

Until next time, Peace & B Wild.

Further reading:
The Black Album at PrinceVault