How much do I love you, my faithful readers? So much that I listened to all of “The Arms of Orion,” so that you don’t have to.
“Orion” is the third song Batman, the album Prince released thirteen months after Lovesexy. Tim Burton had placed two Prince songs in an early rough cut of his Batman reboot, and then asked if Prince would re-record them for the soundtrack.1 That question must have popped some very bright corporate light bulbs. Warner Bros. (releasing the movie and Prince’s records), Prince, and Prince’s manager, were all in agreement that it would be nice to have a big ol’ hit again, after the lackluster sales of Lovesexy. While the whole thing made a lot of marketing sense, it doesn’t sound like Prince only made this record for commercial reasons. He seems to have really felt a connection with the Batman story, and enjoyed hanging out with Tim Burton and Jack Nicholson.2
In fact, he felt such a connection that he didn’t settle for recording new versions of old songs; he went ahead and turned in a full album. Everyone got the hit they wanted, when the record sold eleven million copies worldwide and “Batdance” went to number one.3 I bought the album the day it came out and found it disappointing, but I was curious to see if perhaps my memory was too harsh—remember, this was his first release after a record I absolutely loved.
The good news: the first two songs are solid. “The Future” holds up well, with a harder, more driving groove than I remember. The live clip for this post shows how effective this was as a concert opener, and how well it segued right into “1999.” “Electric Chair” might be the best song on the whole album, with another driving drum machine groove, and plenty of moments for fans of Guitar Prince. Then, alas, we have to wade through the Sheena Easton duet, “Arms of Orion,” which feels twenty-three minutes long and sounds like it should be in a bad high school musical. Side One does end with “Vicki Waiting,” which I have always loved, thanks to its slightly behind-the-beat synth lick, great melodies, breakdown chorus, and classic layers of Prince musical flourishes throughout. In fact, “Vicki” and “Electric” are two songs that still show up on the playlists I make for running.
Side Two is where the wheels really come off, I’m afraid. “Trust” and “Lemon Crush” have all the right pieces of successful Prince pop/funk songs, but sound thin, like B-sides he forgot to finish by loading up with more ear candy—or perhaps replace with better songs he probably wrote just before the album went to the presses. The album closes with “Scandalous,” which was a Top 5 R & B hit, and “Batdance,” his first number 1 single since “Kiss.” I hadn’t listened to either in thirty years, and I can safely say I won’t listen again any time soon. “Scandalous” (which added a “!” for the singe release, for some reason) is low-level Prince balladry, but I must admit that “Batdance” is an admirably weird song to become a hit. The first half is a straight forward quarter note groove, moving fast with lots of samples from movie and a chorus of voices singing “Batman.” Halfway through it drops to a half-time feel, with some funky guitar, more samples from the movie, and callbacks to other songs on the album. It’s interesting, and very well-constructed, but not something that calls for repeated listenings.
So the Kid swings and hits a commercial home run that is also his dullest record since… Prince, perhaps? Fear not, though; his streak of Great Albums may have ended, but my hunch—and my memory—tells me there are some more great records in the future.
1 Once again, the PrinceVault site has lots of basic background: https://www.princevault.com/index.php?title=Album:_Batman
2 I didn’t think this was a project worthy of an oral history, but hey, I’m writing a blog about it, so why not: https://www.theringer.com/movies/2022/3/4/22960026/prince-batman-soundtrack-oral-history-batdance
3 For more numbers, and to read a review that likes the record much, much more than I did: https://albumism.com/features/prince-batman-turns-30-anniversary-retrospective