The Project I’m indulging in—the same one you’re indulging in by reading along, faithful readers—makes a point to separate the films from the music, but I must start our Graffiiti Bridge with the story of my viewing the movie. I was the only one in the theatre, some multiplex on Hairston Road, and I remember groaning out loud when it started with a darkened screen, and then Prince’s voice: “Are there really angels? Or are they just in our mind? It all comes out in the wash… in time.” Those lines were quickly followed by (of course!) a bolt of lightning.1
I am happy to report that the double album Graffiti Bridge is much better than the movie Graffiti Bridge. In fact, the record is much better than I remember it being. While I still don’t think that I can place it on the same shelf as the records from his Golden Age, there’s lots of great stuff here. “Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got” may not be up there with other classic opening tracks in Prince history, but it is a solid example of the kind of one-man-band Prince pop song he can pull off in his sleep.2 Things really take off with “New Power Generation,” though, and the rest of first two sides is great.3 “New Power” is deep and solid funk, with lyrics that have a social message without getting too heavy-handed; “The Question of U” has a dark, mid-tempo-y groove, a great guitar lead, and sounds like it would fit right on side one of Parade; “Elephants & Flowers” comes from the, textured, densely produced land of Prince, with a great bridge; and the side two closer, “Joy in Repetition,” has a beautifully spooky vibe and a lead vocal performance I love—the raspy Prince I wish we heard more often.
There are also songs written by Prince but sung by others. When the record came out I remember wondering what it would have been like if he had just sung them all, especially “Round and Round,” a song I loved so much I wanted Prince’s vocal on it. On this listen, however, I enjoyed the soundtrack effect. Let’s face it, The Time is a fun band, and “Release It” sounds great. I also dig the George Clinton appearance and influence on “We Can Funk,” another deep, thumping funk track, and the turn at 3:15—those backing vocals, under his lead track—thrills me. Even Tevin Campbell’s performance on “Round” makes sense to me now; his youthful tone helps sell the chorus:
I say, nothing comes from dreamers but dreams
Sitting idle in our boat while everyone else is down the stream
Nothing comes from dreamers but dreams
We can talk all we want to, but the world still goes around and round
There are two more sides with nine more songs, and that’s where the consistency falls off. I am on record as being a big fan of sprawling, messy double albums, but I do have to say: if Graffiti had just been those first two sides, one eight-song album, I think it would have been basically perfect.
It’s really the first three songs on side three that fell short when I listened back.4 Two of these are tracks by The Time, and neither is close to as good as “Release It,” and the third is “Tick, Tick, Bang,” which was originally recorded for Controversy. It sounds like a dusty out-take; I dig the cymbal-driven syncopated drum groove, but the song never really goes anywhere. We do then get four great songs in a row: “Thieves in the Temple” (Prince in lead single mode), “The Latest Fashion” (a number with Prince and the Time that has aged better than some of the other Time numbers)5, “Melody Cool” (Thank you, Mavis Staples), and “Still Would Stand All Time.” That last one may be my favorite on the record, a gospel-inflected ballad, complete with call-back choir.
I consider “Still” the real album closer. The title track doesn’t do much for me—too technicolor and bright, or something?—and the reprise of “New Power Generation” feels tacked on. By my count that’s still twelve very good or even great songs, which is miles above Batman. As strong as it sounds to me today it only sold a quarter of the units Batman moved, but the next release is going to push him back to platinum land, though. It’s another record I haven’t listened to from start to finish in a while, and I’m curious to see how it sounds, thirty years later.
1 Youcan watch the first four minutes here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HkoVCW5KdM
2 I would, however, pay for a mix that eliminated the moment our man says, “I’m in a butt-kicking mood tonight, y’all!”
3 The rock solid drum groove is laid down by Morris Day—something I just learned this week. It’s a great drum, part and another example of how much Prince benefits from a super solid drummer. https://princevault.com/index.php?title=New_Power_Generation
4 Topic for future discussion: with double albums, is side three always the wonkiest? Sometimes in a good way—like all those weird tracks that somehow work—and sometimes in a less than good way—like the soggy middle section of a messy novel?
5 I also like the read super fan Leesa Neely Mayer has of this one, imagining the words being sung by a woman.