A few years ago a friend of mine listened to Elvis Costello’s discography from start to finish, giving us his reactions as he went along. I have decided to forgive Daren Wang for having this great idea before me, and I now steal his idea in order to do the same thing with the Prince discography. I’ve been listening to a lot of Prince recently, anyway—OK, I listen to a lot of Prince frequently, but the anniversaries of his death, then birth, have increased my daily dosage of the Purple One.
Before I begin, I am sure you have questions. Like, do I have a certain time frame for this project? No, no I don’t. I’ll finish when I finish, and you’ll put up with my inconsistent timing.
You are probably also wondering if I mean everything in his discography? Everything? Rainbow Children? N-E-W-S? That thing he gave away in newspapers in England? Surely there are rides in Paisley Park that even the most devoted must skip? If I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it: as of now, my plan is to discuss all studio albums, skipping live bootlegs and various compilations, though I cannot guarantee you all entries will be long. I will listen to each album, start to finish, but there are times when even the most diehard fan must shrug, offer a few words of blunt assessment, and move on.
Are we ready, then? Dearly beloved, we are here today to get with this man called Prince…
I confess, I had never listened to this whole album. After climbing onboard the Prince train with Purple Rain (which I saw twice the day it came out), I did work my way backward, but stopped with Dirty Mind. Something about his first two albums gave me the impression they wouldn’t be quite as good.
So? Were my instincts right about this one? Yes! That doesn’t mean the album isn’t a fascinating listen, since, as Prince will one day sing, “I’ve seen the future and it will be.” The album is early-Van-Halen short, for one thing—nine songs, just barely over half an hour. Knowing that there are double- and triple-albums in his future, and CDs that push the seventy-five minute mark, it feels compact and tight. What’s really fun, though, is playing “Spot all the trademark Prince sounds already present.” The opening track is just a minute of layers of stacked vocals that immediately made me think of the outro for “Darling Nikki,” and the first full track, “In Love,” is studded with catchy keyboard riffs and plenty of those staccato stab accents he’ll remain fond of for decades. “Soft and Wet,” with its fabulous bridge and straight-up sexual energy, will serve as a template for many (better) songs on his next few albums.
As tight and compact as it feels, For You nonetheless drags after “Soft and Wet.” The extended jam at the end of “Just as Long as We’re Together” is a yawner, and most of the second half of the album feels like well-constructed filler, a talented player and producer in search of some better songs. Something about “My Love is Forever” is too slick, too wafer-thin: I kept thinking of some musical montage from a late-70s B-movie, Goldie and Chevy walking down the street being silly.
But lying in wait at the end of the record is its most interesting surprise, an almost prog-like number called “I’m Yours.” It starts with a bass lick that it makes it clear our man studied Larry Graham’s work, before quickly giving way to the first real guitar squeals on the whole album. The rhythms are more complicated, more energetic, and those slashing and burning guitars only stop to take brief pauses, which means the average chorus can be forgiven—it’s just treading a little water before more guitars are let loose to carry us away. It’s not like anything else on the album. The outro doesn’t really go anywhere, but it doesn’t have to; for the first time on the record it really feels like Prince is toying with us, making it clear that he can really do anything, and that following him for the ride will be worth it.