Purple Spring Review: Dirty Mind (1980)
Written by Mr. Harold Zo
My band and I will be taking over blogging responsibilities while Alexius takes the next seven days off. We managed to hack into the psychic connection he has with his editor friend (full credit to Quivver there). We got in, proposed this series on Prince, and more-or-less shanghaied the old cat into agreeing to the whole shebang.
Before we hook electrodes into Prince’s Dirty Mind like the mad scientists our child selves wanted to be, let’s introduce the lineup for this week. One review per day, seven in total. Coming up on the main stage for the next week running, we have the masterful musical menageries of:
1. Dirty Mind (1980)
2. 1999 (1982)
3. Purple Rain (1984)
4. Parade (1986)
5. Sign ‘O’ The Times (1987)
6. The Black Album (1988/1994)
7. Love Symbol (1992)
That will take us up the cascading, starlit road of Prince’s ascent, reach its purple-saturated apex, and finish as Prince approached the upheavals and shakier quality of the 1990s. Our journeys will carry us across the popular music map, traversing time, space, a whole continent of kink, and the acute, visionary sounds of a man who towers above all others who seek to carry a guitar and pick up dates at the same time. Let me tell you, it is possible with the proper weight training regimen.
Now! Let’s get the drum-machine roll started for Dirty Mind!
Prince performed nearly all of the instruments and all of the vocals for this album’s eight songs. He would drop some absurdly lengthy records later in his career, but this album prefers to blitz the listener, leaving her or him in a funk-induced catatonic state. Sparing no time to dawdle in extended jams or in any other distraction that might slow the momentum, Prince blazes through this thirty-minute studio set with no boundaries and a heck of a lot to prove.
The album’s sound is constructed on straight-from-the-gut propulsive beats luxuriously bathing in synths. Organic sounds tend to muscle their way in through bass grooves and spiky guitar work. Later on, Prince’s music will be awash in glittery production but here the sound is far more open and spare. The album is so tight already that I fear adding more sounds to it would cast it off balance, like a spinning top. Other than an exclamatory keyboard solo near the end of “Head,” Prince keeps the focus squarely on infecting the ears of the listener with insidious, probably borderline-illegal grooves.
Dirty Mind never sticks its head–or any other part of its impressive body–in one genre for very long. Often, it’s pulling from all over the place. Its blatantly calculated shock value aside, the incest-themed “Sister” (which has quite the head-spinning effect on me despite its 90-second span) is an impressive punk song. Like the rest of the album, it’s a model of efficient music that has a goal in mind, accomplishes it, and retreats. Even the longer pieces like the street-level celebration “Uptown” and the final track, “Partyup,” focus on rocking hard rather than all night long. Prince probably has some important business to take care of, so there’s no reason to gild the lily. Avoiding double entrendres and going straight for the heart of the matter, Prince sings mostly in the upper level of his vocal range. Call me crazy, but even as a devil-spawn rock star who used to moonlight as an English teacher, I started to dig his skeletal beats and unabashed danceability. Disco might have died by the time 1980 shambled upon the world, but Dirty Mind still has a use for it along with its New Wave, punk, and more straightforward rock influences. It’s funky, but in a more lucid, businesslike, yet still hot way. It’s worlds away from Parliament/Funkadelic and anticipates still more radical shifts in direction that the Purple One would take later.
It’s too bad I didn’t get to hear any tear-duct shattering guitar solos here. Otherwise, Dirty Mind is just about flawless. Profane but tender songs like “When You Were Mine” lead seamlessly into blazing dance tracks like “Do It All Night.” Styles merge, and the sonic world we live in is sparse but rich, curated and sensually sophisticated. Rock gods, take notice. This is how you do grand! This is the way the music of the 1980s should have gone! I’m a broken man with a broken eardrum, but I can hear loud and clear that this album still sounds current thirty years after it dropped.
Rock gods, I’m sorry if I gave you offense. I’ll do my customary penitence and offer up a bounty of cocaine to the ablution fires. I quit the stuff years ago, but I know how you old guys do love the stuff.
Keep tuned in for a review of 1999 tomorrow. Those clueless rock stars only think they have me fooled. I’ll do ’em in in the end.–Alexius