It seems quaint now to remember how when his third album, Dirty Mind, came out in October 1980, lots of people were wondering which way Prince swung. Who was this cat in a circus coat and a . . . jockstrap, singing about somebody else's bride telling him, "But you're such a hunk / So full of spunk / I'll give you - head." Onstage or on video, with his falsetto, coy struts and eyelash-batting, he re-feminized the pop world much as Jagger had in the Sixties and Bowie had in the Seventies.
It would be a stretch to call such a richly pop-y thing as Dirty Mind revolutionary. But this eight-song purple bouquet flung at the new decade certainly signaled some splendidly liberated music to come, not just from Prince (his Number One hit "Let's Go Crazy" was only four years away) but from his few peers, like Michael Jackson. Jackson's "Beat It" had its own monster footprint but shared with the best of Dirty Mind a mixture of rock guitar, playful synths and squealing R&B that seemed to spring out of a rib taken from James Brown.
Dirty Mind departed not just from Prince's first LP, of fairly conventional R&B, and his second, Hendrix-infused album, but from most of what else was out there -- not just the treacle (Captain and Tennille, Christopher Cross) but that year's frothy post-disco hits (Lipps Inc.'s "Funkytown," Kool and the Gang's "Celebration"). What made Dirty Mind so different -- beyond the songs poeticizing incest ("Sister") and oral sex (see above) was its almost New Wave spareness -- "When You Were Mine" coasted on a fluid synth, but the rhythm section could have been any white-boy power-pop garage band in skinny ties. And how sweet, in Prince's girlish falsetto, the mixture of lust and innocence, forgiveness and hurt: "I never was the kind to make a fuss / When he was there / Sleepin' in between the two of us."
He made the album with his own hands, well away from the prying label execs who oversaw the first two. He extolled his hometown of Minneapolis' night life ("Uptown") and trotted out his spacey millenarian streak ("You're gonna have to fight your own damn war," he chants on "Partyup"). This record from the Prince we formerly knew added up to just over half an hour and revealed a new household pop god. (RS 821)
(Posted: Sep 16, 1999)
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