Prince and the Revolution – “Around the World in a Day” (1985)

January 18, 2009 at 10:21 pm (Prince, Reviews & Articles)

This review comes from the New York Times and was written by the late, esteemed music critic Robert Palmer (not to be confused with the late singer of the same name) – April 22, 1985 (the day the album was released)… 

 

Around the World in a Day, the first album from Prince since his Purple Rain album and film made him pop’s brightest new star, is being released today by Warner Brothers Records. The album follows Prince’s recent announcement, on completion of his long and reportedly grueling Purple Rain tour, that he does not intend to perform live again, though he will continue to make records, videos and films.

Sales of the Purple Rain album, which won an Academy Award, three Grammys and three American Music Awards, are said to be approaching 13 million (Warner Brothers is not releasing official sales figures). The album’s popularity was greatly bolstered by the success of the Purple Rain film and by the release of several songs from the album as singles, including ”When Doves Cry” and three other top 10 hits. There are no plans as yet to release any of the songs from Around the World in a Day as singles, nor is there to be an accompanying film, but the album is strong enough to hold its own. It is ambitious, complex and stylistically diverse but at the same time a unified whole – a ”concept album” in the tradition of such 60′s classics as the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

In fact, Prince’s new album might more accurately have been titled ”Around Great 60′s Rock in a Day.” It is redolent of 60′s rock, or at least of 60′s rock myths, in many ways, from the cover art, which recalls the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine cartoon feature, to the lyrics, the musical stylings and the vocals. Prince sings like a deadpan David Bowie on one song, recalls Little Richard and his 60′s disciples on the next, briefly suggests John Lennon and leads a triumphant gospel singalong before taking the album out in style with a furious electric-guitar solo that positively soars, like the work of a young, brash Jimi Hendrix.

Prince is risking charges of imitation and excessive eclecticism by deliberately invoking so many icons of 60′s rock. He is also asking, perhaps demanding, to be taken seriously. If the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper is the one rock album almost universally revered as a work of art, Prince clearly would like Around the World in a Day to be No. 2, at least.

In fact, an early report from record-business sources that the album would be ”Prince’s Sgt. Pepper” was substantially accurate. It was after making Sgt. Pepper and realizing they would never be able to play music of such richness and complexity on stage that the Beatles formally agreed never to perform live again. Much of the music on Around the World in a Day would be likely to pose similar problems, and the album was already completed and ready for release when Prince announced that he was giving up live performance.

Several of the album’s nine songs summon up and grapple with specific archetypes of 60′s rock. It begins with a bucolic, flutelike twittering and a pre-literate yawp from Prince’s vocal chords. The first words are ”Open your heart/Open your mind,” an invitation to illumination much like the songs that opened Sgt. Pepper and the Rolling Stones’ psychedelic Their Satanic Majesties Request. The next tune, ”Paisley Park,” is Prince’s version of a 60′s ”love in,” and invitation to a (presumably) imaginary place where ”colorful people” have a ”smile on their faces/It speaks of a profound inner peace.”

”America,” the song that begins the album’s second side, is brisk, driving and decidedly urban; like a 60′s protest song, it addresses an idealized spirit of ”America” and demands that it ”keep the children free.” But just as the psychedelic-style songs on side one are notably free of drug references, side two’s ”America” might be termed a patriotic protest song. No draft cards are being burned here. In fact, one of the song’s capsule character sketches seems to suggest that those who reject patriotism and dabble in nihilism may get their just rewards in a nuclear cataclysm:

 

Jimmy Nothing never went to school

They made him pledge allegiance,

he said it wasn’t cool

Nothing made Jimmy proud

Now Jimmy lives on a mushroom cloud. 

 

Almost every sound on the record, vocal and instrumental, with the occasional exception of light percussion, saxophone, backing vocals and understated string arrangements, was made by Prince, who proves with this record that he has mastered the pop-rock idiom in the widest sense, from artsy rock to heavy metal, funk to sweet pop balladry. Around the World in a Day may or may not endure as a rock classic; that remains to be seen. But there can be no doubt that Prince has invested a great deal of creative and emotional energy in it. Overall, whether one approaches it as a concept album or simply a collection of superb pop songs, it is an instrumental and stylistic tour de force, Prince’s finest hour – for now.

Robert Palmer

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