The remastered vinyl edition of Prince’s Purple Rain has either sat plum or hovered near the top of JB’s vinyl chart since it was released by Warner a little over a month ago. Michael Dwyer investigates.
There are around 140 Diamond albums in the world: ones that have sold ten million copies or more according to the Record Industry Association of America. There are somewhat fewer good Diamond albums. What we have here, according to US music biz bible Billboard, is the best Diamond album of all.
It’s better than Songs In The Key of Life. Better than Physical Graffiti or Dark Side of the Moon. It’s a bit better than Abbey Road, a fair way ahead of Adele’s 21 and a whole freakin’ shedload better than Kenny G’s Breathless.
“Purple Rain is certainly in contention for the most perfect album in rock or pop history,” Billboard opined in its recent rating of 90 Diamond albums, “expertly flowing from track to track while delighting, surprising and astounding at each bend.”
Well, all right! Of course, the very idea of winning the All-Time Album Olympics is as fundamentally daft as any listicle anywhere, but it’s hard to find a chink in the paisley armour of the late great Purple One’s blockbuster breakthrough of 1984.
The 2015 Paisley Park remaster was overseen by the funkmeister himself, and the pearly sheen is right up in yer mascara from the first wobbly church organ chords of Let’s Go Crazy. That classic ’80s gated snare drum cracks like a rubber balloon busting on a taut bass player’s butt. The synths shimmer like shiny tinfoil, and that weird scrabbly woodblock percussion thing sounds like a really clean weird scrabbly woodblock percussion thing.
Take Me With U slides in on a slick of glitter vaseline, as indelibly propulsive as any hit from the great synth scare of ’84, but it’s the back half of side one that holds the highest density of sonic delights in this 44 minutes. The futuristic go-go of Computer Life segues into the oh-so-naughty fan tale Darling Nikki like they’re one long robot jam, culminating in what must surely be rock’s first gospel bubble bath.
He pulls a similar trick when I Would Die 4 U morphs into Baby I’m A Star on side two. Incredibly, they were both recorded live at a Minneapolis Club before being twiddled Zappa-style back at Paisley HQ.
Bookending that side are the most iconic of all Prince’s tunes, When Doves Cry and Purple Rain, two songs as remarkable for their bare-boned craft as the epicness of their production. How does he gets his “yow yow yows” to boing like a Jew’s harp in the Doves intro? How does his shriek register sound like nails down a blackboard on The Beautiful Ones? Exactly what is that cyber synapse crackle in I Would Die 4 U? You won’t get answers here, just another chance to wonder.
Sadly, what you won’t get either with this splendid new vinyl pressing is From the Vault & Previously Unreleased, the bonus disc accompanying the Deluxe CD edition. No Electric Intercourse, no Wonderful Ass, no Velvet Kitty Cat and no, er, We Can F-ck.
What you will get is a smashing metallic mirror effect where the old white floral border and back used to be, an inner sleeve with almost legible lyrics, and that much-lamented addition to the cherished old vinyl relic: the original foldout poster for your bedroom wall.
Look at him there in his purple suede boots and quilted paisley pants suit with its diagonal button flies. Flouncy white lace frilling from sleeves and collar and inexplicable silver chains hanging from his sharply padded right shoulder. Damn. We won’t see his like again. But we’ll always have Purple Rain.
Purple Rain (Remastered) is available now via Warner.