How Prince Perfected His Pop Chops On The 'Purple Rain' Follow-Up
Life it ain't real funky, unless it's got that pop
Purple Rain was a tough act to follow. But in 1985, Prince was better equipped than anyone in the game for the task. He emerged from his own mushroom cloud of theater, film, and funk industry-tested and razor-sharp with his own imprint and a celebratory cathedral erected in his hometown's backyard. His Royal Badassness had been crowned, but the spoils were heavy on a man already grappling with both intentional and unforeseen excesses.
His Purple Rain follow-up, Around The World In A Day, aimed just as high; a big polished body of work that did as much cheering for his new seal as lamenting its necessity. Now, let's be clear: at this point, Prince had been referred to as many things -- rock god, sex icon, punk funk wizard -- all apt, though each title fails to acknowledge what he'd really become; an uncommon and unabashed pop star to rule them all. No matter where you turned, there he was, devilish grin and six-string, locked and loaded.
To look at Prince in '85 is to see the artist in Super Saiyan pop mode (forgive the anime reference.) But only for a minute. By the end of the next year, The Revolution would disband altogether after the final stop on the Parade tour in Japan. As the middle point between the band's zenith, released just weeks after the conclusion of the Purple Rain tour, and its imminent demise, a visibly distraught Prince launching his guitar to the air in frustration at the end of the Yokohoma show, Around The World... shades both internal and external turmoil. There's new and old love, scorching rebukes of American idealism and a sly satire of first world problems. But at its crux, the album is the musical embodiment of the artist's notorious side-eye, only this time it's pointed at us, the political climate, and most indirectly, himself.
For the most part, Around The World... simply cannot challenge Purple Rain's all-angle blitz. However, if there's a singular instance in which Prince reaches GOAT levels as a pop writer, it is inarguably "Raspberry Beret," by all systems of metrics a perfect fucking song. A cut so frilly and complete and resolved it's as if every recorded note of his career had been channeled into that sweet 3 minutes and change of dreamy purple pop. Which is not to say that the Minneapolis maven hadn't teased us with pop trimmings in earlier works; "Baby" reveals these leanings on his debut, "When You Were Mine" breaks into radio-ready territory with a funky flair, and "Little Red Corvette" is the deceptively-raunchy beta test for all these components in concert.
Between the Purple Rain tour,Sheila E.'s sophomore solo album, Romance 1600, and Tipper Gore's "Darling Nikki"-induced censorship assault, 1985 would prove to be a year when Prince could finally step confidently as pop's new king, streaking past perennial chart-toppers like Springsteen and Madonna with, at one point, the number 1 album, film and single in the country; the first to ever sweep. As much as Purple Rain provided the first real taste of Prince's concertedly-pop stylings and full-formed iconography, as a songwriter, this mid-genius-period stretch, finally releasing songs that had been written between 1982 and 1984, is where it all crystallizes.
Around The World..., despite its dark undertones, sky-high ambitions and exemplary pen game, couldn't help but fall short of its industry-conquering predecessor. It should, however, be eternally regarded as the moment Prince gets pop right while fanning the flames of an indomitable classic. The markings of a star, bar none.