On this day in 1986, Prince started a run of five nights at Wembley Arena in London (H/T ThisDayInMusic.com). In honor of this, I'm going to look at one of the Prince albums from the 1980s that I didn't with True a couple months back.
I'm, of course, talking Around the World in a Day. I've made mention of this album being an "inferior" (by Prince standards) follow-up to 1983's Purple Rain. But, is it as "bad" as some have made it out to be? Well, no, because it's Prince. But, is it really as faulty of a follow-up to Purple Rain as some (including myself) have made it out to be? That's what we're going to answer today.
This is, technically, a WIRTB. but since Prince never really made "bad" music, it's more of an evaluation of the album versus Prince's discography and its place chronologically.
For starters, I feel the album gets some of the miscredit it does because it's not really a straight-up follow-up to Purple Rain. It's more of a setup for 1986's Parade, the underrated soundtrack album to Under the Cherry Moon than anything. I mean, the title track has vibes of "Christopher Tracy's Parade" versus the vibes of, say, "Darling Nikki" or something. It's trippy, a bit cryptic, has that overarching-but-still-subtle-by-Prince-standards religious overtone. Overall, though? The title track is legit. It's just as post-funk as Purple Rain, but, again, it serves as a bridge to the end of Prince's work with The Revolution. There's a lot of Middle Eastern influence mixed in as well. Perhaps that's what turned people off to begin with, the fact that it's not a "straightforward" album. It pulls influence from many, many places.
"Paisley Park," again, keeps up that Parade vibe. Its carnival-esque backing mixed with matter-of-fact stories about adultery, for instance, give us a yearning for the old days, but accepting that life goes on. The place seems to be meant to be some mix of MJ's Neverland and Prince's energy at that time as a whole. You don't want to grow up in Paisley Park, but life has that sort of effect on you. So, enjoy the simple things, even if they're kind of screwed up by "reality." The video is just as trippy and layered.
"Condition of the Heart," it's a Prince track that takes almost three minutes before we hear his voice. But, in the meantime, piano chords and the escalation of the instrumental backing, they keep you interested. It feels a bit rock opera-esque, especially with how long it takes to "get going." It's a lovely, slightly trippy track about the complexities of love, romance, and the like. The choir-like breakdown towards the end of the song, that's what you're here for. That and the build-up, which doesn't disappoint.
Now, "Raspberry Beret."
There's not much you can say about this song that hasn't already been said. I prefer the extended mix on the Ultimate compilation, only because it gives you more of that Prince flavor. But, either way, it's a dope track. I mean, who can't relate to teenage love and/or sex? Musically, it, like the rest of this album, is layered as heck. It's classic Prince.
"Tambourine" is, well, it's Prince in the mid-to-late '80s. Sexy and a bit raunchy without being too blunt about it all. But, at the same time, you know, he's blunt as hell about it (masturbation, a desire to avoid pump and dumps and the like). It's the perfect, to me, follow-up to "Raspberry," since both have similar subject matter, similar energies, and so on.
"America." Now, "America" is an interesting track.
For starters, it kind of feels like a James Brown track in a lot of ways. It's political and in your face, but still funky. It's a standout track for this album, since it takes Prince into some places he hadn't fully explored up to this point. It also feels like Prince tackling "Save the Children" from Marvin's What's Going On mixed with the aforementioned Brown's "Living in America." Its use of "America the Beautiful" is amazing to me. It's so snarky and beautifully executed.
"Pop Life," like "Raspberry Beret," is one of those tracks you can't really say much on that hasn't been said already.
I will say that I'm glad that Prince disapproved Ja Rule from using it for "Thug Life," and I'm not sorry in the slightest about saying that. The song was...not all that good. "Pop Life," however, feels like an early version of "Sign O' The Times" but still its own smooth ditty. It's infectious, like really infectious. On top of that, the whole "throw the bum out" part kind of just adds to the message of the song: people want greatness, but there are those elements--people and otherwise--that want you to fail/not be your greatest. It's up to you to make it "pop."
These elements pop up (pun intended) again in the follow-up track, "The Ladder." This is one of those borderline Prince gospel tracks you just have to shut up and listen to it. Just find this track and let it ride for its time length. Don't say anything. Just let it wash over you and purify your mindset.
After an up-and-down ride through Prince's thoughts on humanity, himself, and so on, we're given the final track, "Temptation." Its opening reminds me a bit of the extended version of "Computer Blue," but then it breaks down into this disassembled blues-type track. It's beautiful in how it does that. It follows well after "Ladder," since it kind of discusses that, for example, while Prince is climbing the ladder, some things (mainly the carnality of our species) keep him...grounded in some ways. It's sexy and sexual, but not in the "traditional" way.
It's smoky and reminds me of what I envision a modern speakeasy to contain: lots of sex, lots of smoke, and people wondering if this is the best decision they should make...before making it anyway. And then? The track goes left, like many of the Parade tracks and "Computer Blue" did. Prince starts testifying and experiences some auditory orgasms while the instrumentation gets frantic then calm before repeating the cycle, mimicking the ups and downs of sex itself. Then, the track goes even further left, with Prince almost at the hands of God because of his sexual lust. You want rock opera? This track's closing minutes are some of the best rock opera I've heard (and, no, that's not meant as an insult to the track).
All in all, I've got to say that this album isn't bad, not in the slightest. And that's even within the confines of Prince's discography It's a hidden gem. It's a good album, great even. Plus the covers for the album and the singles are dope AF. But, it feels more like a demo in some ways for Parade. It feels like Prince and The Revolution were figuring out the sound they wanted for that project and released some (albeit mostly classic) loosies to tide folks over until their denouement was ready. It's an album that, if you're a Prince fan or a purveyor of solid music, you need in your life. It's sexual, raw, real and pretty personal.