Retroactive Review: Batman (1989)

A big takeaway from my Sign o’ the Times review was the realization that Prince’s mindset and material recorded during this creative outburst sowed the seeds for the next decade of his career. These roots began to bloom just nine months later when he took the more passionate concepts from that stringent double album and released the positive and uplifting Lovesexy the following year. My Lovesexy review ended with a recounting of how he spent the rest of his time for the year touring across the world, splitting the tour into three legs, but it is a little disingenuous of me to not color in the lines and fill you in on what else he was doing during this time. The man was nothing if not a workaholic, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone by now that even on his most extravagant tour, he was busy behind the scenes on other projects. Whereas one could begin the narrative in December of ’88, when Tim Burton used “1999” and “Baby I’m a Star” in a rough cut of the Batman film and decided to contact Prince to either re-record old music, or track new music for the film; I will start during the recording sessions for Parade.

“The Question of U” is tracked in July ’85, shortly after “Venus de Milo”, although both recording dates are unknown. Two months later, selected members from what became the Lovesexy Band help craft an instrumental version of “The Question of U” during what’s been retroactively labeled the “Paisley Jam”; Eric Leeds dubs the instrumental “12 Keys”, unaware Prince already had a finished version of the track with vocals. Fast-forward six months, during recording sessions for the eventual aborted Dream Factory, and Prince tracks “Power Fantastic”, which made the second configuration of the proposed album, dated June 3rd, 1986. It was eventually removed from the track list on the July 18th, 1986 configuration, and was left in The Vault along with “Big Tall Wall”, a dedication to his and Susannah’s possessive relationship; tracked during April ’86, a month after “Power Fantastic”, just five months before “Crucial” was tracked on September 13th, 1986.

This is all important because, and this one is on me for not mentioning before, The Purple One had the idea to begin work on a Broadway musical dubbed The Dawn, which he was reportedly interested in making after finishing instrumentation work on Parade, but the musical never panned out. Instead, work on Dream Factory began, and as we all know, that eventually led to Sign o’ the Times. I did mention “Crucial” during my review of that album, but the track was originally meant to be on The Dawn, and after working on the track for four months, adding sax overdubs by Eric Leeds, a guitar overdub, and eventually, letting Clare Fischer add orchestration to the mix in January ’87; during the tail end of recording sessions for Sign o’ the Times, I suspect the idea of a musical was far too overwhelming with everything else going on at the time, and the concept was abandoned.

Discouraged by the complexities of a musical, Prince perhaps felt a film was a more realistic possibility, and shortly upon returning home from his Sign o’ the Times Tour, he tracked the original version of “Melody Cool” with himself on lead vocals on July 9th, 1987; “Graffiti Bridge” followed two days later, as well as a re-working of “Big Tall Wall”, which made Prince and Susannah’s relationship sound much more dreamy. A song titled “Camille” was tracked that summer as well, and would’ve been from the perspective of someone fawning over his pseudonym. I’ve already mentioned how he tracked “Everything Could Be So Fine” on September 1st, 1987 in my Lovesexy review, and considering that song features the original story to the film Graffiti Bridge, it’s very easy to see how the idea for the film had begun months earlier with the recording of the three aforementioned tracks during the summer of ’87.

Meanwhile, DC Comics had been struggling since the early 70’s to compete with the young upstart Marvel Comics, who had quickly established themselves as a formidable rival due to the talented writing tandem of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. By 1986, DC had created and perfected the comic industry practice of publishing limited edition series with a finite ending, which resulted in now-classic runs by newcomers Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison in titles such as The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, one-shots such as The Killing Joke, and even in ongoing series such as The Sandman, leading to the public branding this era of comics as the beginning of the medium’s maturation. Tim Burton read The Dark Knight Returns, and reportedly loved it, but the studio believed the story was far too dark and lengthy to adapt to the big screen. I’m unsure how exactly Burton reading The Killing Joke inspired his take on Batman, but the ultra-edgy plot sold well, so in April ’88, a month after The Killing Joke, and during Beetlejuice‘s successful opening weeks, Burton’s Batman was given the greenlight.

Warner already gave us the first modern Hollywood superhero film with 1978’s Superman, and had announced the acquiring of the film rights to Batman, and their intentions to release their own adaptation, at the Comic Art Convention in New York City, New York, 1980. Numerous attempts at crafting a dark, serious take on the character had been in effect since that year, and a ’83 script by Tom Mankiewicz was discarded by Tim Burton for being “too campy” by the time Warner Bros. had decided upon bestowing Burton the directorial duties in ’85 after the success of Pee Wes’s Big Adventure, before ultimately forcing him to prove he could be a bankable director by directing another hit for the studio. Burton had then-girlfriend Julie Hickson write script treatments for the film, and Warner Bros. eventually hired comic writer Steve Englehart to write a screenplay, which was eventually re-written at Warner’s behest. Burton then sought out Sam Hamm, who finished a screenplay in October ’86, which was then used as the shooting script1 when filming began in Pinewood Studios, England from October 1988 to January 1989.

Regardless, Prince’s idea for a new film had to be put on hold in October ’87 after Madonna turned down her proposed role as the character Ruthie Washington; named after the song “Ruthie Washington Jet Blues” that was tracked just a few weeks prior to the completion of the September 22nd, 1987 screenplay of the original Graffiti Bridge. The earlier days from the same month also saw The Purple One add horn overdubs to “Ruthie Washington Jet Blues” with Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss on the 15th, and track another song titled “Beatown”, which remains unreleased. Considering he tracked “When 2 R in Love” the same month Madonna told him she wouldn’t be a part of his film, it’s likely this rejection was a factor in The Black Album’s conception, as well as its eventual abortion, as Prince had decided to move in a more positive direction with his music upon the cancellation of The Black Album.

After dedicating himself to Lovesexy, the positive vibes must have been magnetized to him, because 27 days after the album’s release, “Electric Chair” was tracked at Paisley Park Studios, with “Pink Cashmere” following on June 10th, 1988. The rest of the month saw The Purple One busy at Paisley Park tracking “Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic”, which became the title track for a new album, and the tracks “God Is Alive” and “If I Had a Harem”, which also were supposed to be on the original version of Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic2. The Lovesexy Tour began on July 8th, 1988, in Paris, France, at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, and within hours of landing in London, England on July 24th, additional re-working was done to the proposed title track at Olympic Studios. Three days later, on July 27th, 1988; “God Is Alive” was also re-worked, with Mavis Staples overdubbing her vocals. “God Is Alive” and “If I Had a Harem” were played often during the first leg of the Lovesexy Tour, with “If I Had a Harem” finding new life as a re-worked, bluesier jam.

The last show of the first leg of the Lovesexy Tour was on September 9th, 1988, taking place in Dortmund, West Germany, at the Westfalenhallen. Five days later, on September 14th, he began the second leg of the tour with a show at Met Center in Bloomington, Minnesota. Just eleven days later, the original first configuration of Graffiti Bridge was compiled using half the tracks recorded during the previous year for the original screenplay, as well as four other songs recorded at various times in that time span. On September 30th, five days after compiling the original configuration of Graffiti Bridge, Prince returned to Chanhassen to record saxophone overdubs with Eric Leeds on “Beatown”, just hours after completing a show in Hartford, Connecticut at the Hartford Civic Center.

The tour resumed two days later in Madison Square Garden, but after the October 5th, 1988 show in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, at the Maple Leaf Gardens; Prince had three days to get to Hampton, Virginia for a show at the Hampton Coliseum. Taking advantage of that time, he secluded himself in Paisley Park Studios, tracking both “Still Would Stand All Time” and “Elephants & Flowers” on the 6th, and then later in the month used the day off between his October 16th show in Greensboro, North Carolina and his October 18th show in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to return to Paisley Park and track “Scandalous” on October 17th. A three-day break in-between shows on October 24th and October 28th resulted in the first configuration of Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic being completed on October 27th, using three songs from the original configuration of the first Graffiti Bridge; blurring the lines between the two projects.

Nearing the end of the year, perhaps The Purple One began to feel the pressure of a looming deadline, because Graffiti Bridge was set aside shortly after compiling that original configuration. Later, in 1989, when the 90’s were creeping in the rear view mirror, another configuration of Graffiti Bridge was assembled, leading me to believe for a moment that Prince considered merging the two projects into one before ultimately deciding Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic would be the next album, with Graffiti Bridge and the ensuing film to be completed and released at a later date. To further prove my theory, the track “XYZ” was tracked just eight days later, on November 4th, 1988, but yet, it was mentioned in the original ’87 script. Rather than simply add the new track to the Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic configuration, he handed it over to Eric Leeds, who never ended up using it. Exactly one month after the first configuration, Prince submitted the second configuration, which cut the tracks “Big House”, mixed the day before his Toronto show on October 5th, and “We Got the Power”, tracked the day before his Greensboro, North Carolina show on October 16th. Two days after submitting the second configuration of Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic, the second leg of the Lovesexy Tour came to an end after the November 29th show at the Reunion Arena in Dallas, Texas.

Nine days later, an instrumental was cut during an eight-day recording session with Eric Leeds for Madhouse’s next album. “Am I Without You?”, “Good Judy Girlfriend”, and “Anna Waiting” were all tracked during that month, with “Anna Waiting” being inspired by Anna Garcia, who visited Prince at Paisley Park later that month on her 18th birthday; December 31st, 1988. She was given a pink cashmere coat, keeping in line with the attitude of the music he had been creating lately, as well as being a tongue-in-cheek reference to his own song tracked earlier that summer. What’s more rockstar than that?

Around this same time is when Tim Burton used two Prince songs in his rough cut of the film, and although he couldn’t have known it, the film wound up being the perfect opportunity for Prince to channel his energy at the time into a cohesive album. A third configuration of Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic was compiled in January ’89, which cut even more songs from the original Graffiti Bridge configuration, leaving only “Still Would Stand All Time” as the only song from that first configuration, as well as being the only song that ended up making it to the eventual Graffiti Bridge album on this final configuration. “Moonbeam Levels” was a track from ’82 that was pulled from The Vault to close the original Rave; solidifying the direction Prince wanted to take for his eleventh studio album, and finally giving the project an identity separate from his initial ideas. Later in the month, he decided to take up Burton’s offer, visited the Batman set, discussed themes and concepts with Tim, and then decided that not only would he lend Burton new music, he was going to create an entire soundtrack.

Proving his dedication in a way only Prince can, he tracked “The Arms of Orion” on January 25th, and then managed to call up and get co-lead vocals from Sheena Easton, whose 2012 interview3 revealed it was initially her idea and lyrics that inspired the music and tone of the track; further fueling the philosophy that there are no coincidences in life, only opportunities and what you make of them. Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic was subsequently dropped, and Prince nearly cancelled the third leg of the Lovesexy Tour, but decided it would be too costly to do so, closing out the tour in a two-week stretch of Japan from February 1st to the 13th. Two days after returning home, the unnamed Madhouse instrumental that was tracked on December 8th is re-worked into “Batman Theme”; “200 Balloons” was tracked that same day to replace “Baby I’m a Star” for The Joker’s parade in the third act of the film.

The rest of the month would see Prince re-work “Anna Waiting” into “Vicki Waiting”, as well as finish tracking for “The Future”, “Lemon Crush”, and the unreleased “Dance with the Devil”, which along with “Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic”, “200 Balloons”, “Batman Theme”, and four other undisclosed songs, were previewed to the Warner Bros. brass at the end of the month. They had to have been pleased with the direction he was taking, because “Partyman” and “Trust” were both tracked in the first week of March; intended to replace the previous two songs submitted to Burton, “Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic”, and “200 Balloons”, but The Purple One had one more trick up his sleeve. Likely inspired by the alleged stylistic sampling from “Dance with the Devil”, Prince used a multitude of samples from the film, the 60’s Adam West TV show, and some of his own songs to create “Batdance”, his fourth number-one hit4, which is something that had to have surprised, and greatly pleased, the label heads.

A respectful meeting between two creatives established how the album would work, but all those themes and subjects that delight English teachers are discarded during business meetings. Of course Prince had to preview those songs, they needed a new album from him, but after his sales began to deteriorate; remember Lovesexy didn’t even go platinum, it was thought that The Purple One could use some assistance, if you will, to help him find his way commercially again. Gritty R&B is great, but it wasn’t helping him sell, and the energetic pop-rock of “Rave Unto the Joy Fantastic” was slowly returning to his sound, which is why I said earlier in the review that this opportunity was exactly the vehicle needed to express this energy.

The album was finished in six weeks; a first configuration was assembled at the very end of March. “Batdance” was missing from the track list at this point, but was later inserted after “Dance with the Devil”; “The Arms of Orion” was slid down the track list to close out the album. Sometime prior to the album’s release, Prince deemed “Dance with the Devil” too dark, and redundant, since “Batdance” was also another sample-heavy track, leading to the track being removed and leaving us with what we received in stores on June 20th, 1989. The film was released three days later in the U.S., and ended up grossing 411.3 million dollars, making it the fifth-highest grossing film of all time, at the time of its release.

There’s not much for me to cover since the bulk of the album was recorded in six weeks, so to reiterate, it was incredibly beneficial for Prince to be apart of this creative process. The end of a decade often signals where the next one will go, and at 30-years-old, The Purple One had begun to hit his mental peak as a songwriter and performer, while still being able to maintain the vigor of a slightly younger man. I’m not saying he didn’t write great songs before, but the older you get, the more life experiences you have; writers should only improve as they age, and this Batman album is full of well-written, intelligent, and creative songs that are simply hidden behind the facade of a blockbuster pop release.

The proof begins with “The Future”, the opening track to the entire album. After some Batman dialogue straight from the workprint, the pulsating synth rhythm backs a heavy snare hit; more in-line with something Prince would’ve cooked up in the early-80’s, but due to his experimental R&B sabbatical, the production shines like nothing else released in the decade, with the exception of Purple Rain. That production value doesn’t disappear either, continuing throughout the length of this record.

Before I continue, I think it’s important to note the change in production teams during the late-80’s, as it does kind of explain the descent in sales. Peggy McCreary was an audio engineer who had assisted Prince since 1999, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she was no longer apart of his production team after Parade, or the beginning of his decline in sales. Coke Johnson replaced her on Sign o’ the Times, but longtime associate Susan Rogers stuck around to oversee the production on that one as well. However, Lovesexy saw a complete overhaul in the production team, as Joe Blaney and Eddie Miller assisted in the engineering and mixing of that album, leading to this transitional period where there was no set production team, just a group of guys looking to help Warner Bros. in their ultimate goal of locking up both the box office and music charts in the last year of the 1980’s. Femi Jiya is the chief engineer behind this album, and the mixed critical reviews at the time likely had a factor in Prince refusing to call upon him again until 2000, but that’s something I will argue is unfair since there is five other assistant engineers on this album, with one of them, Michael Koppelman, becoming his main engineer for the next three albums. Chris Lord-Alge is the credited engineer for “Electric Chair”, the only song he’s credited with, which leaves three other people, including David Friedlander, who also became Prince’s main engineer for the same album he mastered, Come; with a brunt of the responsibility for the album’s mixed reception. Frankly, how Prince decided to can one guy for another who was on the same production team completely baffles me, if we’re being honest.

Of course, this album’s praise was mostly received during the last few years of Prince’s life, so I’m unsure of how satisfied he was with this album, since the legal agreements made it extremely difficult for him to promote this album, and likely made him perceive the album as something not totally of his own creation. Once DC Comics and Warner Bros. reached an agreement in March of ’89 for the comic book company to be a branch under the multimedia conglomerate, it severely restricted what Prince could perform live, label his tours, and even which songs he could include on various greatest hits packages. All this led to label disagreements and future discoveries of how much he was being screwed in his contracts, but for the time being, we had an under-appreciated gem released by an artist at the top of his game.

Pop culture as a whole benefited from this album; Kevin Smith is on record as saying this album, “never left his rack system.”5, a welcomed endorsement from one of the more well-known indie film darlings of the mid-to-late 90’s. It’s fitting that the opening track is titled “The Future” then, but this is the same man who asked you to party like it’s 1999 a whole seventeen years before the supposed scheduled demise of humanity. Though he claimed to always look forward, Prince understood it was important to know your history as well, and so he molds his old “Minneapolis Sound” with a beat that’s reminiscent of the lo-fi emulating R&B style from Sign o’ the Times. This is a good thing, and a great start to the album as Prince waxes more paranoid poetry that’s been permeating in his lyrics since the early 80’s; taking a sabbatical for Lovesexy.

He’s pessimistic once more, stating that he’d “rather drink six razor blades, razor blades from a paper cup” in the opening track. The full verse is one of his most clever, using religious subtext in his use of numbers to establish a positive and negative feeling around them.

Yellow smiley offers me X/ Like he’s drinking 7UP

I would rather drink six razor blades/ Razor blades from a paper cup

He can’t understand, I say too tough/ It’s just that I’ve seen the future, and boy it’s rough

There are multiple layers to this one. First I’ll tackle the religious undertones, as Prince is susceptible to do, and point out that six is the obvious “sign of the beast” and is a no-brainer in terms of its usage in being conjoined to the razor blades, which would obviously cause him great harm. Beyond that however, is the number seven, which is a highly spiritual number, as demonstrated by his own song “7”, but that’s another discussion for another day. Here, it’s used to prop up 7UP, a pop6 company; unexpected, but only so that it can further drive home the point that Prince believes the downfall of humanity has already begun, with drug dealers (“yellow smiley”) selling drugs (“x”)7 to anyone and everyone, as most people are unable to fight their urges and give in to their temptations repeatedly. This all gives credence to those who believe in the ecstasy trip story that led to the cancellation of The Black Album, as he clearly here warns of the dangers associated with even the most “fun” drugs, after all, who would know better than someone with firsthand experience, right?

On another level, since the inner credits reveal every song is attributed to certain characters from the film, as a little cheeky way to tie everything together, although it’s not terribly important to consider it; “The Future” is also from Batman’s perspective. In this case, it paints Bruce Wayne as weary from fighting crime, anxiously awaiting a new generation of criminals. The references to “yellow smiley” and “x” also cleverly ties into the smylex chemical concoction that Joker uses in the film.

I do find it ironic that as much as Tim Burton reportedly loved The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke, his Batman is visually more in-line with the 70’s, although the Burton-designed suit is pure black and actually restricts Keaton’s movements, and his Batman is also more in-line with Frank Miller’s Year One story arc8; clearly in the earliest stages of his crime-fighting career. Adding to the irony is the fact that Prince’s song sticks closer to the source material in The Dark Knight Returns than Burton ever did. It’s a small wrinkle, but honestly, it adds another dimension to the songwriting, and makes everything so much more interesting.

The snares only get heavier and more reverberated as the momentum rolls into “Electric Chair”; another fusion of styles and genres that can only be quantified as completely Prince. The distorted guitar riffs and licks blend in to the back of the stereo space beautifully, mixing with the energetic snares and steady, funky bass to create one hell of a rocking track. Attributed to The Joker, “Electric Chair” basically has Prince plead the fifth on being a master manipulator, and that he should receive some sort of punishment for his actions and intentions, a very Joker-like thing to casually admit. More than anything, “Electric Chair” proves Prince’s musical genius, as I’ve always gotten the impression this is one of those songs he may have just woke up and crafted out of thin air. Seriously, does the hook not sound like something he just quickly came up with while in the middle of layering the composition? I mean that in the best way possible, like a master at their craft who effortlessly comes up with great ideas, seemingly on the spot.

“The Arms of Orion” is more similar to “The Beautiful Ones”, and “Condition of the Heart” than one would initially imagine. The emotional anchor tying together the entirety of a side of music is a trope/principle that Prince effectively mastered in 1984 when “The Beautiful Ones” sat directly in the center of the masterful first side of music that was Purple Rain, but five years later, we see him falling back on that same principle to strengthen another soundtrack album, but not in the same context, as this time, it’s not for his own glory. Batman would be the only soundtrack released by Prince that did not feature him as an actor in the film, so to see him collaborate with Sheena Easton on a pure ballad for this film is pretty remarkable.

The imagery of two lovers being separated, only to look up in the night sky and imagine being closer with their other half upon gazing into the stars, is romantic, sort-of cliché, and a little cheesy. It’s exactly why the song works so well. Yes, the song is very airy, light, dreamy; whatever you want to call it, but the pretty instrumentation, imagery, and pitch perfect singing is masterful, resulting in one of the most divisive ballads in Prince’s discography. That has to count for something.

The energy picks back up with one of the most energetic songs Prince ever did. The hype coming from this track is contagious, practically forcing you to at least bob your head side-to-side as the groove takes over. Whereas “The Arms of Orion” is credited to Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale, “Partyman” is credited to The Joker, and once again, the layers to this songwriting are simply impeccable. The growing adoration between two people is properly encapsulated in “The Arms of Orion”, so it’s only appropriate that the mischievous streak in Prince has finally come to the forefront of a track; “Partyman” not only entertains, not only does it showcase Prince’s ear for talent, as the “seventeen horns blowin'” on this track sound incredible, not only is it featured in one of the more memorable scenes in the Batman film, partially due to how great of a song it is; it’s intelligent for perfectly engulfing Prince in an environment conducive to the wild imagination of The Joker. The cherry on top of the whole thing is, what other pop star could slow the track down to give himself an opportunity to utter “I love purple”, while simultaneously under the guise of another character, who also literally dresses in purple?

Ending side one is one of the more underrated songs in the Prince discography, “Vicki Waiting”; attributed to Bruce Wayne. The subdued, rhythmic synth, funky bass, and great drum beat give Prince an intriguing track to showcase his natural tone, with flashes of that legendary falsetto sprinkled throughout for flavor. The guitar returns, shredding some licks with all the stereo space in the world to slide around in. He’s even able to crack a joke at his own social awkwardness; comparing it to Bruce Wayne’s self-imposed isolation by attributing this track to him.

I told the joke, about the woman, who asked her lover, “why is your organ so small?”/He replied, “I didn’t know I was playing in a cathedral”; Vicki didn’t laugh at all

There’s even a miniature breakdown in his tempo, where Prince chops the lines, “People, people, whatever floats this joker’s boat, is whatever this joker will bang” into halves; lengthening the verse while subconsciously allowing more attention vested to the fantastic instrumentation. In short, “Vicki Waiting” is a fantastic song that I hope will no longer go unappreciated, and that same sentiment can be applied to this entire side of surprisingly thought-provoking, genre-bending pop music.

“Trust” signifies the peak of this entire record, and as the energetic opener of side two, it further continues the themes established on side one as the record begins its descent towards the climax. “The Arms of Orion” halted the momentum of “The Future” and “Electric Chair”, before picking back up with “Partyman”; another song that sounds like something Bruno Mars would try to rip-off from The Purple One. That opinion aside, it’s obvious to me that the contrasting perspectives in succeeding tracks is meant to show the duplicity of humanity, as the same man who wishes for a better future may in fact be the same man with deceit in his very nature, or how the same man at the center of the stage when the party is at its peak can be the same man who struggles with connecting to people on a personal basis. Of course, what ties everyone together is love, and gazing at the stars with a loved one is what Prince chose to symbolize that longing this go-around; perhaps why the album was so critically mixed upon release?

If “The Arms of Orion” didn’t turn you away, as I’m positive it did for many casuals, then “Scandalous”, “Lemon Crush”, and “Batdance” certainly did, right? The second side is undoubtedly weaker than the first side, and yet, I can’t call this album a disappointment. “Trust” is amazing, and I don’t know anyone who would argue that, but “Scandalous” has its fair share of detractors, and a divisive ballad on the third track to the second side of your album centered around a blockbuster Hollywood release is not ideal.

Notice I skipped over “Lemon Crush”, as do many fans. It’s not that the song is bad, but if I’m going to be honest, it’s kind-of boring. I said the same thing about “Tamborine” about four albums ago, but how else can I dock points off for a song with no technical deficiencies? The instrumentation is interesting, with the keyboard rhythm flowing with the bass, supporting those heavy snares and amazing percussion work; haunting backup vocals only add a dimension to the song that a more flaccid track would suffer from. If anything, it’s Prince’s performance in his verses that make the song just a little more on the “meh” side of things for me; the pitch is perfect during the chorus, but the flow at which he’s singing is rather uninspired. “Lemon Crush” as a whole is just rather insipid, especially coming after “Trust”, an exciting side-opener that once again, like the better songs on this album have, goes to another layer with the songwriting once you find out it’s from Joker’s perspective, except for the line, “Who can you trust if you can’t trust God? Who can ya trust? Who can ya? Nobody.”, which is from Prince’s perspective. Vicki is the one attributed to “Lemon Crush”, which is about, liking dangerous people? See what I’m saying?

After “Lemon Crush” ends with an interesting breakdown, the reverberated bass drums of “Scandalous” kick in, and you’re treated to an incredibly underrated ballad. The drum pattern sounds similar to “When 2 R in Love”, but rather than a traditional verse-chorus structure, we get an extended first verse that’s pretty sexually-charged, asking her to “get down on the floor”, so at least Batman has his head in the game? It’s odd that this song is attributed to Batman and not Bruce Wayne, but it works so incredibly well because this way, he’s revealing his real-self to the woman in question, or in this case, Vicki Vale, and obviously, that’s much more scandalous than them just fucking. Speaking of which, everyone knows about the maxi-single for this song, The Scandalous Sex Suite, where basically, Prince fucked Kim Basinger, who played Vicki Vale, and had the audio recorded and integrated with one of the three parts to the 19 minute suite9. How can this album not be a part of his legendary run for the decade?

Closing out the proceedings is “Batdance”, the sample-heavy first single that preceded the album, and in my estimation, was the biggest factor in the mixed reviews. The song is what it is, but let’s not pretend that there are millions of songs like this on YouTube now, uploaded seemingly everyday. That’s an influential factor going in this track’s favor, and I actually do enjoy most of the instrumentation on this song. The middle passage of the track, where Prince states how he’d like to “bust that body”, has an incredibly strong snare behind the rhythm, and Prince slices in so many dialogue samples that it’s like watching a whole sub-genre being created in directly in front of you. The guitar licks and rolling synth during the other sections of this song add a variety of sound to the collage of samples, somehow wrapping up an arc that was never really discussed, but brought to the surface with the use of dialogue samples throughout the album as well as the hidden perspectives in each song. I must also give a tremendous amount of credit to Prince for the well-written lyrics to a large majority of these tracks.

The album hit number one on the charts, and despite being only his third number one album, it cemented him as the most successful artist of the decade. Other artists may have had a particular album sell more, but no one ruled the charts like Prince. He spent 378 weeks on the singles chart, despite viewing himself as more of an “album guy”, of which he also released nine for the decade. After two months, on August 29th, 1989, the album was certified double platinum, and by the time it was off the charts, the decade had already been over for a month-and-a-half. Critical backlash can make us forget, but this album was a huge commercial success; remember, Lovesexy didn’t even go platinum.

Perhaps the record was pegged as a corporate mandate from the very beginning, something that doesn’t go over well usually with an everyday audience. That narrative must be tossed aside once you realize the themes and concepts going into the recording process and production of this album however, as a corporate mandate usually never goes beyond a superficial level. The ability to partially record under the guise of characters he grew up enjoying as a kid during the cheesy late-60’s television show gave us an album that dares to explore traces of humanity in these characters that some comic book writers have refused to go. Once again I ask, how exactly is this album not considered a part of his legendary run? The quality is there, the writing is witty, and Prince’s confidence never wavers, even as he straightened his hair, retired the frilly clothing, and began looking forward to the next decade. Bruce Wayne himself would be impressed with Prince’s ability to manage his prep time.

Editor’s Notes

1. Re-writes were done to the script during filming, as is customary of the craft. Dick Grayson and the Penguin had cameos and larger roles in the original script, but the filmmakers and studio all agreed they were unnecessary to the story. The Hollywood Writers Strike of ’88 trailed into the beginning months of ’89, meaning Tim Burton and Michael Keaton were the ones making several re-writes of the script without Sam Hamm’s assistance, as he was a member of the WGA.

2. Eventually re-titled and released with a completely different track list a decade later as Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic.

3. Windy City Times – 8/8/2012

4. Unfortunately, like his other three number-one hits, it was tied in with a film; keeping alive a tradition where Prince only achieved a number-one hit if the single was tied in to a movie. This ended when his final number-one hit, “Cream”, reached that top spot in November of ’91.

5. Kevin Smith – 4/21/2016 (Prince Post)

6. I know everyone else calls it soda, but we call it pop here in Michigan dammit.

7. Duh.

8. Collected as a trade paperback now, the story arc was originally published in four parts, in Batman issues #404-407. These came after his successful limited series The Dark Knight Returns, and after tackling an aging Batman struggling to deal with retirement, Year One attempted to show the salad days of Batman’s career. These issues ran from February to May of 1987.

9. No wonder she had nothing but flattering things to say about him in her rosy recollection of their time together shortly after his death.

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