We’ll have to return to numerology to explain the rather creative approach to Prince’s platinum-selling fourteenth studio album. I’m aware I run the risk of making myself sound like a crackpot, but if you’ve been following along since For You, then you’re probably a little loony as well. Regardless, 33 is considered a master number; highly influential and in charge. 34 is introspective, intuitive, pragmatic, and creative. Which one sounds like Diamonds and Pearls and which one sounds like The Love Symbol Album?
Of course, as Prince is susceptible to do, the conception of this album began during the latter sessions of Diamonds and Pearls; prior to the first configuration of that album being assembled. “The Flow” was one of the tracks recorded in a jam session covered in better detail in my Diamonds and Pearls review, but it’s worth noting here that “The Flow” was the 13th and final track on the second configuration of Diamonds and Pearls. An early draft of “7” was tracked three months after the September 11th, 1990 tracking of “The Flow”; amidst heavy recording and production work for the overall Diamonds and Pearls product. Ironically enough, “Blue Light” was tracked on May 12th, 1991; two days after “Get Off”, the last track recorded for Diamonds and Pearls. Three songs from this album were all tracked in the aftermath of tracking songs for Diamonds and Pearls, undeniably creating a cohesion between these two records that listeners should be able to pick up on, especially since he had primarily used the same seven engineers on the previous album, as well as continuing similar themes, production and sound choices, and of course, the same band; mostly.
Nine days after “Cream” was released as a single and Prince’s appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show was broadcasted on September 9th, 1991, Prince and Tony M. tracked “My Name Is Prince”; beginning his long process of re-recording and re-arranging “7” that Prince would continuously tinker well up until shortly before The Diamonds and Pearls Tour started. “Sweet Baby” was tracked the day Diamonds and Pearls was released, and then Prince and the band was largely quiet until December ’91; all-out jam sessions resulting in the tracking of “Sexy M.F.,””Love 2 the 9’s,” “The Morning Papers,” “The Max,” “Arrogance,” “And God Created Woman,” and “The Sacrifice of Victor,” all of which featured the entire strength of the second version of The New Power Generation and the NPG Hornz, save for “The Max,” which featured only Tony M., Mayte, and DJ Graves; more in-line with “Blue Light,” which features engineer Michael Koppelman on bass and Eric Leeds on sax. Mayte is credited with making her debut on a Prince track with her dialogue at the beginning of “Love 2 the 9’s,” so it brings credence to the train of thought that “The Max” was tracked a few days prior to Prince playing it for his guests at his 1991 New Years Eve party on December 31st, 1991, as more of a celebration for cranking out half an album’s worth of material in a month with his band even with the absence of Rosie Gaines in the creative process. He had three-quarters of the eventual songs on the album tracked by the time he made an appearance for The Steeles on guitar at the Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis, MN on January 10th, 1992, and judging by the way his schedule was laid out, he likely had already begun work on tracking more songs to fill out the album.
The next night would see the full NPG perform with Prince at the Glam Slam club in preparation for The Diamonds and Pearls Tour, performing “Thunder,” “Willing and Able,” “Insatiable,” “Sexy M.F.,” and “The Sacrifice of Victor,” all live for the first time. “My Name Is Prince” was also performed for the first time live at this show, but only as an interpolation. The night after that, January 12th, would see Prince play a private show at the Paisley Park soundstage. The next live show wouldn’t be until two weeks later on January 27th, meaning in-between this three-day stretch of live performances, and in the nine days leading up to that three-day stretch, Prince had plenty of time to track “The Continental,” “Damn U,” “3 Chains o’ Gold,” three other tracks repurposed to other artists, re-working the track “Sex,” a re-recording of “The Flow,” and additional re-recording work and rap overdubs were done by Tony M. on “The Max”; none of which was previewed at that short, private afterparty at Paisley Park at midnight on January 27th, after Super Bowl XXVI, which took place at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, MN.
After this month, Clare Fischer would perform orchestral work on “Damn U” and “3 Chains o’ Gold” throughout February at Ocean Way Recordings in Hollywood, CA; likely the same time Kirstie Alley performs vocal recordings for “Damn U,” “Arrogance,” and multiple segues. It’s common knowledge now, but this album was originally supposed to have 24 tracks, featuring up to eight segues and an intro, in order to properly provide more context behind the metaphorical story within the album that saw Prince falling in love with a princess. These segues were the basis of the “fantasy rock soap opera” that this album is often labeled as, and although the feeling of that grandiose poise is apparent on this album more so than its predecessor, the choice to cut these segues and the intro eliminates the narrative entirely and instead creates a commentary on celebrity; much more in-line with its predecessor. A first configuration of the album featuring all eight segues and an intro was assembled the following month; March.
A month after that would see The Diamonds and Pearls Tour begin on April 3rd, 1992 at the Tokyo Dome. After four shows on the 3rd, 4th, 7th, and 9th, the first leg of the The Diamonds and Pearls Tour came to an end at the Yokohama Stadium. Four days later, on April 13th, Prince began the second leg of the tour at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre in Boondall, Australia, touring the country for the first time in his career. The second leg of the tour lasted until May 3rd, ending with a performance at the Sydney Cricket Ground stadium in Sydney, Australia, the first concert ever held at the venue. Three weeks passed, and the third and final leg of the tour began in Ghent, Belgium at the Flanders Expo venue on May 25th, after it was announced on May 5th that they would be switching this show with the May 28th show in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. The extensive third leg toured a majority of Northern Europe, finally coming to an end on July 12th, 1992, at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy in Paris, France.
A decent amount of the tracks on The Love Symbol Album were performed on The Diamonds and Pearls Tour, but it wasn’t until Prince returned home and tracked “👁️ Wanna Melt With U” shortly after the tour ended that he began to further flesh his vision out for the final product. A second configuration of the album was assembled sometime within the following month, cutting one of the segues and replacing it with the “👁️ Wanna Melt With U.” but obviously further alterations were needed. 24 tracks is a lot even by today’s streaming standards, and in order to fit everything on one CD, most of the segues had to be cut.
Of course, before the album was released, a new contract had to be negotiated with the label. Prince would go on to sign a new deal1 with Warner Bros. to become the highest-paid musician in the industry, as well as offer incentives into other aspects of the entertainment business, but we all know how that turned out for both parties. A deeper dive into Prince’s contract can be done elsewhere, as it’s been covered in greater detail by numerous outlets, publications, and fans2; reported widely about on September 4th, 1992. Conflicts with the label wouldn’t officially begin until next year, but for all intents and purposes, the second Prince signed that dotted line, he sealed his own fate.
Rosie Gaines officially left the band after the tour, after not contributing to the upcoming album in any way. Her vocals would be missed, but Morris Hayes would replace her on the keyboard, who ended up being the longest tenured member of the band/collective in the long run. However, half of this album consists of full band recordings, including the NPG Hornz, and the other half is still Prince solo recordings. Cutting Rosie out of the band signaled the beginning of the end, as even though it likely initially strengthened ties with the rest of the band, it’s undeniable their influence was already fading, resulting in this being the last album co-credited to The New Power Generation in a traditional studio album release. The album was also compromised by the decision to edit out most of the narrative, as they had to be included on the 3 Chains o’ Gold video that also featured most of the songs on the album; properly fleshing out the full storyline.
Which is fine, because starting off your unpronounceable, introspective rock soap opera with a badass, uptempo club track titled “My Name Is Prince,” eight months before changing his name3 to said symbol, confused listeners enough that a full storyline of segues scattered intermittently throughout the lengthy album would’ve likely turned confusion and intrigue into annoyance. Sonny T.’s funky bass hits hard, crawling along against the quick-paced snares, letting Prince use his rapping style to turn the track into more of a club song that allows the crowd to shout each line in place of actually rapping. Tony M. closes the song out by attempting to go double-time in an era when respected MC’s had already been doing that, and it’s not really impressive when his bars aren’t great either. It’s still a really fun song, but it’s not the highlight that it may have appeared to have been when it was first released.
“Sexy M.F.” is definitely the stronger of the two singles that start this album off. The smooth, jazzy instrumentation would become synonymous with the genre of jazz in the decade as a whole, but unlike the muzak that would perverse the genre in the decade, Prince’s low tone in this subdued vocal style compliments the composition perfectly. The scratches and the instrumentation during the ending breakdown of “My Name Is Prince” flow directly into “Sexy M.F.,” painting an elegant, famous lifestyle as the uptempo compositions differ in only their stylized instrumentation. Barbarella’s goofy keyboard synths permeate in the background while the masterful rhythm section, guitar work, and horns more than fill their role; creating a hospitable environment for anyone simply looking for good, lively tunes. Prince’s confident attitude borders on egotistical, and his signature rapping style only accentuates that on these tracks.
The ending of the song serves as a metaphor for the summarization of the album; well-thought out but not properly executed. Tony M.’s “shaking that ass” could’ve been cut completely and you still would’ve had that excellent breakdown that actually ends the song. This ending leads to awkward pacing, an the unorthodox opening of “Love 2 the 9’s” also serves as a metaphor for the album as a whole; when the interesting compositions and ideas actually mesh to create something beautiful. The stop-and-go instrumentation, as well as the syncopated vocal rhythm, eventually giveaway to a breakdown that highlights interesting questions between what one could figure to be two lovers, as the question of if someone can love you “to the 9’s” consistently permeates with his own melodious background vocals that are expertly dispersed at the most well-timed moments of the groove. The horns are lively, the falsetto howls near the very end of the track, and the diffident instrumentation finally brims over with the kind of overly optimistic energy one expresses when professing their intimate feelings to another. It’s a powerful song that is expertly crafted and integrated into the track-listing, one that successfully makes the average consumer gain insight into the vulnerability of a celebrity lusting for love; retaining much of the same themes and general message of the superfluous, bloated version of the original track list.
That feeling continue on “The Morning Papers,” which is influenced greatly by Mayte, a dancer on The Diamonds and Pearls Tour who he would famously marry in 1996. In 1992 she was only 18, and the lyrics on the song hint at a scandalous relationship that can’t be fully explored, lest “the papers” find out. Full instrumentation is the name of the game, as the horns and guitar incrementally flash up from the mix and flesh out that soulful-rock feeling. The guitar actually floats in the background on this track as the horns and piano take center-stage for once, as even Michael B.’s drums have a more upfront presence on this one. That production choice is inverted on the following track, as “The Max” is as barren as a stripped-down track during the Dirty Mind sessions, and is at great odds with everything before it.
It sounds amateurish, especially for early-’90’s hip hop standards, but it does possess interesting qualities, and on a meta-level, serves to start the storyline of the “prince” falling in love with a princess; intelligently placing the first segue at the end of the track after hiding “her” from “the morning papers,” adding so much more intrigue to an album that some could get away with claiming has nothing else going for it. Most of these compositions and ideas are more progressive than the traditional LP approach of Diamonds and Pearls, and I often argue it strengthens this album’s appeal since Prince was going rather left-field with the storyline, the segues, the videos, and the overall concept of the album anyway. It’s exactly why I don’t hate “The Max,” even when the best thing about it for the first two minutes is actually Tony M., and no, that’s not a joke. He’s relegated to three lines on the chorus, which is actually just a different approach to a call-and-response with Prince, and it’s actually enjoyable as his voice sets a tone that Prince’s just doesn’t. Unfortunately, the droning synth-solo shortly after the two minute mark isn’t very good, but the bluesy piano keys and breakdown, as well as the funky guitar strings dispersed throughout the latter half of the track, really go a long way in keeping me interested in the composition.
Prince and Mayte share some sexual chemistry in their dialogue near the end of the song, and after the chorus and another breakdown, we get our first segue of the album with “Vanessa Bartholomew,” who Prince hangs up on once she says she’s recording their conversation. The following track, “Blue Light,” really solidifies the themes and subtext of the record, in a creative way. A recurring element of Prince’s album pacing that I know my regular readers are familiar with is the five-track album side where the third track acts as the emotional anchor for that side of music, and he uses it once again with “Blue Light” on this side. Old habits die hard, but when adding new elements, you get interesting results. Prince attempts a reggae composition for the first time in his career, and as off-putting as that sounds, his poetic verses and masterful use of meter compliment the relaxed instrumentation well, fermenting a loving atmosphere. The video was shot on the Paisley Park soundstage, with a bright blue light to boot, highlighting Mayte and Prince’s interactions, obviously giving a big nod to their effervescing relationship more than a side of music and a home video consisting of a metaphorical story for their relationship could subconsciously hint at.
On it’s own however, the track still stands above the rest on this side. Sonny T.’s bass is fat and funky, and reading that may give you a laugh, but the foundation that this groove rests on is in the heavy low tone of that bass. The drums give a slow-paced rhythm that Prince’s perfectly-tuned guitar twangs along with as the horns put the icing on the cake. The Purple One’s pitch is perfect on the verses as it is in his own back-up vocals, and it’s all washed away by “👁️ Wanna Melt With U”; another barren track that actually attempts to solve that solution by adding a wall of noise around the dated pulsating synth rhythm. Michel B.’s deep bass drum that provides the space necessary for the synth rhythm to become the melody is actually pleasing to the ear, but sadly, the background synths that constitute the wall of noise make Prince’s vocals melt into the sound, which I’m sure was the intention, but it doesn’t sound all that great. The DJ scratches from “The Max” return, bridging the ideas together as Prince is susceptible to do for the even-numbered tracks of his five-track sides of records with an emotional anchor directly in the middle. In this case, the lyrics to “The Max” would suggest that he’s attempting to woo his lover, before wanting to lie down with her later in this song.
A funky little story about you and me (Oh, I want to melt with u)
Getting busy for awhile
From the tip of my typhoon (Oh, I want to melt with u)
To the bottom of your ankle chains
We gonna shake and shake and shake
Until we’re both deranged
This is the ultimate rave
Oh, I want to melt with you
S to the S
That’s all well and good, par for the course for The Purple One really, but with “Sweet Baby” following it on the track list, he closes this side of music with a focused vision of a celebrity showing his vulnerability to someone he’s fallen for. Another solid bass line contribution by Sonny T. goes a long way into creating an excellent rhythm for Prince’s falsetto and back-up falsetto to flow along with the groove. Michael B.’s well-tuned snare is the complimentary piece to that rhythm, which reminds me of “Strollin'” from Diamonds and Pearls in that it’s a throwback to that soulful ’70’s sound without attempting to modernize the composition too much. It’s an understated number that goes for a more traditional, timeless sound than a contemporary one; pleading for his lover to be strong through the world’s efforts, or the press if you’re reading into the storyline, to stain her reputation, and praising her for it as well. We’ve received more character development on one record in a double album than we did in the Graffiti Bridge film.
The theme continues on record two, even though “The Continental” is pure ’90’s-cheese. Prince’s vocals are on-key regardless of pitch, but as usual with Barbarella, goofy synth work holds the track back. The rhythm arrangement and the horns are masterful, and I even like the DJ scratching and beefy guitar riffs, but the cluttered wall-of-sound production approach dates the uptempo composition to the contemporary early-’90’s era of which it was birthed in. I’ve stated before it’s great for people who enjoy the sound of this time period, as it’s incredibly fun and does possess a charm, even strengthening the concept of the album, but it’s not something I could recommend. The quiet, poppy breakdown in this track prior to Carmen Electra’s exotic spoken word-rap became a characteristic of boy bands later in the decade, but unlike the superficial, generic mainstream music those groups created, Prince follows up this track with “Damn U,” an incredibly soulful track that sees a wiser Prince returning to his roots with all the production tact he’s gained over the years to craft a masterful ballad worthy of residing in the era he released his debut at the tail end of.
Michael B. proves to be The Purple One’s best drummer, as his heavy, slow snare melts away into the back of the stereo space that Prince’s reverberated voice projects from. The relaxed atmosphere is a product of the perfect balance on the reverb applied to his voice, but the momentum he’s gathered thus far is derailed by the ensuing two tracks that feed the gluttonous nature of celebrity. “Arrogance” is an empty track with synths that sound as eerie as they do cheap, contrasting greatly to the lush instrumentation of “Damn U,” but the skit at the beginning only proves that it was intentional, and when the track just isn’t that good, as Prince’s rapping is honestly below average when he doesn’t stick to the script, so to speak. The track is at least over quick, but all it leads to is a hip hop explosion with “The Flow,” where Prince again tries to rap his ass off, and once again, without much success.
The instrumentation is barren and par for the course of early-’90’s hip hop, and when Tony M.’s below-average double-time flow is better than Prince’s, then you know you’re in for a rough listening. His verse came from a verse he performed for “The Future” when performing on The Nude Tour, but they’re still better than Prince’s lyrics that contain so much cussing that it sounds unnatural and edgy in order to connect with younger people, when that’s never been his style. The best part of the track honestly is when the back beat and slick horns ride out the rest of the instrumentation for the remainder of the record, which in all honestly is an overwhelmingly disappointing side of music that contributes little to the overall arching themes and storyline of the album. This song, and the last one to an extent, basically scraps the storyline to allow Prince to just act like an ass
The storyline does pick back up on the next side of music, and with one of the most well-written tracks The Purple One has ever tracked; “7.” There’s been dissertations done on the full meaning behind this song, but regardless of how you interpret the song, Prince definitely found inspiration from various places when writing this song. There’s undeniable references to biblical phrases, and even the use of the number seven is a symbol for the deadly sins and religion as a whole. His beautiful vocals are perfectly stacked and balanced with the reverb, as the plodding bass and heavy snare take center stage with his vocals to give him a slow rhythm to preach over, essentially. The rest of the stereo space is filled with background vocals, sound effects, and other rhythmic sounds to at least give a sense of urgency to the composition. It’s an absolutely gorgeous song that is essential listening, and it’s placement in the track listing sets a theme in place that The Purple One sticks to for the entirety of this final side of music on this album.
“And God Created Woman” sounds like it could be on a Jimi Hendrix album, so the old-school, ’70’s approach to the contemporary composition is more than satisfactory. The instrumentation can be a little too sappy, but Prince is so far into his element at this point that his vocal work on the track is a top-tier performance. A deep groove provides a foundation for wide open stereo space, which is filled by a full band performance, resulting in another one of these throwback songs that speaks highly of the woman who’s caught his eye, and if you’re paying attention, yes, it continues the story and theme of the album, as “7” has the pair connecting spiritually despite opposition; “And God Created Woman” sees Prince recounting a story of Genesis from The Bible, coming to the realization that love is what makes a man and a woman whole. It’s a powerful song that keeps the momentum from “7” riding into “3 Chains o’ Gold”; the “Bohemian Rhapsody” of Prince’s catalogue, as it’s often described.
Really, this whole side of music almost seems to be a dedication to the progressive stadium rock elements Queen had become famous for when Prince was in his late-teens. Freddie Mercury tragically passed due to complications from the AIDS virus on November 24th, 1991; the day after Diamonds and Pearls fell down from sixth to seventh on the Billboard Top 200. Obviously he couldn’t make a tribute to him on that album, so we get it here, and with Prince’s propensity to fully invest into something, it’s perfectly nestled as the penultimate track on his “fantasy rock soap opera”; absolutely genius. Do I believe Merrcury’s death was at the forefront of his mind when this track and album were initially conceived? No. Do I believe it was on his mind and was a factor in the overall themes of the album? Yes.
On a more individual track and technical perspective, the comparison to “Bohemian Rhapsody” is fair, as the ever-morphing instrumentation begins with a short piano introduction, as the pretty keys stop once he begins to ride the contemporary guitar line across the barren stereo space. Various emotions are displayed by a multitude of motifs in the instrumentation, engineered to be mixed as just background music, keeping everything moving fluidly until the song erupts into a heavy, dramatic choir. This happens a few times throughout the track, and it’s remarkable how elegant, exquisite, and powerful the full band is on the track, comparable to the titular objects in question. The second and final skit of the album shows up at the end of this track, with Prince calling the reporter back up in a voice changer to play mind games with her, forcing her to play her trump card once she realizes she can’t get him to bend to her will.
“The Sacrifice of Victor” ends the album, and the concept as whole, rather fittingly. The reporter reveals the princess of the story to be only 16, the age Mayte was when he met her in 1990. Instead of confessing to a scandalous accusation, we’re treated to a bass line so good that Prince had to namedrop Sonny at the start of the track. Michael B. swings along with the bass to give Prince a standard early-’90’s hip hop-pop crossover composition, but when your voice is as great as Prince’s, who showcases his incredible range on this track, how can you not love it? The wall of sound approach returns to fill out the stereo space, as there’s not much going on other than the groove, but after the two grand progressive tracks before it, it’s the perfect song to either have your final dance, or sit back and relax to. The backup vocals are heavenly and diverse, not relying on solely Prince for once, as Prince and The NPG shout about sacrificing for the greater good, with Prince getting semi-autobiographical in the verses to explain how he was always different, searching for his own purpose, and that’s why he will be a “victor” in life.
1967 in a bus marked public schools
Rode me and a group of unsuspecting political tools
Our parents wondered what it was like to have another color near
So they put their babies together to eliminate the fear…
Never understood my old friends laughing
They got high when everything else got wrong (pass the booze up here)
Dr. king was killed and the streets
They started burnin’
When the smoke was cleared, their high was gone
Education got important, so important 2 victor
A little more important than ripple and weed
Bernadette’s a lady, and she told me (what she say?)
“whatever you do son, a little discipline is what you need,
Is what you need, you need to sacrifice”
I noted that people were confused about the name change to an unpronounceable symbol earlier, but this song also caused confusion, as people actually believed the symbol could be broken down to spell out V-I-C-T-O-R. This will be covered later, as I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so I’ll simply say that the amazing groove is perfectly complimented by the perfectly-tuned horns shrieking above the mix. The song fades away to a satisfying ending to a rather thought-provoking album. It’s not without it’s flaws, but the intent was executed well despite some bloating in the track list, dated production choices, and one or two songs that could’ve been completely cut from the record. The home video that accompanies this album is worth a watch for the full, unedited storyline, but I honestly find the album to be the more intriguing project of the two. There’s more reward upon repeat listens, and the mythos-strengthening references and homages throughout the album only paint a more vivid picture in the thought process of the man displayed on the mysterious album cover. The symbol overlaying the dystopian world sits above the group, hinting at what he’s on the verge of becoming; the numerous interpretations one can gather from the overall project only add to the overall appeal.
Released on October 5th, 1992 in the UK, the 13th in the US, the album went platinum on December 17th, 1992. In between then however, his old manager Steve Fargnoli had sued his firm4, after his previous suit covered in my Diamonds and Pearls review was dismissed. The lawsuit wouldn’t be settled until next year, and by then Prince already had other, bigger issues going on, so while at the time it seemed like The Purple One was going under a critical and commercial revival, as the album still sold well and received great reviews, this album signified the end of his commercial peak. How does one deal with former managers constant lawsuits, especially since they all came in a relatively short time span? Working vigilantly on new content of course; what else were you expecting by this point?
The Ryde Dyvine was a video filmed on 12/17/1992 for a band that featured Sonny T. and Michael Hayes, as well as The Steeles, and possibly Michael B.; credited as Minneapolis, a band that Prince would’ve headed much like The Time. Recordings were throughout 1992 and 1994, as intentions to release an album under this band only resulted in a single in ’94. The video shoot was performed on the Paisley Park soundstage, and was the last performance of the year, after a guest appearance with an unidentified blues band at the Le Loft hotel in Miami, FL on 11/25/1992. This performance came 13 days after news of Fargnoli’s third lawsuit against Prince, who had already fired the guys who replaced Albert Magnoli a year after hiring them, before suing them two months prior to getting sued himself5. He had been self-managing himself since 1991, so to see him approaching the end of his legal battles with spiteful old managers, his time as Prince, his relationship with Warner Bros., and seeing The New Power Generation become an actual backing band in their own right and not a tool at Prince’s disposal, it’s only more poetic that everything came to a head at the end of 1992, as the rest of the decade would see him take a completely different path. This makes it all the more fitting that this album possesses all the themes it does, as it marries the spiritual ideas he had begun formulating from Lovesexy with the materialistic lifestyle he was famous for, and his career path would never be the same.
4. L.A. Times – 11/12/1992 – Hollywood Law Firm Sued Again : Entertainment: Ex-Prince manager’s suit is latest action charging the powerful team of Ziffren, Brittenham & Branca with conflicts of interest in representing clients.