Prince and The Revolution
Warner Bros. (1984)
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die + 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die
"Purple Rain" is the most popular title from Prince for a number of reasons. For one, every one of the nine tracks have gotten some degree of radio play (including five actually released as singles). The album art, featuring Prince with big hair and a purple motorcycle, is a cult favorite, as is the corresponding film that "Rain" provides the soundtrack to. From a critical perspective, the reason to cite the album is because it features Prince at the top of his game in every aspect of his personality, of which there are many.
The aspect of Prince's work that gets the most attention is the strong sexual content of the lyrics. His first two albums prior to "Rain" were certainly very overt in the elements Tipper Gore would describe as "pornographic." He didn't completely eliminate the sexual content here; "Darling Nikki" is nearly as hot and heavy as anything in his repertoire. What's more impressive, and sometimes overlooked in his work, are the personal and emotional appeals throughout. Two of the biggest hits from the record, the title track and "When Doves Cry," are the best examples. Both reflect conflicts experienced by Prince's character in the film, but the heartfelt nature probably reveal some honest songwriting at play. "The Beautiful Ones" features Prince's most wrenching vocals (and that guy can certainly wrench his vocals) and "I Would Die 4 U" is another moving track, possibly told from the perspective of Christ.
As a rock 'n' roll guy, I find the best part of "Rain" to be that Prince demonstrates his full instrumental capabilities as well. As with his the rest of his work from that decade, "Rain" features plenty of the synthesizers and drum machines that make Prince one of the most identifiably '80s artists on the market (see "Let's Go Crazy"). New to the formula is the focus on Prince's guitar playing however. Due to his more popular club-happy music, sometimes he doesn't get the credit he deserves for his work on a six-string (many have compared him to Jimi Hendrix, which isn't valid, but both are very evocative when playing). "Purple Rain" is an extended jam with some extended shredding, and "The Beautiful Ones" also rocks out towards its end. I would actually argue that not enough emphasis is put on the guitar during the record. It seems to have been toned down to make room for Prince's voice, and it tends to be subtler and quieter than your typical rock 'n' roll solos.
Aside from the quiet guitar parts, Prince shows a knack for assembling instruments like organs alongside the synths and drum machine parts. Most impressive is a an unnoticeable decision within "When Doves Cry." There's no doubt that you can groove to the track, but something still seems odd: It has no bass line, a move that's almost unheard of in pop music like this. It's unnecessary however; the drum part is undeniably catchy, and the keyboard acts almost like a second hook. The track also gets some guitar treatment at the opening and close.
In short, there's something for everyone on "Purple Rain." Maybe you like to dance, and maybe you prefer to rock out. If you can appreciate both however, you'll get the most out of this album.
INTERESTING FACT: In the video game Mortal Kombat, the character Rain wears purple robes. The creators of the game have affirmed that this is not a coincidence.