Wednesday, October 27th, 1982, the date that a 24-year-old Prince Rogers Nelson released his fifth and most successful studio album of an illustrious 40-year career. In a tumultuous reality starring Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher fighting wars aplenty, the world didn’t look too different as it does today in 2017. 35 years on, and in a similar global climate, it’s more than fitting to give 1999 a thorough revisit, to see if Prince can once again provide salvation.
The title track, and opener, ‘1999’ prints the mosaic theme of the record. A robotic distortion slurs “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you/ I only want you to have some fun.” Ahead lies kaleidoscopic musical expression and odes to freedom, both politically and sexually. Prince uses layers of funky guitar riffs, synth basslines, and fast-paced drumlines to imbue that decadence is the only cure for impending doom.
He never fails to couple this impassioned instrumentation with cogitative lyricism. In ‘Little Red Corvette’, incredible vocals take centre-stage in an ensemble cast with Prince playing all the roles. Power breaks through every beat of the track, be it the Corvette metaphors, the guitar play or the way it intertwines seamlessly with his pure falsetto. The track is a good example as any to see why Prince is revered.
The following tracks of the first half, ‘Delirious’, ‘Let’s Pretend We’re Married’ and ‘D.M.S.R’ (Dance.Music.Sex.Romance.), allow musical innovation to take hold of the reigns and The Purple One experiments heavily with drum-machines and synthesisers – relatively new advancements.
On ‘D.M.S.R.’ he chants “Everybody get on the floor/what the hell did you come here for?” as the keys pop away in the background. He shows that he likes to orchestrate the night and he clearly has the ability to do so. From the musical manipulation to the enchantments, Prince was there to create a revolution and every race was invited as he calls upon different demographics to follow his dancefloor chorus.
Taking a left turn, his lyrical mindset shifts towards introspection on the second half of the album as Soul shines through on ‘Free’. “I’m just glad, I’m just glad I’m free, yeah/There’s many a man who’s not,” Prince cries. He’s come back to singing, and with that, he preaches gratitude and equality.
Wading through eight-minute long, 80s synthpop anthems can take its toll. But then the incredible mind of Prince is able to bring more conscience to his music, after screaming “I wanna f*** the taste out of your mouth.” earlier on. With exception of ‘All the Critics Love U in New York’, the closing tracks infuse more emotion to the funky feel of before. Nevertheless, most of the emotion Prince displays is sexual desire.
On reflection of the hour-or-so journey, it’s hard not to feel both amazed and shocked. The contrast in his lyrical content, the range of instruments mastered and the power of his expression would look like a Jackson Pollock painting if graphically interpreted. But the intention of the album is bright as day: Prince wanted to give life, hope, and love to his fans, every way possible. And so, he presents himself a million ways over, without any fear.
Perhaps, the most mesmerising aspect of the LP is the level of control and understanding Prince has in both his music and lyrics. He can express himself effortlessly through any instrument, as his voice takes the form of guitar and synth solos throughout, yet the feeling created is just as clear.
I can only imagine the inner workings of his mind to be like a black hole. Feeding on every genre present (funk, soul, rock), then using whichever instrument he would like to churn out a complete tapestry of all the political and social emotion he feels. In its day it would have been revolutionary, now it’s timeless. Prince truly was the greatest modern musician of all time.