Marked the vital revival of an artist who continues to fascinate.
Mike Diver 2010
Forgive the wording, but there’s no doubt that Prince’s purple patch was considered to be behind him by many when he released Diamonds and Pearls, backed by The New Power Generation, in October 1991. His mid-80s peak produced the classic LPs 1999, Sign O’ the Times and Purple Rain, each a showcase for the man’s accomplished-yet-chameleonic song-craft. But 1988’s Lovesexy was a comparatively poor set that, while full of ambition, misfired several times across its high-concept tracks. And the following soundtracks for Tim Burton’s Batman and Graffiti Bridge, both best summarised as seriously flawed, suggested that Prince’s creative control had overheated.
Thankfully, Diamonds and Pearls reversed this decline. While it’s the first Prince LP to officially feature The New Power Generation, this has the feel of a solo record – the singer’s fantastic band would impress more significantly on 1992’s Love Symbol album. But if assessed as a solo affair, it’s absolutely Prince’s best since 1987’s double-LP masterpiece Sign O’ the Times (albeit not close to being in the same league). Diamonds and Pearls is equally scattershot of style, moving from bombastic rap to sultry funk via slick RnB and low-slung grooves. It’s probably best taken as a collection of standalone tracks rather than a conceived-as-a-whole experience, immediately distancing it from Lovesexy’s suite-style sequencing. And some of these standalones are double-thumbs-up winners.
Although it’s not the most immediate of those standouts, there’s no doubting Money Don’t Matter 2 Night is the heart and soul of this album. A slow-paced strut, the track’s a celebration of realising that hard cash isn’t the be all and end all of one’s existence – which might seem rich coming from a millionaire, but it’s delivered with such sincerity, the vocals imperfect but pure, that one can imagine Prince himself as the man one card away from 22, about to blow everything with a smile. At the other end of the spectrum, far away from real-world concerns, is Cream: quite simply a song about getting it on, and a brilliant one at that (apparently written by Prince while admiring himself in the mirror). More explicit is Gett Off, which borrows a line or two from James Brown but is undeniably Prince through and through, the aural equivalent of a sex pest you can’t help but take home.
Elsewhere, Daddy Pop updates the boisterous Partyman from the Batman soundtrack to fine effect; the title-track is a brilliant ballad recently sampled by Lil Wayne; and anthemic opener Thunder apparently refers, in its lyrics, to withdrawn 1987 LP The Black Album, a funk-fuelled disc eventually released to critical approval in 1994. The by-numbers rap efforts, Push and Jughead, are unmemorable (to be kind), but cut the fashion-following rather than trend-setting filler from Diamonds and Pearls and you’re left with a still-satisfying set of songs that stand up well to Prince’s very best. It’s no classic, but this album marked the vital revival of an artist who continues to fascinate.
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