BEST TRACK: PRINCE - INTERNATIONAL LOVER (Piano & A Microphone 1983)
The stripped-down, minimalist funk of "International Lover" gets even more sparse and soulful on the newly released piano demos.
During his lifetime, Prince had a reputation as a wildly skilled multi-instrumentalist. It's like a small orchestra, a disco/funk wedding band, and an avant-garde composer were all contained in one 5' 6" package, wrapped in purple silk and black lace. Prince's widescreen, ambitious pop tendencies is part of what made them such a legend during his lifetime. His music was big, even when it sounded small. Muscular Motown funk meeting underground music styles of the time - synthetic synthpop in the case of 1982's 1999, where "International Lover" was first released.
"International Lover" appears, in its new even more stripped-down fashion, on the new Piano & A Microphone 1983. Posthumous releases and live recordings can both, at times, be a cause for alarm, as they tend to signal the scraping the bottom of the kimchi barrel. Prince fanatics, who are likely to be best-served by Piano & A Microphone have multiple reasons to be wary, considering Prince's extremely high standards during his lifetime. How can we be sure archival recordings aren't just being pushed on us for a profit?
We Are: The Guard have no doubt that His Purple Paisliness would have given his revolutionary seal of approval on Piano & A Microphone. It shows a softer, more intimate side of Prince that nicely complements his more orchestrated studio releases. Prince's studio albums, for all of their glory, can sometimes come across as too dense, too slick, too impenetrable to show an ounce of vulnerability. It makes sense, in a way. Prince was a rather diminutive, gender non-conforming African-American man during a time when that was assuredly not allowed. It makes sense that he would get used to presenting things declaratively, without room for input or critique. It often removes the potential for random moments of wonder and inspiration, those little surprises in a song that can sometimes be life-altering when they hit the right way.
PRINCE - INTERNATIONAL LOVER
On "International Lover," it's the soft, almost tender piano playing, so far removed from the often uber-tough funk of Prince's official albums. Prince is able to show his lovelier side on "International Lover," with some open, resonant piano chords, somewhere in the middle ground between Bill Evans and Erik Satie. Over it all, Prince busts out one of his many, many personas; it almost seems like an early version of the Preacher guise from Purple Rain's "Let's Go Crazy." The street preacher meets a Las Vegas piano man here, dropping gems of wisdom and moments of beauty on unsuspecting drunks. Prince could've been a one-person wedding party, while he was alive, reading the vows then playing the afterparty. We Are: The Guard is sure such a wedding would've been bound for bliss.
A few years after his death, "International Lover" and the Piano & A Microphone compilation all-together, offer a chance to re-appreciate some of Prince's less-talked-about qualities; mostly, his musicianship and voice. His falsetto is smooth as Chinese silk, while his piano playing would've sounded as at home in Carnegie Hall as in a bar at 2 a.m. The fact that he was also a talented guitarist, bass player, and drummer is a little ridiculous. His spirit was bursting with music. It's bursting out of "International Lover," for one more chance to re-appreciate his genius spirit.
J. Simpson occupies the intersection between criticism, creativity, and academia. Based out of Portland, Or., he is the author of Forestpunk, an online journal/brand studying the traces of horror, supernatural, and the occult through music, fashion and culture. He plays in the dreamfolk band Meta-Pinnacle with his partner Lily H. Valentine, with whom he also co-founded Bitstar Productions, a visual arts collective focused on elevating Pop Culture to High Art.