Prince (1979)

Prince (1979)

Like so many of Prince’s breakthroughs, this one came on his terms. Pun intended — the high-stepping “I Wanna Be Your Lover” drops a sly joke (“I wanna be the only one who makes you come/running“), then chases that with the uncut version (“I wanna be the only one you come for”). (For good measure, he states his desire to be his lover’s brother, sister and mother, establishing the peculiar totality of his vision of devotion.) Shorn of the second half’s extended jam, it became his first pop smash. After a record full of close comfort, he started to stretch as a lyricist in ways small and grand. “When We’re Dancing Close And Slow” ups the orgasmic ante (“I want to come inside of you/I want to hold you when we’re through”). “Bambi” would be, essentially by default, the best hair-metal song for years: his guitar struts on the chorus and muses during the first solo. It’s also incredibly homophobic and misogynistic. And sometimes, he transcends words entirely: check the charged breathing during the militant disco of “Sexy Dancer.” Right before the dawn of house, he was practically jackin’.

The sound has opened up; his rock and R&B chops are merging into a particular pop strain. “I Feel For You” is a sort of spiritual twin to “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” a jaunty expression of sexual affection that could’ve come from whatever less-poisoned pen Steely Dan left to molder in the desk. (Chaka Khan slapped an electro chassis on the tune and rode it to her only Top Ten hit in The Year of Our Prince 1984). Not that his instincts were flawless: the Side Two opener, “With You,” is the type of cloying ballad a young Michael Jackson was always getting saddled with; its sequencing (immediately after “Close And Slow”) makes it come off like an apology for overstepped bounds. The drawn-out album closer, on the other hand, is a triumph. “It’s Gonna Be Lonely” is set up with a guitar figure crafted from blown glass; the chorus, full of dramatic stops and synth twinkle, put this in constant rotation at God’s roller rink.

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