Album of the Week: Prince's 'Purple Rain' Deluxe Edition
Given that we're at least a decade into the era where every classic album imaginable has been released in a 'deluxe' or 'special edition' format at least once, you can be forgiven for regarding the just-released Purple Rain (Deluxe) from the late Prince with some suspicion – particularly since it comes on the heels of his tragic, unexpected death at 57 just over a year ago. After all, Prince never messed around with nostalgia when he was alive -- he was too busy working on the next thing -- and the notoriously secretive artist almost never let fans peek into his creative process.
So it's no exaggeration to say that had Prince lived, we wouldn't have this expanded edition of his landmark 1984 classic Purple Rain in our hands. As strange as that thought is, it also means that this 35-song, 3-disc set isn't padded with 'alternate mixes' or the kind of bonus material that only diehards care about -- it's stuffed with fully finished Prince and the Revolution songs from when the band was at its creative peak. It's fuller picture of the mind of a genius as he worked on what most critics and fans consider his magnum opus. And while these unreleased songs, taken from his basement vault, might not equal the nine that made the cut on Purple Rain, they're still leagues above most music that came out in 1984 – or today, for that matter.
First on the 'From the Vault & Unreleased' disc is the 11-minute "The Dance Electric," an industrial funk jam that wouldn't have sounded out of place on his previous release, 1982's 1999 (especially with the lyric "Better love each other / It's almost time to go" urging people to seek dancefloor pleasure in the face of eternity). And if you thought Prince's "Let Go Crazy" b-side "Erotic City" was dirty, give the 10-minute bedroom odyssey "We Can F—k" a spin (and maybe take a shower afterward). Similarly NSFW is the sprightly "Wonderful Ass," a synth-funk tune that would read as lecherous in lesser hands, but is irresistibly cheeky coming from Prince.
In the pure beauty category is "Our Destiny/Roadhouse Garden," a string-laden foray into the psychedelic, pastoral pop Prince would explore on Purple Rain's 1985 follow-up, Around the World In a Day. But the standouts on the 'Unreleased' disc have to be "Possessed" and "Computer Blue (Hallway Speech Version)." On the former, Prince is in James Brown bandleader mode, presiding over a frenetic club track where synths stab out from your speakers as if the hands manning the keyboard are, well, possessed.
As for "Computer Blue (Hallway Speech Version)," we finally have the full 12-minute version of Purple Rain's four-minute fourth track, "Computer Blue." It opens much the same, but by the two-minute mark you can already hear the synths vibrating with barely-restrained, explosive energy. At six minutes, what was once a carefully crafted rock/dance/synth-pop workout has veered into completely bonkers territory, with The Revolution exploring a wild world where guitar licks and electronic loops push up against spoken word segments ("Poor lonely computer / It's time someone programmed you / It's time you learned love and lust," "Father, father / the sun is gone") and a relentless beat. It's obvious why Prince edited it for the album: Purple Rain is a meticulously crafted pop masterpiece, and the 12-minute version of "Computer Blue" is insanity – thrilling and inspired insanity, but far too strange for the final album.
Apart from the unreleased material, the remastered Purple Rain album (disc 1) sounds wonderful ("Take Me With You" shimmers like never before) and the third disc is a helpful collection of Purple Rain b-sides, single edits and extended dance versions that -- unless you have a trove of Prince 45s on vinyl -- you probably don't already have. The best among those is the nearly eight-minute version of "Let's Go Crazy"; like the expanded "Computer Blue," it's the full recording of the edited album version, and it showcases the band indulging in exhilarating, experimental whims.