Deluxe Expanded Edition Extras:
A slightly heavier thud of mail being delivered signified for me a moment few Prince fans ever thought would arrive. No doubt hastened along by his still baffling demise, the reissue of his career defining 1984 album Purple Rain comes in several iterations. The gossamer veneer of shrink-wrap encased the Deluxe Expanded Edition that lay in my hallway a day earlier than its official release.
As well as the Prince led remaster of the original epochal album, comes a disc of material recorded around the same time that was either due for consideration to be included on the album or has been huddled in the warm darkness of his renowned vault. An additional disc of single edits and B-Sides further frames the main piece of work, before (finally!) there is a spruced up and refreshed DVD of the March 1985 Syracuse, New York performance that was broadcast to the world.
Exhaustive, right? Well for anyone else it would be, but as we all know by now, the vault of hidden beauties at the estate’s disposal runs deeper than the Marianas trench. Which in itself poses a difficult question: how do you choose which tracks should be included?
In the spirit of full disclosure, it is also worth saying that any hardcore Prince fan already has a lot of the songs at their disposal. All of us spent time browsing record fairs for new bootlegs of freshly leaked treasures or consulting the darker corners of LimeWire for digital dispersal of the same. I’m not saying it was right by the way, just that it happened.
As for the remaster of the classic album, well it is undeniably clearer and has maybe a touch more bass in its boom, but Prince (more than anyone) knew to leave that particular monument alone. It is the second disc of unreleased songs that provides both the greatest interest and debate though.
For the devoted Purple Army there are few surprises, but that doesn’t mean it lacks excitement. Finally having pristine copies of an 11-minute long version of “The Dance Electric” in all of its apocalyptic funkiness or the legendary “Computer Blue” (Hallway Speech Version) or the cheeky groove of “Wonderful Ass” is like seeing a lion in the wild having seen them in a zoo. Sure, you could see the appeal in the zoo, but out there in the wild you see them as God intended: prowling beasts of beauty.
For the uninitiated, this disc offers unreleased gems that run the gamut of his gargantuan talents. “Possessed” is a psychedelically edged funk number allegedly written after watching a James Brown concert. “Velvet Kitty Cat” and “Katrina’s Paper Dolls” are lo-fi funk-pop songs that are charmingly wonky and “We Can F**k” is an earlier, ruder and funkier version of a song that reappeared on Graffiti Bridge (1990) with George Clinton in 1990.
All of these tracks reinforce two things. Firstly, they demonstrate the blistering scope of his talents and secondly they underline that none of them belong on Purple Rain. Not because they aren’t good songs, but rather that it is inconceivable to imagine any of the original fare being removed to accommodate them. “Electric Intercourse” is a case in point. Slated to appear on Purple Rain until Prince composed “The Beautiful Ones,” it fails to live up to that song’s incredible standard. But then, what does? Does this mean it isn’t worth hearing and loving? Far from it.
Disc three with its single edits and B-Sides is mostly already available on different formats. but the highlight is the slinky, latin-tinged extended version of “I Would Die 4 U.” With Sheila E. on percussion, it adds an extra layer of hip-sliding funk to what was already a scintillating, surging song. And if you’ve never played “Erotic City” or its 12” remix at obscene levels, now is the time to do it.
The aural delights done with, what follows is the visual document of a star brighter than any in the firmament, at the apex of his fame. Some will argue later tours saw him at the peak of his powers but the Syracuse gig at the Carrier Dome in front of 76,000 sees a magnetic magician weave his funky spell over one and all. His coquettish confidence flies from the screen and this allied to the obvious chemistry and tightness of the Revolution makes it an immersive viewing experience to treasure and remember.
When it comes to reissues of prolific musicians it might do us well to reshape an old adage: You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people, all of the time.
For as sure as day follows night, fans will argue that other things should have been included or a different version of this or that should have been taken into consideration. But given the labyrinthine legal quagmire of an artist who leaves no will after a complicated and unconventional career, we should also bear in mind William DeVaughn’s sage advice: Be Thankful For What You’ve Got.