Happy 30th Anniversary to Prince’s tenth studio album Lovesexy, originally released May 10, 1988.
Following the release of his magnum opus Sign O’ the Times in 1987, Prince entered into the studio for an ill-fated venture that resulted in the recording, and hasty withdrawal of, The Black Album. As any Prince fan knows, The Black Album was slated for a December ‘87 release. In the lead up to its release, Prince had a change of heart following a spiritual awakening of sorts (touted to have been brought on by a bad Ecstasy trip). This sudden epiphany saw Prince regard The Black Album as somewhat of an evil incarnation and demanded it be pulled and destroyed. In doing so, he made it one of the most widely bootlegged albums in history.
Faced with a gap in his wildly prolific release schedule, Prince reconvened the Sign O’ the Times touring band (who would become the original incarnation of The New Power Generation) and over a period of two months from December 1987 to January 1988, he worked to right his spiritual wrongs with work that would become his tenth studio album Lovesexy, released May 10, 1988.
If the intended outtake of The Black Album was an exploration of the darker, funkier side of life, Lovesexy is a hypercolor explosion of positive pop. Sequenced (somewhat annoyingly) as a single track on CD (and one track per side on vinyl), Prince was inviting you (or was that forcing you) to listen to Lovesexy’s entirety and making you judge the album as a whole rather than individual tracks. As a result, the album perhaps didn’t get as many spins as it should have.
The proceedings begin with an ethereal dawn that slowly awakens your soul as a spoken word intro observes “Everybody knows / When Love Calls / You’ve Got to Go,” before Prince welcomes you to “The New Power Generation” clarifying that “the reason why my voice is so clear is because there’s no smack in my brain.” Bursting with a bright pop-gospel hybrid, the full band ensemble gives “Eye No” a joyous, uplifting energy. Prince sings of salvation and redemption, and the rejection of all things evil, personified by the entity Spooky Electric, who feeds on negativity and the embracing of positivity, the feeling of Lovesexy.
Lyrically, “Eye No” addresses the justification for pulling The Black Album and lays out the album’s overall theme, namely the fight between good and evil, between Lovesexy and Spooky Electric, between the flesh and the divine—areas Prince had addressed before but never with such a joyful resolution. The way the song climaxes with “Eye no there is a heaven and a hell” seems to lay out the options for us confidently knowing that if we have been a part of the previous 5 minutes, we know which side to choose. (Based musically on the unreleased track “The Ball,” “Eye No” contains the outro/intro to what had been planned to be the following track in “Joy In Repetition” that would appear later on Graffiti Bridge).
Where “Eye No” felt like a band effort, “Alphabet St” is all Prince, dazzling with a skip along drumbeat, funky-and-you-know-it guitar riff, and cocksure lyrics. The fat chunky bass that hits with the chorus coupled with the layering of the backing vocals’ incessant “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” fills out the song with pure party joy. As well as being one of Prince’s funkiest singles, “Alphabet St” also has extra notoriety. The accompanying video has a hidden message in it as Prince dances before a colorful mixed up alphabet that reads, “Don’t Buy The Black Album. I’m Sorry,” and Prince’s delivery of the word “Tennessee” would go on to be sampled in Arrested Development’s breakthrough song of the same name a few years later.
“Glam Slam” feels like an epic funk/rock opera snug tightly into 5 minutes. One of Prince’s most underrated singles, “Glam Slam” was maybe just too off the mainstream pop feel of the time to be the hit it had the makings of. With an extended synth workout at its coda, “Glam Slam” segues into the beautiful piano gospel lament of “Anna Stesia.”
With a thinly veiled play on words, “Anna Stesia” deals with feelings of isolation, a desire to numb the pain, and the yearning to be rescued through company. Like “The Cross” before it (from Sign O’ the Times), “Anna Stesia” is at once an honest look at the frailty in us all and the hope in finding a higher purpose. It is a beautiful mix of sadness and happiness, the bittersweet of life. Moving from darkness to light, the song transitions to an extended refrain of “Love is God / God is love…” filling the song with a new sense of optimism, as if the sunlight from a new dawn has broken through the dark clouds. Redemption and perfection in less than 5 minutes.
Focused around a frenetic and fluid drum groove, “Dance On” is like Sign O’ the Times Part II with its running social commentary. While the drum pattern is the song’s saving grace, it is a somewhat forgettable endeavor. Thankfully, the title track follows and “LoveSexy” hits hard with a funk-frenzied swagger. An aural equivalent to a teasing wet dream, “LoveSexy” seems to want to draw the link that spiritual and physical bliss need not be at odds, and when joined together, can in fact be a path to enlightenment.
As the only surviving song from The Black Album, “When 2 R In Love” feels more at home surrounded by the positivity of this new outing. As the album’s designated “come on” song, it finds Prince at his most seductive. Unlike some of his earlier ballads that suffered from trying too hard, this feels more natural and organic, as if Prince had nothing to prove.
“I Wish U Heaven” is the undisputed champion of the Lovesexy set. With a sense of innocence and lament held within, the song is rich in beauty and tone. With swirling harmonies and captivating melody it belies its brief 2:50 running time. As one of Prince’s finest songs, it inspires you to have grace in being able to wish nothing but the best for someone, even if that means them not being with you. Beautiful.
Just as the album opened with the struggle between Spooky Electric and Lovesexy, the album closer “Positivity” acts as its bookend. With a mix of electronic beats and twirling percussion, “Positivity” has a modern meets mystic feel befitting the lyrical message of living a righteous life and finding strength in taking “you plus sign today,” not only an allusion to staying on a positive path but also on finding salvation through the cross. A last warning, last train to salvation song, “Positivity” takes an honest look at the plight of a lost generation, offering guidance whilst admitting we still have a long long way to go. But at least the path is clear.
Closing out with the same ethereal arrangement it began with, the journey of Lovesexy comes full circle. Whilst it didn’t fare as well as the albums that came immediately before and after it (Sign O’ the Times and Batman, respectively) Lovesexy still contains moments of brilliance and is a powerful dose of positive funk that should be sought when needed. As it stands, Lovesexy feels more in line with being the worthy successor to Sign O’ the Times than The Black Album did and it deserves another moment to bask in the glory and power that is Prince at his most joyous and carefree.