Superdeluxe Box Of Prince’s “1999” Proves Nothing Succeeds Like Excess [part 4]

prince automatic video

Video helped Prince make his case to America…but this one for “Automatic” was for clubs only

[…continued from last post]

prince automatic single AustraliaThe third virtual 12″ single in the album sequence following on from “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” at 7:20, “D.M.S.R.” at 8:05, was the 9:24 track “Automatic.” The longest song yet on this double album. This song represented a refinement from the frantic New Wave energy of “Married,” or the more traditional funk of “D.M.S.R.” “Automatic” was the sound of Prince in thrall to feminine energy and ready for anything. The instrumentation was still mostly synths and drum machine, but with occasional bass and lead guitar, used sparingly. The synths featured a serpentine riff slinking through it and the most intriguing aspect of it were the pneumatic wooshes of synth to suggest jet aircraft that were even referenced in the song’s coda lyrically as we were told to “fasten seat belts” and to “prepare for takeoff”  in the first, but not last, of the album’s airline metaphors.

“Automatic” was a long song in three movements. The first third of it was the 3:38 that was edited to be a 7″ single in Australia only, strangely enough. It would function well as a pop song and was perhaps a missed opportunity in America. The second movement of it was a few minutes of vamping where Prince was mixed low in the track, giving some pillow talk to his lover; admitting that he was addicted to their pleasure…and their pain; yet beseeching they not torture him. The 8:23 video for this song was not in wide release and featured Lisa Coleman and Jill Jones flogging Prince who was tied to a bed.

The third movement featured Jones and Coleman quoting some of the words that Prince had already spoken about kissing “not with their lips, but with their souls” and concluding “I’m going to have to torture you now” as he unleashed an acid rock guitar solo over the piteous cries of the ladies until the instrumentation dropped out to give prominence to the huge synth pad of the melody that was as bold as daylight. Then the song circled back on itself until the coda when the tempo sped up and a bass solo came out of nowhere to show The Purple One indulging in some rare thunderthumb action as the song evaporated into random bleeps among more pneumatic synths, and finally, thin air.

The rest of the album would consist of more random outliers that reflected neither the pop of side one or the deep club of what came afterward. Prince had nothing in his back catalog to prepare one for the radical shift that was “Something In The Water [Does Not Compute].”  The relentless Linn Drum hi-hats highlighted a nervous tension that, coupled with the arrhythmic beats only got more intense as the very DEVO  minor key synth figure spilling through the song. While Prince had shown no shortage of bravado throughout the album until now, this song was a utter change of pace; being a downbeat and tense look at the artist confronting an uncaring paramour.

Throughout the song he can’t understand why a woman would treat him so badly. This time the torture was unbidden. The song’s bridge consisted only of his unbridled howls of pain, which were more eloquent than any words. At the end of the song’s tension as the hi-hats finally melted away to leave soft jets of synthesized sound, Prince proclaimed “I do love you…I do. Or else I wouldn’t …go through …the things I do…” The vulnerability revealed a whole new side to this artist.

The next song began with overlaid sound effects of heartbeats, marching soldiers, and waves crashing on a shoreline. Then once “Free” began afterward, it was the lighter waving ballad that Prince added to flesh out what was turning into a sprawling album. He sang the leads in falsetto and managed to use a Fender Rhodes electric piano synth patch without giving me hives, so he did something right here. The song espoused a love of freedom in one sense while also serving as a possible warning that others might not be free and your own state may be transitory. So it was a mixture of passion and finger wagging, which seemed to be saying that you might be responsible for which side of the line you found yourself. Which is hard to reconcile with the libertine revolutionary from 1981’s “Controversy.”

Next: …Pazz + Jop

 

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Superdeluxe Box Of Prince’s “1999” Proves Nothing Succeeds Like Excess [part 3]

prince lets pretend were married cover art

“Let’s Pretend We’re Married” was the only commercial 12″ in America from “1999”

[…continued from last post]

Next we leave the three hit singles for what to me forms the core of the “1999” album to these ears. “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” was the fourth single from the album, and it trailed singles that reached #6, #12, and #8 in the pop charts. Yet it only managed a poor showing – in the 50s, on the Billboard, Pop [#52], Black [#55], and Dance [#52] charts! This is incomprehensible to me; especially that last placing. I see there was a video but I’ve never seen it. In any case, the song was a plunge deep into New Wave territory for Prince’s most driving fusion of Funk and New Wave for this listener.

This one was all about the relentless motorik metal beat under driving, pulsating synthesizers.  The cleanest line to the contemporaneous sounds of labelmates DEVO may be drawn from this one with little effort. Their recent “Freedom Of Choice” and “New Traditionalists” albums  used a similar sonic vocabulary and the irony was that those albums were DEVO‘s attempt to incorporate Funk to reach a wider audience! Gerry Casale had claimed that the band liked Prince and hearing Stevie Wonder use Moog bass was an influence they could get behind to insure that their third album was not their last.

“It’s ridiculous to think about, but we thought Freedom of Choice was our funk album. That’s as funky as DEVO gets, I guess.” – Mark Mothersbaugh

Prince reciprocated brilliantly here. The sonics of this number skewed completely synthetic. There were only drum machines and synthesizers used on this song. Most of the other songs on “1999” have at least interjections of guitars in them, but not this one. It remained a gleaming machine entity from first to last. Prince used the relentless machine energy here to mirror the relentless lust that the song’s lyrics embodied. A place where a couple of hours could just as easily be the next seven years.  Prince was not shy about dropping the F-bomb into this one, but even he hedged his bets by stuttering the delivery of the first “let’s b-a-a-all” in the song which was still in the 7″ edit for Pop radio.

But I can listen to this without getting embarrassed. Easily. Listening to Prince proclaiming how badly he wanted to bed [my euphemism] the lady he desired here over relentless, pulsating synthesizers had an essential integrity that other, similar songs of the era, like Berlin’s Sex lacked completely to my ears. Hearing Terri Nunn whisper “—- me” in the latter [mixed low, just like Prince was here, initially]  just makes me cringe to this day. Meanwhile, Prince was just getting started with explicit references to oral sex that showed the flipside to “Head.” Then he had the audacity to end the long, but never boring, 7:20 song with a double tracked vocal chant that recalled the self-mythologizing in “Controversy” and had god cheek-by-jowl with the MF-bomb as he outlined his hedonic philosophy. Astonishing.

DMSR promo 12" single cover artSpeaking of hedonic philosophy, the other half of what was side two of the album commenced with the even longer “D.S.M.R.” which stood for “Dance/Music/Sex/Romance.” As succinct a précis of the Prince ethos as possible. This was an 8:15 Funk jam that came very close to the P-Funk sound [and certainly length] and maybe this was as great a sequel to “Flashlight” as could ever happen. The synthesizers were still plentiful, but there were funky guitar licks in place here and even bass guitar jostling for position with the bass synths. While Prince played everything, as was the norm, the party atmosphere required as many backing vocalists as he could round up for this one, so even engineer Peggy McCreary was roped into service.

The heavy, dominant beat here was based on shaker percussion [not for the second time on this album] coupled with a bold synthetic handclap sound. The lyrics called out white and Puerto Rican members of the audience in a move that recalled the seminal “Uptown” from “Dirty Mind.” It was funny how he had to specify that all the white people had to clap their hands of the four count, but I’ve heard they have no rhythm. The breakdown at the bridge of the song featured some guitar licks up front and center as the distorted voice of Prince dropped clues to his extra-curricular activities in regards to The Time, their “mastermind” Jamie Star, and Vanity 6. Concluding that they could all “take a bite of my purple rock!” The jam broke down as Lisa Coleman cried out for the police and some help in the abrupt and disturbing finish to the song.

Next: …Preparing For Takeoff

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Superdeluxe Box Of Prince’s “1999” Proves Nothing Succeeds Like Excess [part 2]

prince delirious cover photo

Prince – rocking his MKII purple trench in 1982

[…continued from last post]

While “1999” was an instant classic to these ears; second only to the compulsive pull of  “Controversy” at the time, the fact was that the title track and first release single to “1999” was only a hit on the Billboard Dance [#1] and R+B [#4] charts. In the Hot 100, where Prince had his sights set on, it didn’t even make the Top 40; stalling at a shocking #44. Worse, his manager, who heard the delivered “1999” album came back with the worst thing any artist can hear upon completing an album. His manager “didn’t hear a hit single.”

prince little red corvette labelThis was corrected with the late inclusion of “Little Red Corvette” into the flow of the album with Prince even taking care to segue the track in to the flow from the dying embers of the apocalyptic opening track. The most arresting thing about the song was immediately apparent; the slithering rhythm; reliant on shaker percussion juxtaposed against heavy bass synth with a fast attack and slow release. The bass had emphasis on the off beat to create a tension that was contrasted by the pop elements of the song, which were top loaded up front in the song’s first half.

The friendly, genial tone of the music bed insured that the otherwise overripe sexual metaphors, which were the song’s focus, sagely got a pass on the Pop airwaves. Prince also cannily cast himself in the naif role of the song, which also helped to make his case on the charts. Had the lyrics here been mated with more lascivious Prince music… think “Head,” for example, it may have gotten push back on Pop radio for excessive provocation. Which indeed, “Darling Nikki” managed to do on his next album, but by then it was too late, he was already the hottest star in music. So the design and construction of this Corvette was to establish a beachhead for Prince in the Top 10 after several years as a one-hit wonder from 1979.

The song was very effective in this role, with the first three minutes being a perfect pop moment with a singalong chorus and a rare guitar solo [Prince played 95% of the music here] from the soon-to-be-departed Dez Dickerson of his touring band. At around 3:20 the complexion of the number changed after the edit point on the 7″ version. There, Prince dropped the coy persona he’d used thus far and let loose with some real Soul in his vocals as he proclaimed “gi-rrrr-rrr-rl you’ve got an ass like I’ve never seeeeeeeeen!” He rode his falsetto up into the clouds for the moment of bliss as he further compared this “fast” girl’s “ride” as being “so smoooooooth, you must be a limousine!” With the last phrase being doubled for emphasis. It began as Pop and ended with Soul melisma; giving the LP version a two-sided kick that was more complex than the simpler 7″ edit. MTV couldn’t lap it up fast enough, and the video played heavily for like what seemed to be a full year. The song went to #6 on the Hot 100 and only #15 on the B+B chart. Mission accomplished.

prince delirious cover artPretty much the only real light moment on the album came in the form of its third single; the boisterous “Delirious.” The perky little Rockabilly-influenced number came on the heels of the similar “Jack U Off” from the previous album, “Controversy.” Apparently, when Prince toured England in 1981, he was taken with the Rockabilly revival that the Stray Cats were cresting there that year and it filtered back into a small body of songs that could stand as his take on Rockabilly, but this was not your father’s Rockabilly. This was a hybrid vigor version built on a foundation of synths and drum machine from a very different corner of the playing board.

Prince favored the shakers and tambourines for a percussive-led rhythm on the Linn Drum, along with a synthetic, Simmons-like electroslap keeping time. The song’s characteristic synth hook came in the form of a patch that sounded like someone pinching the neck of a balloon to result in a high pitched squeal. Resulting in an almost goofy sound to match the lyrics of Prince relating “a stupid look on my face” as the object of his desire sent him into his reverie. In spite of no video at all this time, the song still vaulted into the Top 10 and cemented his stardom with three Top 20 hits in a row from this album. “Little Red Corvette” didn’t have a picture sleeve that I can find for America, but this time, “Delirious” got the rarity of a US 7″ poster sleeve sporting a 1982/1999 Prince wall calendar, so there was some money splashed out on promotion. Not that he needed it. Prince was the star of the moment and the sequencing of the first three singles up front on side A of the 2xLP set was a feat of bravado matched by few others.

Next: …The Album Hits Its Stride

 

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Superdeluxe Box Of Prince’s “1999” Proves Nothing Succeeds Like Excess [part 1]

prince 1999 super deluxe box

BSOG version of “1999;” the album that took Prince from musician to star

So I’ve been listening very closely to the “1999” SDLX box that was released late last year since I was late to the party. I bought this originally on release and then [finally] on CD in 2015 when I saw that it finally had “D.M.S.R.” on it, because the earlier CD I had seen for decades inexplicably trimmed that song from the running order. Even though the full album can sit comfortably on a single CD. Now we have hours of Prince to listen to as this box paints a wide-ranging picture of the artist’s development as he amped up his productivity when his home studio was built to allow recording 24/7.

vanity 6 promo shot

Vanity 6 were originally mooted by Prince as an all-femme act called “The Hookers”

The Time promo shot

Morris Day of The Time had a gigolo persona to balance those of Vanity 6

As a follow up to 1981’s albums of “Controversy” and “The Time,” 1982 brought a double album from Prince, as well as “What Time Is It? from The Time, and a third album/project with the Vanity 6 album. All written and produced by Prince himself, and if one saw the “1999” tour in ’82-’83, all three bands were the touring bill. It was a full night of Prince music for one low price. The Time were an outlet for the more traditional R+B/Funk material that was foundational for the artist but his interests were elsewhere. Since 1980, Prince had been most interested in hybridizing his Funk and Soul roots with the newer exotic strains of New Wave that had recently emerged. The “1999” album represented the final segment of that three album arc before superstardom beckoned with the “Purple Rain” album to follow.

prince 1999 cover art

“1999” original album | Disc 1

Prince : 1999 SDLX box disc 1 – Original Album – US – CD  [2019]

  1. 1999
  2. Little Red Corvette
  3. Delirious
  4. Let’s Pretend We’re Married
  5. D.M.S.R.
  6. Automatic
  7. Something In The Water (Does Not Compute)
  8. Free
  9. Lady Cab Driver
  10. All The Critics Love U In New York
  11. International Lover

prince 1999 cover artWhile I had first heard songs from “Controversy” on college radio, by the fall of 1982, there was a new player in town. I first heard “1999” when the music video for the song snuck onto MTV that fall on release, in spite of the dark skin that Prince sported! When we hear the Ancient Ones [like me] speak of the “color line” that demarcated MTV, it’s true that the conception for the channel was to be an “AOR” radio station with moving pictures, and de facto segregated; just like the airwaves were at the time. This video was certainly the first time I’d seen an African American on MTV but the single came and went without troubling the top 40 very much. To my dismay.

The “1999” single was dazzling but the album version was almost twice as long as the video edit. Since the album version was 6:33 and this album would feature over half of its songs with a 6-10 minute running time, there was, shockingly, no extended version of this or any other of the singles from this album… save for a single song. The LP mix opened with a sinister sounding, down pitched voice proclaiming “don’t worry… I only want you to have some fun” but the fun in “1999” was of the eschatological variety as the Reganoid arms race prompted this thrilling call to hedonic fulfillment in the face of nuclear annihilation.

The synths blared a figure like Gabriel’s horn and the Linn Drum hook set up the bass synth to syncopate all night long. Uncharacteristically, Prince made the decision to divvy out the vocal harmonies so that Jill Jones and Lisa Coleman carried the lead on the first couplet of the verse to be followed by guitarist Dez Dickerson; leaving Prince to play anchorman at the end of each verse. The descending drum figure featured a blast of white noise at the end of each bar; just like that blast of white light that was always around the corner in ’81-’84. By this time it might have been too late for Ronnie to talk to Russia; Prince was bracing to go out with a proverbial bang.

Where the 7″ edit ended at the song’s midpoint, on the album it began a second movement to the “party” coda where the synth dropped out to give spotlight to the funky rhythm guitar as the ladies led the chant for a party as Prince ad libbed and vamped over the stone groove. The end of the song featured an inversion of the beginning, as a little girl’s voice [Prince again; his voice pitched up this time] asked “Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?” before one final blast of white noise that configured itself into the first beat of the seamless segue into the next song. The one that started the ball rolling into serious high gear for this artist.

Next: …Brazen Sexual Metaphor

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Record Review: Bill Nelson’s Red Noise – Sound On Sound US CD

bill nelson's red noise sound on sound cover art

Enigma Records ‎| US | CD | 1989 | 7 73384-2

Bill Nelson’s Red Noise: Sound On Sound US CD [1989]

  1. Don’t Touch Me [I’m Electric]
  2. For Young Moderrns
  3. Stop/Go/Stop
  4. Furniture Music
  5. Radar In My Heart
  6. Stay Young
  7. Out Of Touch
  8. A Better Home In The Phantom Zone
  9. Substitute Flesh
  10. The Atom Age
  11. Art/Empire/Industry
  12. Revolt Into Style
  13. Stay Young [live]
  14. Out Of Touch [live]

Wow! It was early in my first flush of Bill Nelson fandom when I sourced a copy of the US Harvest LP of his “Red Noise” album. I had bought his 7″ boxed set and liked everything in it so I wasted no time in checking out any Nelson albums I ran across. While I felt that the preceding album “Drastic Plastic” that Nelson had made in 1978 was the final Be-Bop Deluxe album was a very tasty slice of forward thinking technopop, nothing could have prepared our 1979 ears for the furious assault that this album represented.

From the first bar of “Don’t Touch Me [I’m Electric],” it was apparent that Nelson was out to deliver as many high-voltage jolts with this enervated music as he possibly could. I suspect that he’s heard the first DEVO album by the time that it came to write a follow up to “Drastic Plastic” after the break-up of Be Bop Deluxe following that album and tour. But this album is at times even more frantic that the Akron spuds. The synth patches here were configured for maximum twitch. Listening to this song really was like licking a 9v battery! Most of the drums here were acoustic and played by Nelson at tempos that made me suspect tape manipulation, but Dave Mattacks also guested on some tracks with a mixture of acoustic and synthetic drums. What was available in that market segment in 1978-79 was pretty bleeding edge!

On the next track, the tempo withdrew to a less frantic pace. “For Young Moderns” was a backward glance to Be-Bop’s art rock roots with a winsome melodic hook on the synths that either Nelson and Andy Clark, the only other carry over from Be-Bop Deluxe, played here. But the guitars were content to chug in a Post-Glam fashion even as the lyrics were ultimately forward thinking New Wave.

About half of the songs here were electro-punk ravers, and “Stop/Go/Stop” was there to whip your spine back into shape following the relative calm of “For Young Moderns.” The melodic structures of so many of these tunes feels like a brutal application of jingle forms amped up with way too many amphetamines. Drums were applied in rigid tattoos so that any dancing would probably lead to spasmodic jerks at most. In short, it’s the sound of an old pro effortlessly meeting [and maybe surpassing] the New Breed at their own game.

red noiswe furniture music cover art“Furniture Music” was Nelson co-opting Satie’s concept to ends that sounded nothing like the proto-ambient sounds of that forward thinker, but instead strongly recalled the influence of TVLKING HEVDS “No Compassion,” right down to the delay on the keyboard hook that slithered through the song. “A Better Home In the Phantom Zone” belied the possible origins of it being a Be-Bop Deluxe song that I put down to the complex, stuttering arrangement here where most of the songs were simple and direct in their execution.

After a few slower tempo songs, the delirious “Art/Empire/Industry” let loose with a savage pummeling that harked back to the opener. The rigid tattoos of the early syndrums by Dave Mattacks made my head feel like a punching bag when I listened to this one. And I think that Nelson was really on to something with his penchant for titling these songs with a thread of single words held together with forward slashes. It reflected the brutal cut-up modernism aesthetic he was striving for perfectly.

red noise revolt into style cover artThen the album ended with the song that my “vanity label” took its name from. Nelson eased up on the twitch factor to take George Melly’s conceit and turn it into a proper pop anthem. This album set a high standard for an established rock star plowing deep into modernism fearlessly. It may be comparable in its time to something like David Bowie making a jungle record with “Earthling” but I have to say that the latter worked in spite of that conceit. But Bill Nelson had no difficulty or embarrassment in plunging far into an electro-punk aesthetic that could be traced back to DEVO, yet somehow managed to equal or better their achievement without breaking into a sweat. His lyrics for these songs were as busy as the music yet had miles of wit to spare. The measure of this 41 year old album’s achievement is the fact that much of this album reflected extremes that were radical for their time and are still radical now.

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Record Review: The Countess Of Fife – Live EP CD5

The Countess of Fife band

Fay is rocking that Bobbie Gentry look like the pro she is…

Last month The Countess Of Fife; the new band formed by Fay Fife and Lord Mcdowall released a new live 4-track EP and Duncan from the comments secured a copy of the CD for each of us, and I reciprocated by buying us each the three DL only singles that preceded the EP. We’ve discussed the three singles, so now our attention turns to the live EP, which arrived yesterday.

the ocuntess of fife live EP cover art

The Countess OF Fife | UK | CD | 2020

The Countess Of Fife: Live UK – CD [2020]

  1. Humans Are A Bad Breed
  2. Take Me To The Grave With A Broken Heart
  3. Angel In My Pocket
  4. Don’t Dress Me Up

If the first song wasn’t one for our times, then I don’t know what else would be! The haunting interplay between Ms. Fife’s organ lamentations with Lord Mcdowall’s chunky, deep twang guitar set up the anguish of the lyric perfectly. I love how she decries people who are “possibly human” here. I have thoughts like that all of the time these days since there are so many things walking the earth who only look like humans. Their actions prove otherwise.

The jaunty country duet of “Take Me To The Grave With A Broken Heart” got off to a lively start with Lord Mcdowall trading verses with Fay over the powerful train rhythms from Lady Nora Noonan [drums] and Sir Thaddeus G. Pyecroft [bass]. This one was a country classic that skirted the edge of Matchbox-style rockabilly and some of the classic Johnny Cash sound from the band. The voices were glorious here as they nailed their aim of feisty country music before it got too far removed from its source. The breakdown in the middle eight was a thing of beauty.

The pensive “Angel In My Pocket” took a sidestep away from the guitar led sounds earlier with Fay’s organ leads taking center stage. The vocals here from all but bass player Pyecroft were powerful support for Fay’s lead vox. And the familiar “Don’t Dress Me Up” was the only song here that was not new to our ears, but it was still a great performance that really came across live. And they pulled off the unexpected cold ending of the song just as strongly. Play [and buy] it all below!

I was pleased to see that the band took the effort to actually have a CD fully manufactured for this release, as opposed to the CD-R that is common in the D.I.Y. market on Bandcamp. Sure, sure. I buy CD-Rs and gladly, but I’ll never have to worry about this disc failing to play over time. The glossy card sleeve also looks fabbo and the £5 cost for this one is a real bargain. Of course, it’s only £3.50 for a DL of MP3-lossless. The band wanted to get out this live EP in advance of their upcoming long player, so they’ve now got six songs out there in the wilds. It looks like their plan to establish a foothold in the classic country style of the late 60s is preceding apace. Now bring on that album. We’re all signed up!

– 30 –

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Great Webcasts With Martyn Ware Now Archived

martyn ware of human league and b.e.f.

Martyn Ware has a lot of history to recount

It’s a slow Tuesday. Got 2:30:00 with nothing else to do? Why not watch Martyn Ware being probed about his storied history as a founding member of Human League, B.E.F., and the Heaven 17? Not to mention a successful music producer and now, soundscape designer? We actually saw these as part of the original webinars held online for the events in the last few months, but they have been archived now for anyone to watch without an invite. The program was held in two parts. The first telling of the early days of Human League up to the point where he and Ian Craig Marsh left the band. Ware, along with moderator and Ditto.tv co-founder Mike Wilson, regales us with tales of the Post-Punk era as writ by one of its movers and shakers. Part one is below.

Martyn Ware – Big Boost Mondays from ditto.tv on Vimeo.

Then the follow up happened last month and covered what Ware did after he was excised from Human League. This second half covered the foundation of the British Electrical Foundation as a production company, along with the concurrent development of Heaven 17 as an ongoing concern that rapidly took all of his time. Also his big time production career, and his founding of environmental sound company Illustrious, with fellow traveler Vince Clarke. I had included links in a comment earlier, but these should stand alone as a post to make them easier to find. Part two is below.

Martyn Part 2 from ditto.tv on Vimeo.

While I was well versed in the history of Mr. Ware, I managed to learn quite a few new wrinkles by watching these and I felt that it was worth my time. Before covid-19, the first of these was scheduled as a physical event to tie in with the Heaven 17 show of the first two Human League albums that was delayed until September 14th, and very probably, won’t even take place then. Then as Ditto.tv are tech oriented, they re-envisioned the events as online webinars and now they’ve been edited into succinct videos for our enjoyment.

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