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-esque  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. And the relentless hi-hats would come back next album to add a very different energy to “I Would Die 4 U.”

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


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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5 Responses to Superdeluxe Box Of Prince’s “1999” Proves Nothing Succeeds Like Excess [part 4]

  1. Nice piece, thanks. I’m a fan of his Dirty Mind album in particular.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      the press music reviews – Welcome to the comments! “Dirty Mind” was the biggest game changer by any artist I can point to. “Prince” is a great R+B album with a few outliers to something else. “Dirty Mind” was far more than that. I think it’s a bigger leap than when Simple Minds followed “Life In A Day” with “Real To Real Cacophony.” Which is to say, I thought it was HUGE. That said, I preferred “Controversy” though it was merely incremental refinement. But albums 3-5 were the core of my Prince fandom, certainly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Interesting comparison between Prince and Simple Minds. RtRC is indeed marvellous. A big leap. Good call on Controversy, terrific little album. 1999 also great fun.


        • postpunkmonk says:

          the press music reviews – It was very ironic that Simple Minds felt the urge to cover “Sign O’ The Times” almost immediately in the marketplace. A real head scratcher that anyone would cover that particular Prince song, but it ensnared Heaven 17, also to their detriment. But I did enjoy Simple Minds recent live cover of “The Cross!” It helped that Sarah Brown was singing lead, of course.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes it turned up on the Street Fighting Years deluxe set recently didn’t it? Bizarre. Love that album. They were prone to a few interesting covers: Lou Reed’s Street Hassle if memory serves. You can see where some of these guys influences lie: Human League covered Mick Ronson’s Only After Dark on Travelogue.


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