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Prince’s ‘Lovesexy’ Turns 25

Prince Lovesexy
Warner Brothers

On May 10, 1988, Prince won a personal battle between good and evil with the release of his 10th album, ‘Lovesexy.’ Unfortunately, he lost much of the record-buying public in the process.

Not permanently, mind you — millions came flocking back for his ‘Batman’ soundtrack the next year. But this deeply spiritual, reportedly hastily assembled album marked the first time the public at large failed to follow Prince further down the rabbit hole since he conquered the world somewhere between ’1999′ and ‘Purple Rain.’

Of course, it doesn’t seem like sales potential was foremost on Prince’s mind when he created ‘Lovesexy.’ One look at the cover, featuring the artist completely nude in a “sure to be censored or hidden by retailers” manner, makes that quite clear. (It gets worse if you really think about what’s used as the stigma of the flower behind him.)

The photo, like the album itself, is designed to celebrate a spiritual rebirth within Prince, and it seems this awakening came after a moral crisis of some magnitude. Apparently stung by criticism that he had left the urban audience behind — those who were the first to embrace him — Prince planned to follow up 1987′s genre-hopping double album masterpiece ‘Sign ‘O’ the Times’ with a straight-up funk album.

However, this so-called ‘Black Album’ — so named because it was going to be released in a plain black cover, with no mention of the artist’s name or even song titles — was withdrawn shortly before its planned release. The story goes that Prince had a crisis of conscience over the lyrical subject matter on the album, which featured unusually dark, near-glorifying shades of violence and erotica. There’s gunplay and murder on ‘Bob George’ and a (tongue-in-cheek) public sex-for-money solicitation — “I’ll pay the usual fee” — to a famous model on ‘Cindy C.’

Suddenly deciding this was not the energy he wanted to put out into the world, Prince instead quickly assembled ‘Lovesexy,’ a song cycle chronicling internal and external battles between right and wrong and extolling the virtues of positivity and religion. Or as he puts it in the soul-baring, dramatically escalating ballad ‘Anna Stesia,’ “Love is God, God is love, girls and boys love God above.”

Although there are bold and exciting songs on ‘Lovesexy,’ including the dance-rock-rap genius of ‘Alphabet St.’ and the melancholy ‘I Wish U Heaven,’ overall the material wasn’t as strong as Prince’s previous string of classics that fans had come to expect. ‘Dance On’ tries too hard to make big social comments, and the overly earnest ‘Positivity’ sinks under the strain of attempting to create a new rallying slogan for the “New Power Generation” Prince hoped to build.

The decision to sequence the CD as one continuous track (thereby not allowing listeners to skip to hear a particular song) made it even harder for people to connect with this record on their own terms. Accordingly, ‘Lovesexy’ did not sell nearly as well as its predecessors, with only the undeniable ‘Alphabet St.’ making a permanent dent in the public consciousness.

Still, it’s an important part of Prince’s history, and one that hopefully will be revisited someday with a deluxe box set. Until then, there’s some great audio and video from this era that deserves to be sought out — start with the 12″ mixes of ‘Glam Slam’ and ‘I Wish U Heaven.’ The instrumental climax of the former sets lush, swirling strings against spare, beeping keyboards in a way that would make Mozart giggle in delight. The latter is really three distinct songs in one, complete with gospel choirs and a fantastic guitar solo.

But the real prize, which shamefully has never been released (legally) on DVD, is the full-length concert DVD from the ‘Lovesexy’ tour which originally aired on German television. It features Prince and his amazing late ’80s band expanding the good vs. evil battle featured on the album by dividing hits from throughout his career into two distinctly themed sets. This all takes place on a huge in-the-round stage featuring a bedroom, basketball court and fully mobile ’66 (’67?) Ford Thunderbird, and it’s as great as you’d expect.

Next: Top 10 Prince Songs

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