1991 – Paisley Park/ Warner Bros
Pop/ Rock/ Hip-Hop/ Funk/ Soul
Prince’s thirteenth studio album and first to bill his backing band The New Power Generation as equals marks a return to Prince’s rhythm and blues roots and a move away from his eighties dabblings with out and out pop music. That is not to say, however, that Diamonds And Pearls doesn’t have its fair share of dance floor beats and early nineties pop vibes, but at least the return of the rhythm is loudly audible over the top of it.
Beginning with Thunder one can hear the mess of influences that have been thrown at this piece of work. It’s got elements of pure rhythm and blues in the vocal lines which is actually really nice to hear, but this is tainted with the cavernous leftovers of eighties echoe effects and acid-house dance elements which really only serve to confuse the solid base of this track. I mean, when you’re this good at playing R’n’B why on earth would you try and hide it this much? The other cuts on the record follow also follow this worrying trend masking their well honed writing with the excesses that come with a studio full of gadgets and toys. The reverb flows thick, the vocal overlays muddle the actual singing, and the multitude of intrument lines drift forwards and backwards through the mix so that it’s actually rather difficult to focus specifically on any one and realize that each of the musicans on the record actually knows their craft.
None of this is helped by the fact that so many of the tracks run on for far longer than is good for them. I mean, five to six minutes with this kind of music makes it tend toward formlessness and rambling. The beats and hookes are there when listening to cuts like Cream and Willing And Able, but their length makes each of these musical tidbits so predictable by the end of the song that they become little more than a source of boredom.
I suppose, however, this is all a little harsh. Musically Diamonds And Pearls is, on the whole, very solid. The blues riffing in Strollin’ are pure and effective and the rap/breakbeat sections of the album (see Willing And Able and Get Off), while a case of obvious pandering, bring a smile to the lips. Yes, Prince is a bad rapper and his rhymes are awful, but he knows it and his trying is fun.
Still though, even after I find the elements of the record that do really work I can’t help but get disgruntled by the production. The overworking of the record just makes everything so distant and unconvincing. I don’t believe that Prince is a sex machine (judging by his gradiose posturing, perhaps he doesn’t either), I don’t believe that he really knows what funk is (his knowledgable references to James Brown indicate otherwise), but I do believe that his record company and producers want me to believe all of those things, and that just turns me off. There’s just so much jammed into every space of this music that it’s not allowed any room for breath or real soul, and the leads to it sounding far too constructed and eager for my tastes.
In summary then, I have to say that Prince’s Diamonds And Pearls is rather underwhelming. There is a lot of potential in the solid playing and riffing that goes on throughout the piece, but the undercurrent of arrogant posturing just forces all of the really interesting bits to take a backseat. Perhaps you might have some fun with it if you just wanted to mindlessly dance, but even then there are better records out there… hell, there are better Prince records out there if all you want to do is dance.
- US Promo 12″ – Diamonds & Pearls (guide2prince.org)
- Gangster Glam and Voyeurism: Prince & the New Power Generation – “Walk Don’t Walk” (Sound Affects) (popmatters.com)
- Prince w/ the NPG, 3rdEyeGirl at Paisley Park, Chanhassen, MN (10/05/13) concert review (weheartmusic.typepad.com)
- US Promo 12″ – Gett Off (guide2prince.org)
- Gangster Glam and Voyeurism: Prince & the New Power Generation – “Cream” (Sound Affects) (popmatters.com)
- Diamonds & Pearls DVD (guide2prince.org)