Some will say it is Prince‘s best album, while others say he needed to make this album at a time when his sales were gradually declining to the point of BATMAN stupidity. No one really wanted to hear him molest Kim Basinger with honey and chocolates, right?
Anyway, Prince found the success he felt he deserved with 1984’s Purple Rain, and rather than repeat the formula and create “Let’s Go Crazy Once More” and “When Doves Fly Higher”, he went down his own path. His core audience was those who bought his records and went to his concerts between 1978-1983, who didn’t mind seeing someone who sang with a high falsetto, did it with a trenchcoat and bikini briefs, and combined a wide range of styles that was as diverse as the musicians he brought on tour with him. Purple Rain cracked the pop mainstream that “Little Red Corvette”, with its heavy rotation on MTV, started to do in 1983. In the process, Warner Bros. Records had hoped for similar success with his next project, but Purple Rain became the spark for an incredible string of music that was based on Prince’s and only Prince’s terms, for better or worse. Sales would gradually decline for him, despite success with hit singles for “Kiss”, “U Got The Look”, and “Alphabet St.”, and the failure of the Graffiti Bridge project and somewhat lackluster music on the Batman soundtrack made his label, fans, and critics reconsider. Prince may have become his own muse, at least in the eyes of everyone outside of his inner circle, but if he could prove himself as a moneymaking artist, then it can be said that he needed to make his “owners” some money. Thus, a hit-worthy album of accessible music was made, to the delight of his label and fans.
Away from the initial seeds that would lead to his name change and writing the word “SLAVE” on his face, Diamonds And Pearls was very much Prince doing what he knows how to do: make great music. Even with songs that would lead to another level of success he hadn’t seen in a few years, he was still doing it on his own terms. For his birthday in 1991 he released a promotional 12″ single for “Gett Off”, and fans felt this was him getting as nasty as he used to be. He never shied away from songs with sexual overtunes, but this seemed a bit raw, almost as if he was trying to say “yeah rappers, you can be explicit, but I can still do it with a bit of preferred attitude”, and he did it as if he was seducing a woman that no rapper could ever have. A few months later, Prince, The New Power Generation, hundreds of dancers and sexy people gathered on stage to perform the song on the MTV Video Music Awards, and proceeded to show how doing “23 positions in a one night stand” actually looks and sounds. Working on that zipper? Here, I’ll show you my ass. Goofy, stupid, hilarious, but very much Prince. These were mere promotional announcements that Prince was not to be messed with, and if he could put his ass out (figuratively and literally) for all the world to see, it was time people actually listened.
The spectacle may have been one thing, but Diamonds And Pearls was meant to be listened to. If you’re going to look at Prince, he’ll give you something to look at, but with vision came the sound, and he would deliver this using the many elements that made Prince an important and influential musician in the 80’s. A new decade was upon us, and he was not about to stop and allow his creativity to be taken by a new generation of music, not when he felt he had the Power to do to. The album started with “Thunder”, which brought on the excitement of fear through a weather condition, but touching on his religious and spiritual beliefs without being forceful. He went played on the idea of him being a gentleman and scholar, but still being playful about it with songs like “Strollin'” (which should’ve been a single), “Jughead”, and “Willing And Able”.
The album would help create four singles: “Gett Off”, “Cream”, “Diamonds And Pearls” and “Money Don’t Matter 2Night” (the UK would release “Thunder” as the album’s fifth and final single.”) Even with the hits, some of his best work remained to be the album tracks, and at a time when poeple still cared for the album format as a whole, people loved Diamonds And Pearls as a whole, enough for it to hit #1 on Billboar’s R&B Album Chart, #3 on the Pop Albums Chart, and #2 in England. (Even though most view Graffiti Bridge as a failure, the soundtrack album did hit #1 in England, which means it did better than Diamonds And Pearls, if only by a statistical spot.)
By the end of the year, it seemed a lot of music was being celebrated, or in truth, music as a whole was being celebrated. Prince made a “comeback” (even though he never left), the rock world loved Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and A Tribe Called Quest were causing permanent head nods with the release of their second album, The Low End Theory, proving that the sophomore slump did not exist for them. Prince could not be messed with, and yet when those who loved him wanted more of the same, he did this with a few hits of something new. For those who understood how he wanted to challenge himself and simply create music for the sake of creating and discovering, this was just Prince’s 13th album that proved to be his lucky number. While he would continue to create hits for a few more years, including “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World” released as a symbol for his name, this would be one of the last “big events” the mainstream would see from him. Yet what he was able to do in 13 years (there’s the number again) was something that a lot of artists continue to strive for.
It’s 2011, and not only are we celebrating the 20th anniversary of this album, but the fact Prince continues to push himself, the envelope, and his limits, 33 years after being signed to a major label. Some of his choices in what he has released can be considered questionable, but he has put himself at a pace that leaves everyone out of the territory he has created for himself. He would eventually return to making “hit worthy” music, but creating music for yourself isn’t about being a slave to the hit. It’s about creating and not stopping, and fortunately with Diamonds And Pearls, he didn’t stop.