Warner Brothers Records, 1981
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/03/1998
[READ THIS FIRST.]
Throughout his entire career, Prince has remained an enigma -- undoubtedly this is exactly the way he planned it. One minute singing about wanting to get parallel with a member of the opposite sex, the next worshipping God, the next minute kicking into some genre that you wouldn't expect him to even touch, Prince's eclectic tastes have worked both for and against him.
I had planned on reviewing Prince's latest release Crystal Ball, but I drained the Pierce Archives Acquisition & Budweiser Fund holding an Irish wake for Harry Caray. So, once the hangover cleared up, it was back into the Archives, carefully stepping over the occasional drunk that had crashed for the night, and out with Prince's 1981 release Controversy.
In one sense, the title of this album could have been Prince's answer to his critics after appearing on the cover of his last album Dirty Mind wearing only a coat, black briefs and a smile. This album also bore witness to the "conception" of PRince's backing band The Revolution; members Lisa Coleman, Matt Fink and Bobby "Z" make guest appearances on this album. (If memory serves me right, this marked the first time Prince utilized outside musicians on any of his projects - please e-mail me if I am wrong.)
The title track is a definite nod to the worlds of funk rock and dance music, though the sparse arrangement of the track leaves it crying out for more. It's still a really good track, though one wonders why Prince worked in a recital of "The Lord's Prayer" during one of the bridges. (Then again, I guess I should just remember the name of the song - that could explain things.)
As risque as the title may seem, "Sexuality" is really a pretty mild - and, at times, funny - track. But the action gets pretty hot and sticky just one track later, on the soul-laced "Do Me, Baby" - a track which can only be truly appreciated through headphones. Prince has always been an expert on forming mental pictures with the asides in his songs, and this cut is no exception - it almost distracts from a good musical performance, and I don't think that was the goal.
The second half of Controversy is the most confusing - three of the five tracks I'm truly at a loss to explain. "Ronnie Talk To Russia" is a short slab of funk rock that is one of the few times I've heard Prince get political - good thing, too, 'cause this track really is a throw-away. The closing basket of funk, "Jack U Off," is another one which isn't as bad as the PMRC would have wanted us to believe it was, and is another song whose inclusion is questionable. The third, "Annie Christian,"... what is this track supposed to be about?
The remaining two songs, "Private Joy" and "Let's Work," are just as good as anything on the first side of the album, and are worth checking out. "Let's Work" is one of the finer moments of funk Prince had provided to that point in his career.
If anything, Controversy was the bridge between his funk/soul days and his quickly-approaching dance-rock days of intense popularity. No doubt this shift confused some of Prince's earliest fans, but looking at it 17 years later, it almost seems like a natural shift, as have many of Prince's genre shifts over the years.
Controversy isn't as scandalous as we've been led to believe, and it has some confusing moments on it, but it is still an enjoyable way to whittle away 40 minutes, and will please fans of Prince. Even if you're not a big fan, it's worth checking out - it might just start you on the road to all things of the Purple One.