The spirit of Jimi Hendrix must surely smile down on Prince Rogers Nelson. Like Hendrix, Prince seems to have tapped into some extraterrestrial musical dimension where black and white styles are merely different aspects of the same funky thing. Prince’s rock & roll is as authentic and compelling as his soul and his extremism is endearing in a era of play-it-safe record production and formulaic hit mongering. “Purple Rain” may not yield another smash like last year’s “Little Red Corvette,” but it’s so loaded with life and invention and pure rock & roll thunder that such commercial considerations become moot. When Prince sings “Baby I’m a Star,” it’s a simple statement of fact.
the Hendrix connection is made overt here with the screaming guitar coda that ends “Let’s Go Crazy,” with the manic burst that opens “When Doves Cry” and in the title song, a space ballad that recalls “Angel” with its soaring guitar leads and a very Hendrixian lyrical tinge (“It’s time we all reach out for something new — that means you, too”). There are also constant reminders of Sly Stone in the ferocious bass lines and the hot, dance-conscious mix. But like Jimi and Sly, Prince writes his own rules. Some of his effects are singularly striking — note that eerie, atonal synthesizer touches that creep in at the end of “The Beautiful Ones” and the otherworldly backward-vocal montage in the frankly salacious “Darling Nikki” — and his vocals continue to be among the most adventurous and accomplished on the current scene. Prince also does wonderful things with string-section sounds, and his band — if it’s not actually him playing all the parts — burns throughout.
Anyone partial to great creators should own this record. Like Jimi and Sly, Prince is an original; but apart from that, he’s like no one else.