Saturday, June 21, 2008

My listening choices at the recent not-so-Listening Club were both from the early '90s. The first is Living Colour's "Solace of You," from 1990's Time's Up. I still recall with some fondness an argument I had in Speech class in 10th grade, about how Living Colour was awesome (I believe I called Time's Up my "favorite record of last year," as if anyone else in my high school gave a rat's ass about such a distinction), with two girls who'd clearly grown up on the Carpenters and didn't like rap. (No, we didn't argue about Living Colour being hip-hop or not--they were bland, not stupid, or deaf.) That's not the way I feel now; Chuck Eddy's complaints about Corey Glover's lyrics and voice have registered audibly for me when I've heard the band more recently, but what's funny is that aside from "Cult of Personality," which had the distinction of being a hit, unlike everything else Living Colour ever did, the one song that retains any serious impression (besides the dynamic shift of "Time's Up," from hardcore to something near "Running with the Devil") is "Solace of You." It's the band's Afropop song--essentially highlife, with Vernon Reid devising one of my favorite guitar riffs ever, patterned plainly and lovingly on King Sunny Ade--and placed next to last on the album. The lyrics, as I remembered listening to the song again for the first time in years, were denoted on my cassette lyric sheet as being in character--the imprisoned Nelson Mandela singing to Winnie. When I was 15, I was moved; at 33, I winced at the memory of being moved so deeply by what I realize now isn't that uncommon a gesture. The bridge is still a pretty wonderful piece of work, though: "Got to go inside, back where it started/Back to the beginning, 'cause that's where my heart is." I'd probably listen to anybody singing that with an open ear. And that riff--everybody should hear that riff.

The second choice is one I'm even happier to have rediscovered: Prince & the New Power Generation's "Blue Light," from 1992, off the album that shall not be named. (Bob Christgau calls it "Prince XV.") This is his reggae song, but it's also his smart and funny adult contemporary song, his "Something to Talk About" in reverse. Topic: woman isn't nearly as kinky as man; man pleads for blue bulb to give him a little something extra to work with. Lines stand out: "I tell each and every one of my friends/That the love we make is really pretty rude/But they don't believe me/'Cause it's written all over my face/Like Evian and the deep blue sea/You and me got different tastes." Let's stop on that first line: since when the hell does Prince have friends? You mean like dudes who come over for barbecue and the Timberwolves on the big screen? That aren't on his payroll? I wonder. (No one anymore could afford the mileage all the way out to Chanhassen anyway, if in fact he hasn't completely pulled up stakes to L.A.) I also only recently noticed the Evian line, and its double meaning. He's a lot sneakier a lyricist than he's generally given credit for, especially by people who stopped listening in the '90s. The most overtly Prince-like lines come near the end chorus: "We need to get wild again/Like it was when we first met/Close your eyes and count to ten/And when you open 'em/I'll be naked with nothing but a smile on." Even that's a change--the emphasis isn't on the nakedness, but the smile.

So of course I love it: it shades in the persona of Prince, Growing Artist. And that's why you've probably never heard (of) it: no one outside the purple cabal gives a shit. "Blue Light" is like straightforward Joni: theme, setting, dialogue, wit, chorus for singing along. There's also a weedy sax. (Or as Rodney put it, a smooth-jazz sax.) And it's part of a Prince mini-genre, domestic comedy songs. (Parts of Emancipation and Musicology both qualify here.)

Reggae: "Blue Light" is basically electronics-enhanced live-band lovers rock. Its overtly JA touches are basically stock (rolling-downbeat snares, wormy synthesizers a la early-'80s Taxi), and the groove is agreeable. The sax follows the melody in chunks on the pre-choruses and choruses, and it's a little undermixed, as it should be. The bridge has Prince whining his guitar solo along with his playing, a nice touch. Very breathy backing vocals. The man studies his sources.

On the album, "Blue Light" is followed by the not-remotely-convincing robo-groove of "I Wanna Melt With U." On its own, it breathes its own air. Someone ought to cover it, and rescue it.