Appreciation of Prince is always more fully rendered by the fluid movement of bodies. The clumsy groping of language seems particularly ill adapted to the task. 1999 demands to be expressed visually and physically. It has crossed my mind that I should simply depict the movements, fluid to the imagination of their purveyors, of a group of people in a dimmed living room, all of them slightly licentious with intoxication, all of them feeling the groove that is 1999. From time to time a few of them sneak away to safeguard their buzzes; others sneak away to be rid of whatever sexuality the dancing has not exorcised. No. That is an experience all too many of us know first hand and one that we are perhaps less than keen to relive. This album has insinuated itself into the drunken workings of a vast number of social and age groups, an all but comprehensive listing of sub-cultures in any number of countries.
There is Prince and then there is what is un-Prince. This is a point only magnified by the massive thrust of ephemeral dance songs churned out in the cocaine and synthesizer haze that was the 1980s. The adjective which most readily calls to mind Prince is “funky.” Second adjective: “sexual,” as in the eerie sexuality of “Little Red Corvette” and its creepy, Bolan-esque car/woman synthesis. “You must be a limousine” always sets my mind to wander the intricacies of this unification. In any case, these two commodities are very much in effect on 1999, which is really the best album to go to for a Prince fix. Soon after Purple Rain would turn him into an illimitable super star, but for the funk and the sex and the improvised dance party, it pales in comparison.
And maybe it is true that a lot of this sounds a bit dated, but it is also true that this criticism can be countered with an influx of intoxicant substances and the right group of people out to have a night of it. “Delirious” is ample evidence of this; with its weird Ghostbusters synth-line it begs to be thrown onto the slag heap of the ’80s, but the sheer indefinable brilliance of Prince saves it from this fate. It is, to be sure, an idiosyncratic brilliance and one which I would recommend only in small and widely-spaced doses at this juncture of human and musical history.
The core of the Prince argument, as stated on “Let’s Pretend We’re Married,” is “There ain’t nothing wrong if it feels all right.” This is the departure point for the entire Prince experience. It is something one has to convince herself of before she can fully give herself up to the necessary mayhem demanded by 1999. Let us not forget that Prince had the gall and astonishing foresight to write an anthem for the procession into the 21st century over a decade before it was necessary. And let us remember him for that in addition to the odd situations that we may have been in when his records were playing and playing and playing.