Prince, ‘1999 Super Deluxe Edition': Album Review
When Prince started recording in 1999 in 1982, he wasn't a superstar yet. But that didn't stop him from carrying himself like one.
It wasn't long before he was the household name he always destined himself to be. There were hurdles along the way, but after 1999's release in October 1982 -- and the subsequent hit singles "Little Red Corvette" and "Delirious," which finally gave Prince the Top 10 hits he'd been yearning for -- they all seemed like a part of a distant past.
The world was wide open, and that's the sense one gets when listening to the five-CD Super Deluxe Edition of Prince's breakthrough album, an expanded journey through the artist's mind that also includes the more visceral sensation of a concert recorded just a month after the album's release.
The 11-track, 70-minute double album, remastered here, is still an electric ball of energy, paving the way for later decade masterworks like Purple Rain and Sign 'O' the Times. Prince was on the cusp of something huge with 1999, and nearly every track rings like a warning bell that He Has Arrived. There's an assuredness that borders on cockiness at times, but he backs it up almost every step of the way.
The original LP remains the centerpiece, but it's the additional tracks -- ranging from different mixes and B-sides to two discs of vault recordings -- that prop up the Super Deluxe. Like 2017's Purple Rain deep dive, the extended 1999 uncovers a wealth of previously unreleased songs that adds to both the album's and the artist's legacies.
Early versions of "International Lover" and "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)" reveal that Prince had clear ideas about where the songs were headed from the start. Working with a band for the first time on record, he guaranteed a richer and fuller sound than what's found on his four previous, and mostly solo, recordings. The results were the most accomplished album in the 23-year-old's already impressive career at that point.
The album's tour, documented here in a show from Detroit, likewise demonstrates his strengths as a young bandleader, as he leads the Revolution through an air-tight set made up of earlier favorites ("Controversy," "Head") and new cuts (a breathtaking "How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore," "Little Red Corvette," which he dedicates to "all the fast girls").
Prince once bragged about having another album ready for release almost immediately after 1999. You can readily make one from the outtakes here, and it would be pretty good. Standouts like "Do Yourself a Favor" highlight the two discs of outtakes, as do songs that wouldn't sound out of place on 1999, like "Turn It Up" and "Feel U Up," which was eventually released as the B-side to 1989's "Partyman."
Others -- such as the Hendrix-inspired guitar workout "Rearrange" -- are distancing enough detours from the pop-funk R&B he was known for that they'd likely turn off some fans expecting more hits along the lines of "I Wanna Be Your Lover" and "Uptown." Still others (instrumental "Colleen," the nearly 11-minute "Purple Music") sound like works in progress that the late musician probably never would have authorized for release in his lifetime. But that doesn't mean they don't deserve to be heard.
Back when it came out, 1999 appeared to be something from the near future. And in a way it was. Not even the mass commercial appeal of Purple Rain or Sign 'O' the Times' restless genre jumping broke new ground the way 1999 did. Nearly 40 years later, it remains Prince's most adventurous album. He took some big chances, as the finished record and its many outtakes attest. With his vaults now pried open, expect more expanded releases in the years to come. But take note: It will be hard to top this one.
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