LDut of the blue, into the 'Black Album'
By TOM ERLEWINE
ew albums achieve the notoriety
nce's legendary unreleased "The
lack Album." Originally slated for
lease in November of 1987, Prince
The Black Album
ulled it at the last minute; he never
ve a clear reason why. All the copies
fthe album were reportedly destroyed,
though a few managed to leak out.
aturally, scores ofbootlegs were made
fthe record. By 1990, it arguably was
e most widely-heard bootleg of all
me, surpassing such classics as the
eachBoys' "Smile,"theBeatles' "Get
' and Bob Dylan's "Great White
Today, "The Black Album" is offi-
ally released. Unlike Dylan's compi-
tion of "The Basement Tapes" or the
each Boys' bastardized "Smiley
mile," "The Black Album" is being
leasedin its original form-no name
i the cover, no pictures, nothing but
ange song titles on ablack disc. None
the songs have been cut or altered
* the original version. And it will
ly be available through January.
aturally, the release is being hyped
beyond belief. Warner Brothers is tak-
ing out fifteen-second television ads,
featuring nothing but a black screen;
the video for "When 2 R in Love" is
also completely black, as are the maga-
Most explanations of the record's
aborted release claim Prince believed
the album was morally bankrupt, ob-
scene and dark, which doesn't make
much sense -- this is the man that
broke all the rules with the sexually
explicit "Dirty Mind" in 1980. The
most logical explanation behind the
album's non-releaseis thatWarner was
still trying to milk singles from the
brilliant "Sign'O the Times" and didn't
want to release anew record so quickly.
So, it's quite ironic that "The Black
Album"is finally being released amere
three months after Prince's last album,
"Come." "Come" was a flop. Not only
were the sales mediocre, but the album
was nothing more than a holding pat-
tern for Prince. Similarly, "The Black
Album" was not amajorbreakthrough;
after the genre-smashing pop, rock and
funk of "Sign 'O the Times," it was
actually a regression.
As the title suggests, "The Black
Album" is Prince's first conscious at-
tempt to appeal to a Black audience.
Since "Dirty Mind,"Princemoved rap-
idly away from the conventions of both
Black and whitepop. After themassive
success of "Purple Rain" in 1984, he
retreated into his music, making two
bizarre, psyche-bending pseudo-psy-
chedelic records-"Around the World
in a Day" and "Parade." "Sign 'O the
Times" rocked and funked harder than
either of the previous records, yet it
stretched boundaries harder - and
more successfully -than anything he
has ever recorded.
Everything was fine except for the
sales; hejust wasn't selling records like
he used to. Not only that, but his street
credibility was suffering; many listen-
ers claimed he didn't have the funk
anymore. So, Prince decided to make
his first all-funk record -"The Black
Taken at a purely musical level,
"The Black Album" is pretty much all
thrills. From the sleazy, fast groove of
"Le Grind" to the more relaxed album
closer, "Rockard in a Funky Place," it
is certainly an enjoyable album. No-
body has written a lust anthem quite as
infectious as the insistent "Cindy C,"
which was recorded well before Cindy
Crawford was internationally famous.
"2 Nigs United 4 West Compton" is a
blistering instrumental that holds its
own with the hottest James Brown
instrumentals. "When 2 R in Love,"
"Lovesexy," is a lush but explicit bal-
lad which demonstrates how poormost
contemporary R&B songwriting actu-
ally is. Most of the time, Prince reigns
in his tendency for the bizarre and the
psycho-sexual. Over the course of eight
songs, he does slip occasionally.
lous as its title; while the groove is
good, the lyrics are absurd, not sensual.
Ultimately, it's a throwaway, which
isn't the case with the album's most
profane track, "Bob George."
"Bob George" ranks as one of the
strangest things Prince has ever com-
mitted to tape. Over a spare synthe-
sized drum beat reminiscent of "Sign
'O the Times," Prince has distorted his
voice almost beyond recognition. It's a
deep, growlingmurmur-it's thevoice
of a big stupid, violent, jealous boy-
friend. Throughoutthe song herambles
on, threatening his girlfriend for cheat-
ing on him with Bob George, a rock
star manager. His client? Prince. Or as
he's called in the song, "that skinny
motherfucker with ahigh voice." Most
of the song's jokes are obvious but a
couple of lines are wickedly clever and
the groove is muscular and menacing.
"Bob George" offers the weirdest and
best pleasures on "The Black Album,"
as well as the biggest laughs.
Actually, the biggest laughs on the
album come from "Dead On It,"
Prince's hopelessly dated attack on rap.1
Powered by a relentlessly clunky:
mechanized beat, the track is the weak-;
est slice of funk on the record. Coupled;
with Prince's clumsy rapping and em-
He's not a woman or a man. He's something that you'll never comprehend.
barrassing lyrics ("The only good rap-
per is one that's dead ... on it"), the
song shows that Prince was beginning
to lose touch.
Seven years later, "'The Black Al-
bum" is still enormously entertaining.
It's true that it isn't nearly as obscene
and profane as gangsta rap -hell, it's
not even as shocking as Prince's own
"Head" or "Sister," a joyful ode to
incest. Some of the music sounds dated
but most of it is wonderfully relaxed
and off-the-cuff; it's music for a good
time, nothing more and nothing less.
Then again, it wasn't meant to be any-
thing more than that. But sometimes all
you need is a little "Le Grind" with
"Cindy C," and nothing but the raun-
chy funk of "The Black Album" will
do. Pickitup while you have thechance.
Harding has a solid bass for his songs
a, what big eyes you have!" Wrong fairy tale, but they both involve hungry males and vulnerable little girls.
o mracle on this predictable 34th Street'
By SHIRLEY LEE
The rendering of the classic
firacle On 34th Street" explores the
ce directors pay for artistic vision.
Directed by Les Mayfield;
'eite the highbrow, cerebral sound
ector Les Mayfield's approach
trite and annoying.
"Miracle On 34th Street" concerns
self foremost with questions of faith
d miracles outside ourrealm of think-
ig. Chronicling the story of Kris
ho believes he is the genuine article,
"Miracle On 34th Street" bombards
the viewer with a predictable storyline
and corny dialogue. Kringle subse-
quently turns the thoroughly pragmatic
world of Susan Walker - a skeptical
6-year-old child - into one of beliefs
Walker has doubts about
childhood's most enduring miracle -
Santa Claus. As with most films based
around a holiday theme and little cre-
ativity, "Miracle On 34th Street" ex-
amines the importance of family and
one's hope for the future, stumbling on
all of the above.
The cliches and the melodrama of
putting Santa's existence on trial fly in
and out the door like a spray of gunfire,
each bullet missing its mark. Mayfield
encourages his actors to embellish and
ad-lib, which only serves to weaken his
overarching vision. One can effortlessly
predict the dialogue, the repetitive
messages, as well as the images ema-
nating from every frame of film.
Cinematography of skyscrapers
towering over the massive crowds in
The Big Apple and vivid images of
Manhattan are beautifully presented.
Principal photography on "Miracle On
34th Street" took place in New York's
Central Park, closing down nine blocks
ofCentral ParkWest. Foramere $6.50,
"Miracle On 34th Street" plummets
you into a world so charming and en-
rapturing that your first instinct is to
pinch yourself, hoping this is all but a
dream. You need not scrunch around
looking for extra cash to experience
New York firsthand during its illustri-
ous Christmas festivity.
Yet, the general boredom of
"Miracle On 34th Street" is alike that
of watching a rerun of a National Geo-
graphic documentary, pleasing to the
eyes but thoroughly dull. It is the an-
chor of a show dedicated to spoiled-
rotten children of the '90s.
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET is
playing at Showcase.
BY JOSH HERRINGTON
There is something intrinsically
satisfying when artists take the chance
to collaborate, especially artists aseclec-
tic as bassist Rob Wasserman and
acoustic British folk singerJohn Wesley
For Wasserman, collaboration is
nothing new; he has spent the last five
years recording his album "Trios," a
diverse experimental work recorded
almost completely live. In spite of
Wasserman's vigorous enthusiasm to
merge his musical gifts with those of
others, it only recently that he has
teamed up with Harding to write, tour
and possibly record.
After lengthy discussions about
their respective crafts, similarities be-
tween the two musicians are evident; in
particular, they both bring a sophisti-
cated fervor to their art. When speak-
ing of lyrical content, Harding feels
akin to "Bob Dylan. I like words; so
Harding attributes a lot of his eso-
teric themes to "the university (he at-
tended Cambridge University). Not that
it helped me be a musician, but I cer-
tainly learned some good stuff that I
don'tthinkanybody has put into songs.
I take some things from my reading.
They're all from my experience, but
my experience might not be something
that I actually experience, but rather
something that has filtered through into
Harding places himself in the role
of storyteller, outside of the ranks of
popular music, by substantive choice.
"I come from a long line of guys and
girls totin' acoustic guitars, so I guess
that means that I rarely sing about
things like women or love. I try not to
settle down for the clichd. Not just in
terms of 'Wow, man, that's so poetic!'
or anything -just getting to grips with
some ideas and concepts that are tough.
I only finish a song if it's testing me."
In spite of his anti-pop writing style,
there is little condescension here; he
has no problems with the colloquial
themes which generally infiltrate popu-
larmusic. "I enjoy it, actually," Harding
confessed. "It'sjust never been forme.
I know I could write a pop song, but I
just choose not to. I do (write one)
every now and then, except I don't like'
singing them. Other people like sing-
ing them, but I don't."
While Harding's eloquence reveals
itself through the description of his
thematic stance, Wasserman feels more
comfortable talking about technical
business. This is no surprise because
he's far from the garden-variety bass
player; he plays a six-string Clevinger
upright bass (among other brands of
uprights) -which requires skills much
different than those of ordinary bass
guitar playing - while remaining a
musician in the pop-rock genre.
"The first thing I had was a bass
guitar," Wasserman recalled. "It was
just something I had in high school. I
played in a garage band or something
like that - never went very far. But I
don't consider myself having started
bass playing until I got the upright,
causeI never really did very well on the
bass guitar. It's a different technique, a
For his latest album, "Trios,"
Wasserman took this feeling into the
studio with musicians ranging from
Brian Wilson and the Grateful Dead's
Bob Weir to Neil Young and Primus'
Les Claypool, for what amounted to a
huge musical experiment.
"It took a long time, 'cause I went
after people that I thought would sur-
vivemusically," hereflected. "Ilearned
a lot from each trio. Each one was its
own little world. The Willie thing
(Willie Dixon) was very inspiring. I
learned alot from that about limitations
- don't limit yourself, that is. From
Brian I learned emotional things. Bob
(Weir) was inspiring because it was so
much fun. In fact, the key word for
most of them is fun."
It was only recently that Harding
was brought into the picture, however.
"It's mostly a songwriting thing,"
Wasserman explained. "We met back-
stage at some concert. I was looking for
collaborators for this album I'm doing
with Bob Weir, a duo album. The con-
cept is to write new music with a lot of
great lyricists, and John was someone
I was meaning to approach about that.
And eventually we ended up writing
music and jamming." Harding, speak-
ing directly and sparsely as usual, said
of Wasserman, "He's very good. We
met a few times and then we decided to
do something about it."
As far as their current tour is con-
cerned, (this interview was taken an
hour before their first gig together)
Harding admitted that it is "a brave
thing to do artistically, because we
don't have a record out. We're just
hitting the hinterlands of America -
the central bit, the odd bit, the left bit
and the right bit - and seeing how
people respond to it."
If you didn't catch Wasserman and
Harding at the Blind Pig on Sunday,
you're going to have to wait a while to
hear them together (unless you happen
to be in Chicago tonight, where you can
see them at Park West). They do plan
on entering the studio soon, but pre-
cisely when the fruits of this artistic
relationship will be available at your
local music shop is uncertain.
Seeing as it is doubtful that this duo
will ever appear on MTV, keep a close
watch for their next project; the world
needs more musicians like these to
keep the studious elements of music
from sinking into the mire.
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