Picture if you will: it’s 1986 and a teenage me has a cinema entirely to himself while watching a brand new release. This remains the only time in my life this has ever happened. The film in question? Under The Cherry Moon, starring and directed by Prince. His first film since Purple Rain, co-starring Jerome out of The Time, Kristen Scott Thomas and Steven Berkoff, it’s a black and white romantic comic tragedy set in a curiously timeless south of France (It’s the Eighties! No, it’s the Thirties!). My solo-viewing experience is apparently repeated the world over: the film dies on its arse and is now largely forgotten.
Happily the soundtrack album is something else entirely. While the music that makes up Parade is indeed drawn from the movie’s soundtrack, lyrically and thematically the connection is at best oblique. The character name Christopher Tracy is held over from the film but there’s no obvious link to the narrative.
In my youth I was all about the guitar and Prince didn’t disappoint, quickly becoming one of my very favourite players and it was largely his harder rocking output that drew me in. Parade, then, should have put me off – after the guitar-heavy double whammy of Purple Rain and Around The World In A Day, suddenly there’s hardly any evidence of the man himself playing lead guitar with the album’s principal flavours being jazz, pop, psychedelia and even folk. Of course I loved it.
The production is a massive, kitchen sink affair, bossed by dense percussion melding human (Prince, Bobby Z., Sheila E.) and machine, while horns, acoustic guitars, keyboards, strings and voices all have at it without ever sounding cramped. Inevitably all of this is based on a foundation of multi-tracked instrumental backing by Prince on his tod. Nevertheless, The Revolution is in full flight here, with Wendy (Melvoin) handling much of the guitar work and Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss shining on “horn” and trumpet respectively. And the songs – damn! There’s no obvious bowing to commercialism here, the tracks fading through each other, opening with the summery Christopher Tracy’s Parade, lyrically ambiguous psych-pop at its best before giving way to the funkier New Position which in turn gives way to the almost unsettlingly odd I Wonder U, percussive and moody. There is balladry here too but it never descends into the syrupy soul gloop Prince could be guilty of from time-to-time. The album’s pervading quirkiness and a strong European sensibility seems to lift the balladic material – Under The Cherry Moon is effectively old-school Charles Aznavour crooning given a falsetto twist and Venus de Milo an unexpected and lush instrumental, while Prince channels his inner Serge Gainsbourg for Do U Lie?, which leaves no accordion unturned in its bid to evoke a Parisian cafe vibe.
Elsewhere there is one of the great track pairings, with the deeply funky hit Girls and Boys exploding into the thunderous Life Can Be So Nice. Great stuff. Mountains, kicking off side two (or, “End”, side one being “Intro”), is power pop on a Phil Spector level and Anotherloverholenyohead is surprisingly intense funk rock. Kiss is the biggest hit here, and it holds up perfectly, the stripped down David Z. arrangement recalling When Doves Cry and Wendy’s enviable rhythm chops coupled with her classic wah-guitar break making everything just so.
The album closes with a long (near seven minutes) and genuinely affecting acoustic ballad, Sometimes It Snows In April:
“Tracy died soon after a long fought civil war, just after I’d wiped away his last tear
I guess he’s better off than he was before, a whole lot better off than the fools he left here
I used to cry for Tracy because he was my only friend – those kind of cars don’t pass you every day
I used to cry for Tracy because I wanted to see him again but sometimes, sometimes life ain’t always the way”
Something of a left turn, Sometimes It Snows In April is a sparsely arranged live-in-the-studio performance by Prince, Wendy and Lisa (Coleman) which wears its Joni Mitchell influences with pride. Still, it somehow manages to organically round out what really is a perfectly sequenced album. The temptation is just to flip the tape and listen over – which I did.
Like most of Prince’s material, Parade is readily available on CD or download. Although not in the commercial league of Purple Rain, it did sell in its millions, enough certainly to ensure that relatively inexpensive vinyl and cassette copies can be had online or from your local second-hand wreckastow. I got my copy of the tape – in good order complete with nice fold out inner to accommodate the notes and artwork from the gatefold LP package – for just a couple of quid online.