Thursday, August 12, 2010

8/12/10 - Songs of the Summer, #43-44: "When Doves Cry" and "Everybody Want To Rule The World" "

The Master List

Top Song of 1984: "When Doves Cry" by Prince

Things end badly for perfectionist pop maestros. Look at Billy Corgan, who wrote some of the most dynamic singles of the grunge era and wound up kicking out every member of his band except for his otherwordly drummer, who then quit because he wasn't satisfied playing music w/Corgan anymore. Look at Rivers Cuomo, who, after serving as the architect of two of the best albums of the '90s, successfully drove Matt Sharp out of his band, turned Weezer into a kitschy pop band with songs as emotionally deep as the average Katy Perry hit. Look at Brian Wilson, who went insane for decades after composing his impossibly gorgeous teenage symphonies. Look at Phil Spector, who brandished a gun at the Ramones and later killed a woman after overseeing the sonic blueprint of an entire pop movement.

Prince has settled into Cuomo territory: he seems happy, he fills stadiums, he makes money hand over fist, and his muse has completely betrayed him. The thing about being an exacting pop genius (I would guess), is that you have to be willing to say "screw you, I'm right", as you pursue the sounds that only you can hear in your head, but that same impulse means that you aren't going to listen to anyone when you start turning out crap. After all, when that muse is on target, you turn out something like "Geek U.S.A.", or "Say It Ain't So", or "Then He Kissed Me", or "When Doves Cry", so why should you listen to anybody tell you anything?

"When Doves Cry" is a great song, first and foremost. Prince is, if anything, underrated as a songwriter (and as a guitarist: listen to that first guitar solo; the man can shred when he wants to, which on record is rarely). The construction of the song is immaculate; it's one of those songs that could easily be played on an acoustic guitar; the melodies are strong enough to support it, twisting against the syncopation in the verses and then opening up for the naggingly insistent chorus. The keyboard riff that comes in after the chorus, too, adds another hook to what is already an immensely catchy section. Lyrically, too, the Freudian depths suggested by the mother/father lines give the song a charged, dark undercurrent. For all his freakery, and probably because of it, Prince has always been interesting. When he paired that with his formerly unerring pop instincts, he was pretty much unstoppable.

Which just makes it even more amazing that he took the bass out of this song, just as he did with "Kiss". For an '80s pop song, that's absurdly ballsy. The bass carries the funk, and for a dance-influenced/oriented tune, bass is by far a more important instrument than guitar (or keyboards). But to Prince, it sounded too conventional, so he took it out. It was his call, after all, since he played every single instrument on the song. This kind of damn-the-torpedoes thinking would later lead him to record a triple album described by a review on as "so full of filler and misguided ideas that it actually makes nowadays bubblegum pop albums look cohesive". So it goes in the life of the pop perfectionist: sublimity leading to putridity.

Top Song if 1985: "Everybody Want to Rule The World" by Tears for Fears.

I hate this song. I like some music from the '80s, but this is a perfect example of the kind of plastic '80s synth-pop that drives me crazy. What do I hate about it? Let me see...

  1. The fake, hollow, fake synth bass. God I hate that synth bass sound. It just screams robotic artificiality. Sucks the feeling right out of any song in which it appears. Music is so often a way to communicate messy feelings, and that boinging synth bass just leeches the feeling right out, underpinning the whole song with the sound of something tinny and false.
  2. The overdramatic vocals slathered in reverb. Again, all technique, no heart.
  3. The drums or drum machine, I can't even tell which. Along with the synth-bass, it adds to the mechanical, bloodless feel of the song.
  4. Overuse of keyboards. It's true that I'm a keyboard skeptic, nonetheless, some of my favorite songs prominently feature keyboards/synthesizers ("Just What I Needed", "Baba O'Reilly", "I Just Threw Out The Love Of My Dreams"), but this is good example of a song that suffers from too much keyboard goop. Just a whole lot of rococo flourishes that clutter things up.
Haterade drank.

1 comment:

ariyele said...

this post is hilarious. you sound like you are the a fish plucked right out of the mainstream. LOVE LOVE LOVE the prince song HATE HATE HATE the tears for fears song.

the latter does have a catchy melody line--zapped as it is by the synth sound. it struck me that some of it sounds like early Madonna. is it tears for fears's fault that they were making music in that tragic decade?