Of course it sucks beyond comprehension that Prince is dead, but if there’s any silver lining to that colossally mammoth black cloud, it’s that finally — finally! — the long-delayed deluxe reissue of “Purple Rain,” first announced in the spring of 2014, is finally here.
So the big question remains: is it everything fans had hoped? Well … no. Of course, it was never going to be possible to please everybody. The album itself remains a masterpiece, a blistering collection of rock and funk that represents Prince and his most famous backing band, the Revolution at their peak. The album and accompanying film dominated the cultural landscape of 1984, yielding dual chart-toppers in the brooding masterpiece of minimalist tension, “When Doves Cry,” and the kinetic electro-charged rocker “Let’s Go Crazy,” known for its jaw-dropping guitar freak-out finale.
And of course it’s the title song, a rock anthem for the ages, that still gets the tears flowing all these years later. Every track is a classic, from the scalding funk of “Computer Blue,” “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star,” the brazenly sexual “Darling Nikki,” the perfect pop euphoria of “Take Me With U,” to the scorchingly bitter ballad “The Beautiful Ones.”
The remaster itself was engineered by Josh Welton under the supervision of Prince in 2015, and while it sounds louder and a bit brighter, it’s so compressed that it loses dynamic range. The vinyl pressing, when compared to the prior 2009 reissue or even the 1984 original, shows no real discernible improvement. The deluxe two-CD set is still worth getting, though, if only for the remarkable second disc, a full 80 minutes of previously unreleased material from the “Purple Rain” era. Highlights are the stunning full 12-minute take on “Computer Blue,” searing funk workouts like the 11-minute “Dance Electric,” “Love and Sex” and “Possessed,” and the wonderfully salacious “We Can Fuck.” The shimmering instrumental “Father’s Song,” based around a piano melody that recurs throughout the film, is chill-inducing. There are a couple throwaways (“Velvet Kitty Cat” and “Katrina’s Paper Dolls”) whose inclusion is questionable given the amount of better material available and still unreleased, but by and large the disc is a revelation.
A three-CD/one-DVD set is also available, but is mostly for completists. The third disc contains all the album’s single edits, 12” extended mixes and b-sides (like the essential “17 Days” and “Erotic City”), and is a nice addition that offers a more complete picture of the era’s releases. The set also includes the first DVD release of a performance from March 30, 1985 in Syracuse previously released on VHS and laserdisc as “Prince And the Revolution: Live.” The video is a bit grainy, but the sound is quite nice. The liner notes include fascinating commentary by Prince’s long-time engineer Susan Rogers and members of the Revolution commenting on each of the album tracks.
Though flawed and non-comprehensive, this release is a nice stop-gap until, hopefully, someday a more complete and carefully curated set will see the light of day.