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Prince Purple Reign Review

Release Date: October 4th 2016

Prince Purple Reign

I like Mick Wall as a writer, he's eminently readable and always manages to draw you in so that without noticing you're often well into the book before you know it. When you look at his catalogue though, Prince seems an odd choice for someone resolutely so 'Hard Rock and Metal'. I guess though as his last book was on the recently departed Lemmy, there is that connection - recently deceased music icons, we'll have to wait to see if Bowie turns up next or if he missed the boat I guess.

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Aside from a rather 'school essay' style first chapter that just makes you want to get through it - after all we all know that Prince was a great musician, that he died suddenly, and yep he loved God, music and women and wasn't a bad guitarist either. Oh yes, and he loved purple and he had that symbol thing too. Yes Mick, we all knew that, and the fact that his death affected people too. I guess stylistically its nit-picking but the book seems so much more engaging from Chapter two!

While we're grumbling (I like to get that out of the way as this is a damned good read) I also can't see the point in referring to his final outing the Piano and Microphone tour as a "weirdly truncated affair", the clue to it being stripped back and intimate is in the name, and yes he may have played small venues in the UK but he played the biggest venues when it hit Australia and could easily have filled out all of them many times over, but that misses the point entirely, it was meant to be up close and personal. When the show hit Perth, Australia this writer waited several hours for him after the show at the after party which was even more intimate, and is even more powerful now to think that he would be dead within two months after only playing a handful more dates.

While I'm still nit-picking Mick please don't mention the deaths of Terry Wogan, Johan Cruyff, Alan Rickman and Victoria Wood in the same list as Bowie or Prince, actors and comedians and especially radio personalities aren't the same as Musicians. I think Keith Emerson, Glen Frey and George Martin might have been better if you really felt the need for that list, though what it says anyway I'm not sure? I guess some deaths are just bigger than others...

Gripes well and truly over, despite its relative brevity 'Purple Reign' is another good read by Wall. Now I'm sure there will be a lot more exhaustive tomes out there in the next couple of years but Wall does at least go some way to unravelling the appeal of the man, if not actually revealing anything new of really getting inside the music, which after all was constantly evolving and rolling in and upon itself in new and exciting ways over the years.

Giving equal time to almost all of his early albums till Purple Rain Wall manages to capture the evolution and even fleetingly the man and his foibles but it's all little more than scratching the surface and a regurgitation of interviews with others. If you're a fan it gives you an appreciation of the timeline and some of the turmoil, even touching on relationships and the desire Prince always had, it seems, for control (though I'm sure Prince would argue he was just protecting his art). However there's little to hint at the 'why's' beneath the 'what's'.

Wall sometimes even gives in to hyperbole, which seems a little strained, and even praises Prince's failed second movie 'Under the Cherry Moon' which even to a fan like me is still unwatchable after all these years. The whole point about Prince for me at least was the whole 'Freedom' thing - you knew he could do what he wanted and you knew that half the time he was just making a point, but like all of us he got over-confident at times and made mistakes. Also an even more intriguingly as he very much stood alone sometimes his quality control was very off and his self-indulgent control set way too high. 'Cherry Moon' will always be a stinker and God bless him for that!

For me I lost touch with Prince not because he dabbled elsewhere but because he lost intensity, to Prince the sound he created with Purple Rain may have just been a means to broaden his audience, but it created an intensity that just dropped off like a stone till 'Sign of the Times' won us all over again. And that was the beauty of Prince's music.

With a scant 30 pages post 'Emancipation' the book suffers like such a lot of biographies of the recently deceased, from dismissing years of the artists life, sure Bowie only put out a couple of albums in his last 15 years, and at the same time lived a pretty private life so you can see why such gaps occur. Prince however was constantly creating, and some of his later work and collaborations get completely passed over. I can see the logic, it's not the interesting stuff everyone wants to hear about, the height of fame, the glory but in the case of Prince it was still damned interesting to the end.

What Wall misses most is that he never really uncovers what made Prince so special to so many from such varied backgrounds, like me a Rock fan who grew up listening to 70's Rock and Goth but dabbled with Motown and Blues. Prince had something for us all and was so remarkably fresh in his outlook and so singular in thought. While Jackson languished, Prince spurted music out, while Jackson brought in writers, Prince just wrote. There never will be anyone quite like that guy from Minneapolis...

Review by Mark Rockpit