Review Summary: Baby, he's a star
A good soundtrack to a film does an adequate job of supporting the scenes in the movie that the people paid to see. A great soundtrack makes the scenes relatable whether or not you’re actually watching the movie. An excellent soundtrack is a fantastic standalone album that is improved by familiarity with the film. Prince’s Purple Rain undoubtedly falls under the ‘excellent’ category. The strength of the tracks and album on its own is undeniable but when one is familiar with the story behind the album, it becomes immediately better and more personal- both to the listener and to Prince’s life within the movie.
From the very opening of the film with Prince (The Kid) standing on a stage framed only by fog saying speaking the opening to “Let’s Go Crazy” over Dr. Fink’s light synthesizer notes you realize exactly how important this music is to the movie. “Let’s Go Crazy” is the ideal opening track to such a melancholy film and album; a vision of light countered by the stark bleakness of the stage and venue The Kid is playing at. The crowd isn’t responding like you might expect it would to such an upbeat song. The guitar solo fails to electrify like it used to and The Kid isn’t even the focus of most of the crowd- it’s the new-kid-in-town vixen Apollonia Kotero. This intro works wonderfully for two reasons: because it establishes the main premise of the movie using just a song and visuals but also serves as a foil for the rest of the film. The only craziness that goes on is what transpires inside The Kid’s house and in The Kid’s head.
The Kid and Apollonia eventually hit it off and begin seeing each other. The soundtrack of these dates is at first wistful (I don’t care where we go/I don’t care what we do/I don’t care pretty baby/Just take me with you, as Prince sings on “Take Me With U”) but eventually sobers (Where is my love life/Where can it be? Wonders Prince on “Computer Blue). As the music begins to change, it also signals a change in Apollonia and The Kid’s relationship. What begins as ideally tomfoolery- complete with The Kid tricking her into stripping naked and jumping into “Lake Minnetonka”- culminates in a sex scene bordering on pornographic. The music, for the most part, directs the mood for their meetings and, once The Kid begins to hit Apollonia, mixes in an element of yearning for their old times. The Kid is dangerously introspective and self-loathing and the soundtrack only amplifies his feelings.
This amplification is best seen on “The Beautiful Ones.” The song is simple enough: a scorned lover confronts his old flame about her new love and demands that she chooses. It’s a beautiful song in its own right and Prince is at the top of his game vocally but the song is made even better after viewing the film. The scene occurs at the club where The Kid and his rival for Apollonia, Morris Day, perform. Both Morris and Apollonia are in the crowd as The Kid gives his all during the performance. At first he is performing just as he would every other night but you can slowly see the torment building on his face. Eventually, he cannot take it anymore and lies down on the ground, which leads to some of the most tortured rolling around on stage ever captured on film. The Kid is weighed down so heavily by this burden and all of it is coming out in the form of his performance that night. After seeing that scene, it’s impossible to listen to “The Beautiful Ones” without feeling his torment and the song improves as such. The performance in the film improves an already fantastic song by making it even more relatable and human rather than just something felt by another faceless man.
The same can be said for pretty much every other track on the album but the most obvious is “I would Die 4 U.” The song’s title is a line spoken by The Kid’s father after he has beaten his wife. She accuses him of not caring about her and he looks her dead in the eye and says “I don’t care? I would die for you.” In possibly the most haunting whisper ever spoken. The Kid plays the song after his Dad is in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt and it serves as an ode to the man that raised him and that The Kid has grown up to be. It’s an especially poignant moment because throughout the movie we’ve seen The Kid to grow to be increasingly like his father that he seems to despise. Now, instead of a song with just one layer, there are many meanings and significances to an already classic song. The song on its own is one of the best on the album but is elevated by the memories of The Kid’s father and the knowledge that The Kid is one bad performance from being fired (at Morris’ suggesting). This performance, as well as that of other classic track Purple Rain (known in the film as Slow Groove) is what elevate already great songs to classic status. They perfectly embody what The Kid is suffering with and still have all the classic Prince elements: pitch-perfect vocals and howls, dominant guitar licks and backing band The Revolution playing its heart out trying to compete with the purple one. Tracks like “When Doves Cry,” which is about The Kid’s parents’ abusive relationship can showcase his revolutionary music knowledge. Prince wrote the song and wasn’t pleased with the contents so he decided to cut the bass from the track. With that adjustment- a classic was born. Ironically, this song is possibly the only one that isn’t improved by its relevance to the movie; no doubt because it’s a brilliant song in the first place and is used in a throw-away scene to boot.
And even later in Prince’s career, parts of the movie are still making the album more significant. The owner of the club is fed-up with The Kid’s spartan attitude towards work. Some nights he leaves the stage after one song and on others the material- such as the extremely saucy “Darling Nikki”- is deemed too wily to be performed. The owner accuses The Kid of “playing stuff that only he could like.” This sentiment is one shared by many Prince fans today about his recent albums. These albums are a mixture of experimentation and ridiculousness, and every rarely produce a track that would’ve been anything better than a B-side in his heyday. People thought The Kid was at the end of the line before reaching to another level of musical brilliance and maybe that’s what Prince is preparing for now. For now, however, they’ll have to stick with the original album that only he could enjoy; one that stands above his other albums as a landmark classic on its own that is made even more satisfying after seeing the film that inspired it because of its narration of the film itself but also because of the source material of the lyrics that are obviously so personal.