“23 positions in a one-night stand.”
Any notions that Prince had lost his early ‘80s edge with the decidedly more spiritual and less carnal emphasis found on albums like Lovesexy and Graffiti Bridge were smashed with the release of the single “Gett Off” in the sweltering heat of the summer of 1991.
Rumbling over a bottom-heavy New Jack Swing beat and eerie flute melody, this was the Prince that had both thrilled and scandalized listeners with songs like “Head” and “Darling Nikki,” hammered home with a legendary performance on the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards. Clad in his notorious lace pants amidst a stage populated by writhing half-naked dancers like a music video version of Caligula, Prince’s performance of “Gett Off” stole the show from the first flash of his bare ass. Not exactly a comeback considering he never stopped clocking Top 10 hits in the years after Purple Rain, “Gett Off” let it be known in no uncertain terms that Prince was still remarkably relevant.
In stark contrast to “Gett Off” was Prince’s following single, “Cream.” Indulging his considerable pop muscle, the artist showed why hit singles like “Raspberry Beret” and the Prince-penned “Manic Monday” were far from flukes. His dexterity at taking a simple melody and infusing it with his signature studio touches and nimble musicianship was more the enough to propel a song straight to the top of the charts, where “Cream” would reside for two weeks of November 1991.
With the release of Diamonds and Pearls, Prince reminded listeners that time spent crafting summer blockbuster soundtracks (Batman) and producing hits for emerging artists (Tevin Campbell’s “Round and Round”) hadn’t dampened his ability to produce a singular and focused artist album that appealed to both longtime fans and casual listeners alike.
The grandiose pop of the title track is Prince at his most indulgent and effective. The dense arrangement and bombastic prog-rock flourishes betray a subtle Sgt. Pepper’s era Beatles influence, albeit as played by a crack band of musicians, as Diamonds and Pearls was the formal introduction of the artist’s new band, the New Power Generation.
While the album will most likely always be known for its massive singles, many of the best songs found on Diamonds and Pearls are the seemingly unassuming tracks scattered across the record’s 13 tracks.
Both “Strollin’” and “Willing and Able” resurrect some of the minimalist cool jazz textures found on Prince’s stellar Parade album, particularly the latter with a breezy vocal melody and lyrical guitar work. “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” was somehow never a single, even though the smooth, uplifting chorus and warm orchestral arrangement are the definition of a top-down summer cruising anthem.
“Insatiable” was the latest in a line of classic sexually-charged Prince bedroom ballads in the tradition of songs like “Do Me, Baby” and “International Lover,” complete with the promise that “2 night we video.../No one will ever know.”
While Prince would continue to score hit records in the following years (most notably 1995’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” which would also earn him a Grammy nomination), Diamonds and Pearls would be the last time that he would roll out this many charting tracks on a single studio effort.
Listening to it today, the true breadth of Prince’s immense talents, from his R&B roots to genre-smashing crossover success to the free-form and often inexplicable career trajectory beyond the ‘90s that would eventually make him a legend can be heard loud and clear all over Diamonds and Pearls.