While it may not be a 'lost classic', this unearthed gem from the late icon's vault is still a sweeping and beautifully constructed piece of piano-led pop.
First off, a bit of important context. Prince, the late pop icon/multi-instrumentalist/possible musical genius, is often considered to have had his strongest run of classic albums and era-defining work from 1978 to 1993, a period that includes one of his undisputed masterpieces in 1984’s Purple Rain, a genre-blurring tour-de-force and cultural phenomenon that accompanied the film of the same name. This was the album and image that finally broke Prince into total top-tier ubiquity, with classic tracks like ‘When Doves Cry’, ‘Let’s Go Crazy’, and, of course, the famed title track. However, this isn’t the whole story. Prince was famously a ludicrous perfectionist and insanely prolific musician, writing several songs every day while feuding with record labels, the media, and, later on, the internet itself. Some of this work he simply farmed out through other artists – such as The Bangles with ‘Manic Monday’ or Morris Day and the Time – but most of it was placed into his infamous vault, a genuine real-life locked complex on his Paisley Park estate. This vault has long been of fascination to both Prince aficionados and general music fans, full to the brim of not only fully completed songs, but also full albums like 1987’s aborted Black Album, completed music videos, and films that Prince may have discarded on a whim. Its presence has given hope of potential unheard classics and masterworks that were left behind by the man for whatever reason.
From the Purple Rain era, ‘Electric Intercourse’ is one such song from the vault. It comes bundled on the new remastered deluxe edition, a reissue whose very presence is remarkable. The album was a condition of Prince re-signing to his former record label Warner in 2014 – a unique situation considering Prince was alone in musicians of his ilk who had almost no interest in remastering classic albums, although his failure to release the remaster (which was completed and signed off while he was still alive) in his lifetime is interesting. Nevertheless, the late musician’s estate has finally released it along with live material that showcases the thrilling live performer in a way that can rarely be found on the internet, B-sides, and the aforementioned vault material. ‘Electric Intercourse’ is a track that was reputedly recorded live on stage with other tracks on Purple Rain and tinkered with in the studio before being dropped from the album after ‘The Beautiful Ones’ replaced it on the album’s running order. As a consequence, the track remains a unique look at a classic album in its earliest formation, and a great look at an artist in his prime.
Opening to the flicking and reverb-heavy Linn drum machines that characterised his early to mid-’80s sound and which cling to some glistening piano arpeggios, the song soon broadens to include soft piano chords, thumping synth bass sounds and Prince’s own signature hushed falsetto – a beautifully emotional, theatrical, and powerful instrument in its own right. His voice loops over several nicely constructed melodies that pop and are often double-tracked over the building instrumentation (and the occasional gloriously 1980s flashes and burst of futuristic synth sounds) that are both catchy, nicely made and almost enviable in how almost effortless they seem to be. Lyrically, while not his most inventive work ever, the song is still a familiar slice of Prince’s infamously priapic sex fiend tendencies, showcasing some fun lyrics, such as ‘technicolour climax’, that really could have only come from the purple one. The song builds impressively, building in both energy and intensity, yet the chorus is an odd step down in power, with Prince bringing things down sharply as he wistfully intones the track’s title. This bait-and-switch isn’t bad per se; the melodies are still nicely honed and leads to a typical Prince scream and nice bout of solo piano tinkling that leads straight back into the song’s build-up. In fact, this approach is pretty effective when the chorus is repeated later on, as Prince growls it with further power and energy every time it is reintroduced, but it would be remiss to say that the song’s lack of a truly bombastic, stratosphere jumping chorus release was why Prince abandoned the song in the first place. While highly and ecstatically enjoyable as a song and a deft album track, it arguably lacks the instant classic feeling of nearly everything on Purple Rain. The song locks pretty solidly into its fade-out groove around three minutes in, as the piano, synth bass, drum machines and flourishes of twinkling synth sounds march on as Prince flies around across his astounding vocal range offering falsetto gasps and baritone growls among others. This groove is very enjoyable, yet perhaps not as ceremonial or uniting as the epic fade-out on the song ‘Purple Rain’ for instance. While it is truthfully a bit less anchored, it does feel organic and ends well as all the instruments drop off to the piano and then merely a lone synth chord, which ends the song on an intriguingly artificial and cold note.
‘Electric Intercourse’, while it may not be the instant unearthed masterpiece some may have been hoping for, is still a sublime slice of funky, emotive pop from one of its masters. It is still a great song, filled with the kind of catchy hooks and skilled arrangements that Prince could seemingly construct in his sleep and its minor failings are interesting in themselves, showing a skilled songwriter feeling out his ideas in real time. ‘Electric Intercourse’ in a way comes off as a first draft of ideas that would become indelible; for example, the song’s lack of a big chorus would be rectified with ‘Purple Rain’ itself, as would the reusing of a long, epic ending. So, while not impeachable, the song is a great addition to the late musician’s catalogue and still lives up to the hopes upon Prince’s vault being excavated once and for all; if the vault’s contents can match the skill of tracks like this and other recent vault refugees like ‘Moonbeam Levels’ from the greatest hits compilation 4EVER, then we should have a glorious surfeit of great music to look forward to in coming years if it continues to be opened.
‘Electric Intercourse’ is out now via WBR