Warner Brothers Records, 1981

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith



“People call me rude. I wish we all were nude. I wish there was no black or white. I wish there were no rules.”

That dirty limerick should tell you all you need to know about what makes the enigmatic artist Prince tick. The fact that he includes The Lord’s Prayer in the same song (“Controversy”) should also tell you how far Prince was willing to go in changing the rules. Releasing an album once a year (unheard of, even in the ‘80s) was also something that only Prince could manage. Don’t try to put this rebel in a box. He’s beyond labels.

It all started innocently enough. His first two albums, For You and Prince, helped to bring funk music into the mainstream, though they hardly gave the public any indication of what this cat was really capable of. The fact that he produced, arranged, composed and performed his own material from the very beginning barely raised an eyebrow -- and he did all of this long before Michael Jackson’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Thriller and Madonna’s infamous MTV performance of “Like A Virgin.” And to think all three artists were born in the same year.

Even Prince realized that the ante was about to be raised in 1981 -- the dawn of the video age -- when image suddenly became a crucial ingredient in determining a music artist’s recognition and longevity. So much for being a reclusive loner, eh, Mr. Rogers Nelson? (oh, that’s his real name, in case you were wondering.)

Not that Prince was exactly an introvert. One gander at the video for “Dirty Mind” should clue you in to that -- he was wearing nothing more than a g-string, trench coat and a smile. His fourth album Controversy lived up to its title when it combined the political/religious statements of “Ronnie Talk To Russia” and “Annie Christian” with racy party tunes like “Sexuality” and “Jack U Off.” The fact of the matter is, none of these songs are all that explicit in their lyrical content. If anything, Prince was teasing us, saving his bigger guns for the double-album 1999 and what was to become his breakthrough, Purple Rain.

Before MTV took Prince to a whole other level, club DJs were happily grooving to his first four albums, especially Controversy, which yielded two #1 club play hits, “Let’s Work” and the title track. Prince was patient enough to settle for semi-obscurity back then, though it is somewhat surprising that a talent like his did not meet with immediate mainstream success straight out of the gate. But nobody really knew what to make of this diminutive character who wore makeup and had a wild, untamed stage presence. He may have been black, but his music was becoming whiter and whiter. This must have made a lot of radio programmers and club managers nervous and confused over what the hell to do with this guy. His enigmatic persona wasn’t a gimmick either; that’s who Prince really was.

As something of a so-so transitional album, Controversy set the stage for Prince’s mega-stardom. He only had to wait until (what seemed like) 1999 for it to happen. One thing was for sure, he wasn’t going to be kept waiting ever again.

Rating: B-

User Rating: B+



© 2009 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Warner Brothers Records, and is used for informational purposes only.