Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 28, 2006)
After more than a decade of material that did little more than alienate long-time fans like me, Prince has enjoyed something of a popular resurgence in the last few years. His 2004 tour was a big hit and both that year’s Musicology and 2006’s dasdsdsak received good notices.
However, Prince hasn’t been a serious chart force since 1991’s Diamonds and Pearls. Sure, he scored some hits after that. 1992’s “Seven” did well, and 1994’s “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” also performed nicely. Still, Pearls represented his last gasp as a major hitmaker via the title tune plus “Gett Off” and “Cream”.
I’m terrible at predicting popular success, but “Cream” is one of the rare times I anticipated a smash. I heard the album before it came out as a single, and I remember thinking that “Cream” didn’t sell big, I didn’t understand anything about good singles. It ended up as a huge success, so I was actually right for once.
We get to re-experience Prince’s highs of 1991 via Diamonds and Pearls Video Collection. This set indeed packs in the music videos created for Diamonds and Pearls. We find videos for “Gett Off”, “Cream”, “Diamonds and Pearls”, “Call the Law”, “Willing and Able”, “Insatiable”, and “Strollin’”. We also get live clips for “Thunder”, “Dr. Feelgood”, “Jughead” and “Live 4 Love”.
As an album, Pearls was mid-level Prince – at least compared to his releases through 1991. Compared to the rest of his output in the Nineties, it comes across as a masterpiece, but that’s due to the shoddy quality of his work over the subsequent decade or so. In my estimation, he only made two good albums between Pearls and Musicology: 1992’s 0+> and 1995’s The Gold Experience. Everything else through 2002’s The Rainbow Children ranges from mediocre to terrible.
Back when I first saw this compilation on laserdisc, I absolutely adored the live take on “Live 4 Love”. It reminded me how badly I wanted to see Prince play a concert again. He’d not toured the States since 1988, but the foreign territories got him much more frequently. (Prince finally returned to these shores in the winter and spring of 1993.)
Perhaps that anxiousness to see a Prince show made “Live 4 Love” sound much better to me than it deserved. Oh, the song has some good moments. Prince unleashes fierce guitar work and displays a nice intensity. The staging seems goofy, though, as Prince’s rappers stage a silly “assault”. It’s a decent song and a nice glimpse of early 90s Prince on stage, but it doesn’t excel.
Don’t expect much from the other live clips. “Thunder”, “Dr. Feelgood” and “Jughead” exist as nothing more than very brief snippets. We see and hear exceptionally little of them, so it’s misleading for the package to leave any other impression. Only “Live 4 Love” offers a complete performance, as the others are quick peeks. Insult to injury: “Jughead” isn’t even live; it dubs the studio track on concert footage.
The music videos also come with varying levels of quality and production values. Only a handful are what I’d call true music videos – ie, something that could run on MTV. “Gett Off” took a while to grow on me. For reasons I can’t recall, I initially disliked the song, but I eventually embraced it. The video works pretty well, largely due to sexy “Diamond” and “Pearl”. Prince has worked with some babes over the years, but those two were his hottest. When they dance and interact with Prince, the video achieves a slick sexiness.
Unfortunately, Prince treats the video in too democratic a manner and we get a lot of shots of his bandmates. Some are fine, but I could live without their laughable attempts to seem sexy. Tubby singer Rosie Gaines and wussy keyboardist Tommy Barbarella stand as the worst offenders; they’re as sexy as a glass of curdled milk. Nonetheless, there’s enough Prince/Diamond/Pearl to make this a good video.
“Cream” remains the peak piece from the album – at least as a song. The video is a curious one. It opens with an extended intro during which we see Prince, band and other characters in a train station. Once the choo-choo leaves, however, the video just gives us a choreographed performance with band and dancers.
What was the point of the train prelude? To make the video longer, I guess; I can’t figure out any other coherent explanation. Despite that oddness, this is a strong video. We see lots of sexy Diamond and Pearl and not too much of the annoying bandmembers. The dancing works for the clip and it entertains while it also connects to the song.
The title tune sounded schmaltzy to me 15 years ago, and it’s no less sugary today. It’s Prince as Whitney Houston – sappy and crappy. The video doesn’t work much better. With its ballet elements, it takes itself far too seriously and lacks any compelling elements. Due to their oddly arty haircuts, not even Diamond and Pearl can redeem this dud. Prince cavorts with little kids who blow bubbles? Ack!
One of Prince’s many interchangeable seduction songs, “Insatiable” does nothing for me. I can never keep it straight among nearly identical tracks like “Scandalous” and “Do Me Baby”. Well, the ladies love this stuff, so Prince must know what he’s doing.
The video is unspectacular. It shows a babe director as she films Prince in his sexyman mode. It’s moderately tawdry but not terribly interesting.
“Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” is the only other “real” video on display. Directed by Spike Lee, it intercuts black and white shots of a struggling family with performance shots and news bits from the era. Lee tries hard to draw a parallel between the modern period and the Depression, but he never makes this insightful or meaningful. “Money” ends up as a slightly ambitious performance video and that’s about it.
“Call the Law”, “Willing and Able”, and “Strollin’” are all cheap clips without the style and panache seen in the “real” videos. Actually, “Call” is no worse than any of the other low-budget rap clips from the era. We see the rappers in Prince’s band – led by Tony M – strut through a few settings as they deliver the tune. Prince plays only a small role; we see him throw out some tasty guitar solos but he does nothing else. “Law” is a tepid rap tune and a dull video.
“Willing” doesn’t become much better. It’s a strict performance clip for a lackluster tune. It does act as a particularly evocative glimpse of poor fashion choices from the era. We see plenty of these throughout the DVD, but “Willing” packs more into one spot than any of the other snippets. Man and woman, black and white – except for Prince, everybody looks absurd. (Prince looks goofy too, but he skates because that’s his own style; everyone else embraces idiotic trends of the early 90s.)
Finally, “Strollin’” stands as nothing more than an excuse to show Diamond and Pearl as they romp around town. It almost attempts a story: Diamond gets fed up with life as a waitress and quits. Prince never appears as the video instead just shows the gals in various locations. The clip only covers about 80 seconds of the song. It’s cheap and pointless, but they’re hot, so I won’t whine too much.
Throughout the DVD, we see occasional soundbites from bandmembers. They tell us about their love for music and how they got into the field. All of these interview pieces are very short and suffer from "who cares?” syndrome. Seriously, is anyone actually interested in Prince’s backup band?
Probably not, and I doubt that anyone other than diehard Prince fans will care for Diamonds and Pearls Video Collection. It includes only a few good clips and comes with plenty of filler. Pearls is a nice keepsake for serious aficionados, but it’ll do little for others.