Prince fourth album,1981’s Controversy was one of the most fascinating of his career. With the exception of the song “Partyup” at the end of his previous album Dirty Mind, Prince had yet to make any songs with an overt sociopolitical statement. Prince himself claimed that during this time,he was involved in some anti war/anti violence activism in his home town of Minneapolis. This seemed to have been a little known but private affair. After some of the localized and national violence occurring during 1980-81 however,Prince made up his mind to face them more directly on his next album.
Controversy was important for Prince on many levels. It established his own take on the spirituality of secular sexuality that was the mainstay of soul/funk music from the outset. Also it polished up the raw new wave-funk/rock hybrid of the Minneapolis sound of Dirty Mind. And point the way to his immediate musical future of 1999 and Purple Rain in doing so. While it took on the public’s perception of himself (and had it’s share of self centered cockiness),there were many songs here that showcased Prince’s empathy for broader matters. One of the most riveting is a song called “Annie Christian”.
Prince’s Linn drum machine starts out playing a fast paced,brittle samba rhythm. Suddenly an orchestral synth part scales upwards playing what amounts to a jazzily atonal horn chart- as a synth bell descends shortly after. Throughout much of the song,Prince provides a low rock guitar growl-with a low bass line and a hollow keyboard part playing very probing Arabic melodies. On the choruses,this same instrumentation comes into a more melodic context. On the closeout of the song,Prince does a fluid guitar solo while the high pitched synth bell and a Devo-like new wave synth take over on the fade out.
On an instrumental level,”Annie Christian” might be one of the most intricate rock oriented numbers of Prince’s pre-superstar period. The melodic phrasings of the song incorporate elements of Spanish balladry,Afro-Latin salsa as well as the stiff rhythmic timing of the tango. This is presented through the chilly,electronic synth pop/new wave approach of the instrumentation. The several main synth solos on this song seem to be having a heated,spirited musical conversation. While the rumbling rock guitar of Prince exists to to keep the focus of the music in as simple a state as it can.
This new wave take on Latin rock has a lyric that I’ve been thinking about all day so far. As of this writing,an investigation is being conducted about a mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando,Florida that’s killed 50 people so far. Prince talk sings/raps the story here of the character of Annie Christian,a whore who personifies the anti christ. The murder of black children in Atlanta by Wayne Williams,John Lennon’s murder at the hands of Mark David Chapman and John Hinkley’s attempted murder of Ronald Reagan come together in Prince’s most potent anthem in support of gun control.