Beginning with its titular event and ending with a funeral, Prince’s Parade is obsessed with love, sex and death. If that weren’t enough baggage, Parade also serves as the soundtrack to the 1986 film Under the Cherry Moon. Prince’s Paris-set follow-up to Purple Rain tells the life and death story of Prince’s gigolo character, Christopher Tracy, who gets name-checked in Parade’s opening tune, “Christopher Tracy’s Parade.” The album bookends this life-affirming ditty with the mournful, metaphoric “Sometimes It Snows in April,” which eulogizes Tracy by informing of his greatness. Tracy’s fate is not a spoiler; the film tells you he’s dead in its opening scene. But even absent of plot, the specter of death hangs over Parade. Sometimes the Grim Reaper is dancing his ass off just out of view; other times he’s breathing down the neck of a protagonist that seems almost relieved by his presence. The morbidly romantic “Under the Cherry Moon” (one of two songs Prince collaborated on with his father) finds Prince promising to “die in your arms under the cherry moon” because “lovers like us, dear, are born to die.” This inextricable, ‘til death do us part link between lovers manifests itself in “Anotherloverholeinyourhead” and in the helpfully suggestive paean to monogamous sexual experimentation “New Position,” a catchy, percussion-heavy ass-shaker blessed with an insistent steel drum backbeat. The reward for this romantic fealty is Christopher Tracy’s rise to Heaven behind Under the Cherry Moon’s closing credits, accompanied by Parade’s Wendy-Lisa collaboration “Mountains.” It’s a given that Tracy goes to Heaven; Parade’s final song explicitly says so. But it takes a big ego — and even bigger balls — to successfully depict one’s own ascension and deliver one’s own eulogy.
In defiance of fan and label expectation, Parade sounded like nothing Prince had ever done at that point, and it may even be more influential than some of his earlier work.
Parade isn’t necessarily a better album than Purple Rain but it is far more daring. While Prince’s trademark funk-soul-rock musical influences continue to fuel his creativity (musicians like Sly Stone spiritually live in some of the hooks here), other elements join the fray. These new features stem from a more collaborative songwriting/arrangement effort and the location constraints of the terrible movie to which they’re attached. For example, Under the Cherry Moon’s French setting lends itself to several Gallic chanson-style numbers: A female voice rants in French during “Girls and Boys,” and it becomes a piece of stagy, spoken-word performance art. “Do U Lie,” Parade’s wackiest, most underrated gem, finds Prince singing in a distinctive low register falsetto as music more suited for Maurice Chevalier underscores a pleading, playful and accusatory vocal. And “Venus De Milo” is an instrumental unlike anything Prince has done — a flawless movie score cue. On the arrangement side, this is Prince’s first use of a full orchestra (which he makes the most of), in addition to the rare instance of a song’s arrangement being left to someone else (“Kiss,” the biggest hit on Parade and one of the best songs Prince ever recorded). Parade exemplifies Prince’s refusal to return to familiar, safer fare despite the underperformance of its experimentally daring predecessor, Around the World in a Day. In defiance of fan and label expectation, Parade sounded like nothing Prince had ever done at that point, and it may even be more influential than some of his earlier work. One need only listen to “Life Can Be So Nice” to hear the seemingly disorganized jamming that clearly inspired D’Angelo. The song even abruptly ends, just as D’s “Untitled” does.
Part of Kicking the Canon – The Album Canon.