Prince and the New Power Generation
Diamonds and Pearls
(Warner Bros.; US: 1 Oct 1991; UK: 1 Oct 1991)
The conventional wisdom on Diamonds and Pearls is that it was Prince trying to co-opt the sounds of hip-hop to compete in the “urban” marketplace. But here we are, five songs in, and there’s been just one meager rap, during “Daddy Pop”. The sixth song, “Willing and Able”, is yet another example of Prince’s stealth approach to hip-hop.
The song at first carries on the smoothness of the previous track, with Prince singing falsetto, but it’s a sturdier, more confident and serious song that feels urgent. Backed by acoustic guitar in what immediately seems like a gospel song, Prince strikes a confessional tone that, at first, is at odds with the album’s tone so far, which has been light and jokey. “I’ve been holding back this feeling for far too long”, he declares – really? He doesn’t exactly strike us as someone who hasn’t been speaking his mind.
As the song builds, the gospel feeling grows, until almost gospel-chorus-like backing vocals start appearing. The moment a seeming chorus echoes his “Willing!” is the first moment I laugh, though, since the chorus at that point mostly sounds like Prince’s own voice, which is fitting for this egofest. When he declares, “There’s nothing I won’t do”, we again start feeling like we’re hearing a pickup line, albeit one disguised as real honest confessional. “Dance and sing / Somebody watch me do my thing”, Prince and Rosie Gaines both declare. Self-expression and individuality are again a theme, but so is voyeurism. Prince needs someone to watch him.
The climax all of this vocal interplay and musical buildup are leading to is, again, a meager rap. Is the rap a climax or an afterword? It’s a little rap, one of Tony M’s smoother appearances on the album. He starts, “Well, hello”, sounding either like he just walked into the song or he knows we’ve been waiting for him to appear. Though we haven’t… have we?
His rap echoes the idea that this is a pick-up song, though he also plays into the “that’s entertainment” showbiz quality of the album. And then he’s gone, leading into a quick funky organ solo that’s just as interesting, or maybe even more so.