Diamonds and Pearls
(Warner Brothers; US: 1 Oct 1991; UK: 1 Oct 1991)
“Live 4 Love” is on the one hand the apocalyptic culmination of Diamonds and Pearls’ excess; all of the narcissism and pleasure-seeking has lead to this, a warplane on its way down to a fiery crash. The music offers both a sense of urgency—what can we do to change the ending?—and the same over-layered feeling of At the same time, the song is one last attempt by Prince to turn the capitalistic, hedonistic feeling of the album into a message for society of love above all.
It’s an anti-war song, with the answer being “love”, period. It joins “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” as grounding the album in the Gulf War era. This song has a narrative, a fairly generic one: a young man is kicked out of the house, joins the military, finds himself in a war, recruited to drop bombs from a plane. When he’s in the air, he finds himself conflicted, with the old angel and devil combo on his shoulders, representing war and peace. Prince tries to put us in his shoes: “Boom / I take a deep breath / Is it boom—life? / Is it boom—death?”
Just as much the song was a chance to show off the drum and bass combo of the New Power Generation, Michael Bland and Sonny Thompson, while throwing in a rap (reputedly the earliest on record) by Tony M, who instead of wowing us with his skills represents an outside moral voice of the song while broadening the scope of the theme to include gang warfare.
As always Prince gets the last word, this time through his guitar—the last minute and a half of the song has him playing a solo that has more feeling, diversity, and conflict within it than the rest of the song, while also dipping into Hendrix-style rollercoaster riding. (Once again, Diamonds and Pearls is by stealth a guitar classic.)
By the end of the song it manages to feel like more of a jam than it actually is, winding down the album with one more “Prince has a new band” reminder, even if (as always) it’s Prince himself mainly occupying the spotlight.