Gangster Glam and Voyeurism: Prince & the New Power Generation - "Diamonds and Pearls"
Prince might be verbally eschewing the excesses of capitalism and consumerism, yet musically he seems to be seeking a kind of excess that might recall the same, bringing to mind “the glamorous life”.
Prince ballads can be separated out into a variety of subtypes. Of course there are the bedtime love-making jams (“Do Me Baby”). There are more austere confessional love letters (“Forever in My Life”). There are versions of the same with more melancholy or tragic overtones (“Condition of the Heart”). There are those attempting to join intimate love songs with larger philosophical statements about society (“Free”). And there are attempts to take one of these and make it more mythic, more monumental in scope (“Purple Rain”).
“Diamonds and Pearls”, a #3 hit, is Diamonds and Pearls´ attempt at the last category, perhaps, though really it’s a hybrid of every one of these ballad types except the first. It is, essentially, a song where a man asks a woman whether she’d be willing to marry him -- though of course this is Prince, so it’s phrased a little differently. He starts, “This will be the day, that you will hear me say / That I will never run away / I am here for you, love is meant for two / Now tell me what you're gonna do."
“Diamonds and pearls” this time exemplify the most expensive thing one person can give another. He doesn’t have those, he just has love; will that be enough for her? The song, though, is draped in diamonds and pearls, with the sonic translations of luxury that are part of the fabric of the album. That sort of cuts against the song’s message, which happens from time to time on the album -- he might be verbally eschewing the excesses of capitalism and consumerism, yet musically he seems to be seeking a kind of excess that might recall the same, bringing to mind “the glamorous life”.
Slightly over halfway through the song, there’s a point where the flow of the song pauses and a horn (or horn-like synthesizer) bursts out in proclamation, as if royalty has arrived. Is Prince himself the royalty (Daddy Pop), or does this mark the entrance point of Love, the real royalty?
In the section after, Rosie Gaines turns the title into sort of a sports cheer or hip-hop brag – “D to the I to the A to the M”, etc. – ends “to the pearls of love”, defining love as the real item of luxury here. In the next verse (after some guitar soloing -- a reminder of the way Prince works creative guitar playing into songs that seem to not have guitar at their forefront), Prince not just puts love on a pedestal but segues into singing about a more universal sort of love – “There will come a time, when love will blow your mind / And everything you'll look for you'll find / That will be the time, that everything will shine / So bright it makes you colorblind”.
That colorblind reference is another sly Prince attempt to turn his compositions into big message songs without feeling like they are. Let’s not get carried away with ourselves, trick ourselves into hearing the song as a message of global tolerance. If you go back to the beginning, our narrator seems to have something else on his mind. There’s a point where he says they’re always fighting, they don’t know which one of them is right, so they should “let love decide”. Is that the same as saying, “baby instead of arguing let’s settle this in bed”? It reads that way. Which means maybe this is that first type of Prince ballad, too, behind the curtains. It’s an every-ballad, then, in Prince World, which also carries a distinct brand of pseudo-luxury.