Gangster Glam and Voyeurism: Prince & the New Power Generation - "Cream"
“Cream”, the second single off Diamonds and Pearls, might be Prince’s least well-known #1 single. The track features a casual, locked-in groove as well as a lot of playful guitar
“Cream”, the second single off Diamonds and Pearls, might be Prince’s least well-known #1 hit, with one possible exception. It was his fifth and final (thus far) #1, after “When Doves Cry”, “Let’s Go Crazy”, “Kiss”, and “Batdance”. It is his only #1 single that can’t be connected to a motion picture.
The low grumblings that open the song are cinematic, in a way -- they give hint to the porn-like atmosphere that is to come on “Gett Off”. But then Michael Bland’s drums kick in, brightly, and a melodic guitar line enters that will serve as a continual counterpart to -- a conversation partner for, really -- Prince.
The mood is smooth and relaxed, though the first words Prince sings are as if the moment is momentous: “This is it / Time for you to go to the wire”. This is something other than a crisis, though -- it’s more a “you can do it” confidence boost, one with (of course) heavy sexual overtones. But it’s also one that plays into the cool swagger that is essential to Diamonds and Pearls.
“Cream” has a casual, locked-in groove, though a somewhat jumpy one, and also a lot of playful guitar, a reminder that Diamonds and Pearls is a great guitar album. The song showcases the band, but Prince’s guitar stands out above all, sounding somewhat ghostly but also Bonnie Raitt-ish. The best guitar moment is one similar to the “talk guitar talk” moment from “Daddy Pop”, where the instrument enters the lyrics as a character. This time it’s “Look up in the air / It’s your guitar”, and then an unusual solo.
Prince sings that line, and the song overall, in a breathy smooth way that’s almost a whisper, but purposely not so. He displays his status as a ringleader/guru, telling us to set ourselves, or at least our bodies, free. That’s summed up by his lines “Do your dance / Why would you wait any longer / Take your chance / It’ll only make you stronger”.
But he’s flirting, too, and that’s in the words -- “You’ve got the horn so why don’t you blow it (come on and blow it)” and then “You’re filthy cute and baby you know it” -- but also the way he sings them, with a naughty wink. The last word of the song is “boogie!”, but the gentleness of that instruction is what makes it stand out. Of all his calls for us to dance (or "dance"…wink, wink), it’s one of the sweetest.