Dig if you will, a motion picture. A film, that in spite of the recent celluloid failure of it’s star’s last outing, Under the Cherry Moon, still managed to get green lit. A film whose final shooting script desperately needed an outside voice, an outside vision, to prevent the writer, director and star, Prince, from writing something that feels like it was made in the vacuum of one’s own mind while on a 7 day hallucinogenic bender. This would be Prince’s last stab at playing a fictional character in a movie. His last stab at movie stardom. His final portrayal of “The Kid”, the character from Purple Rain that made him a global phenomenon. Sadly, the motion picture I’m referring to is Graffiti Bridge. The “sequel” to Purple Rain that is really only a sequel from the standpoint that it follows the same main character, The Kid, and his musical adversary, Morris Day and the Time, and was not Prince’s grand exit from the silver screen. Thankfully, this post isn’t about the film, but instead the music featured within the movie that ultimately made up the soundtrack. Both Purple Rain and Under the Cherry Moon had amazing soundtracks to go along with their respective films and if you also count Sign O’ the Times & Batman (one a concert film and the second was a soundtrack to a movie Prince did not appear in) in the pantheon of Prince albums associated with movies, you’ll see that he was a perfect 4/4 in terms of quality and success. Would Graffiti Bridge keep that streak alive?
Unlike the previously mentioned soundtracks, Graffiti Bridge is not just a Prince album. This album contains a number of performances from other artists that also appear in the film. Artists such as The Time, Tevin Campbell, Mavis Staples, George Clinton, and T.C. Ellis appear in the liner notes and even had singles release from this project. If you’re a fan of the film or a fan of the film’s music, the inclusion of these songs may be a good thing. If you’re really only listening to Graffiti Bridge for the Prince songs, the inclusion of these “other artists” within the track listing can be a nuisance, no matter how much you like The Time. Thankfully, modern technology allows us to create our own track listing for Graffiti Bridge, if we so desire to cull out the Prince only songs. I consider collaborative songs like “We Can Funk”, “Graffiti Bridge” and “New Power Generation Pt II” to be Prince songs even though they feature other artists so in my estimation, there are 11 songs (out of a total of 17) that I consider “Prince” tracks housed within the 68 minutes of music.
Graffiti Bridge contains songs that sound as diverse as just about any Prince album up to this point. Of course, this can be primarily attributed to the fact that the songs were originally written and recorded anywhere from 1981 to 1990, which is a lifetime in Prince discography years. Older songs such as “Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got” and “We Can Funk”, which was originally recorded as “We Can Fuck” and unearthed for the Purple Rain deluxe set from 2017, have a certain sound to them that clearly puts them into a particular Prince era. Other songs that were recorded in the mid 80s, such as “The Question of U” and “Joy In Repetition” have a mid-80s Parade or Dream Factory sound to them, and even include musicians from that era that made it all the way to the final mixes. Some songs that Prince began recording in the late 80s when the genesis of Graffiti Bridge as a project had just begun, before it got sidetracked by the Batman project, have a more modern sound to it. These songs incorporate hip-hop and New Jack Swing productions that were just picking up steam in popular music. Songs such as “New Power Generation (parts I & II)”, “Elephants & Flowers” and basically all of the songs written for other artists, especially The Time and Tevin Campbell’s efforts, most closely fit this updated musical template.
Strangely enough, Prince leads the Graffiti Bridge album off with literally the only song on the album not featured in the film itself. He unearthed an old vault track, “Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got”, which was a common process for the majority of the songs found Graffiti Bridge. He dusted off an old 1999 era track, re-recorded it and inserted a spoken word piece at the beginning where he talks to his deceased father, something he does several times during the movie. “Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got” is a decent enough song but it sounds a bit dated with its use of the Linn drum machine and no clear correlation to the film, the film’s themes or sound.
One song that has its foot print in both old and new style of Prince compositions is “Tick, Tick, Bang”, an energetic and innuendo filled song where Prince basically tells the subject that she’s so hot and such a tease that he’s going to “tick, tick, bang all over you”. “Tick, Tick, Bang” is the song with the oldest original recording of the bunch, dating back to 1981. The version recorded in 1981 sounds very little like the re-recorded version on Graffiti Bridge, as Prince included more modern hip-hop sounds such as record scratches and drum machines for the update. This is a good example of Prince taking an old track and making it “new”.
The album’s most famous track, and highest charting singe, “Thieves In the Temple”, is one of those late additions that Prince commonly includes on projects that ends up being one of the best ideas and executions (e.g. “When Doves Cry”, “Kiss”). This track, along with “The Question of U”, “We Can Funk”, “Elephants & Flowers” and “Joy In Repetition” make up the high points of the album for me personally. Graffiti Bridge’s weaknesses are primarily housed within the non-Prince songs as I feel that The Time’s best efforts are not on this particular album. My review of their debut, The Time, would indicate how funky their early music was. Mavis Staples’ “Melody Cool” is a pleasant enough song and I applaud Prince for recruiting this powerful soul singer for his project, but he does her no favors by giving her a song to sing that that could be sung by just about anyone. I don’t feel it plays to her particular strengths and would have been a great song for Rosie Gaines instead. The album also ends on a bit of a low note with the final three tracks being some of the weakest, “Still Would Stand All Time”, “Graffiti Bridge” and “New Power Generation pt. II”. These are not bad songs mind you, but they are a bit on the sappy/treacly/preachy side of things and they don’t provide that extra special ingredient that makes Prince songs so great…his individuality.
The thing about Graffiti Bridge, is that it could have been an excellent and well regarded album. In my opinion, it’s better than Batman and stands toe to toe with Prince and Lovesexy before it, but it’s generally looked at (incorrectly) as a failure. Partially due to it being a collection of songs from artists other than Prince, but largely due to the failure of the film it shares a name and narrative with. Graffiti Bridge – The Film, was a laughingstock of a movie back in 1990. It was almost as if its flaws (and there were so, so many of them) and its eccentricities (also so, so many) rubbed off onto the consciousness of the public and the music that went along with it became tainted by association. “Thieves In the Temple” was a top 10 hit, but it was also released months before the general public could witness the ridiculousness of the film firsthand. Would it have performed as well as a single if it had been released simultaneously as the film? We’ll never know but my guess is that it wouldn’t have.
Many critics ripped Under the Cherry Moon apart, and rightfully so, when it was released in 1986. Honestly that movie is a masterpiece compared to Graffiti Bridge – The Film. Thankfully, we have had decades of healing behind us and we can listen to the Graffiti Bridge – The Album without having to cringe at the mediocre acting, questionable writing, incoherent story and reality ignoring sets. Trust me, the music is worth a revisit. I mean, everybody’s looking for Graffiti Bridge, right? It’s right here. It’s been here since 1990 (or before if you big into Prince bootlegs in the 80s). It’s not a scary place at all to spend an hour of your time. Something to believe in.
My order of preference of Graffiti Bridge tracks from most favorite to least favorite with personal ratings next to them.
- Thieves In the Temple 5/5
- The Question of U 4.5/5
- We Can Funk (w/ George Clinton) 4.5/5
- Elephants & Flowers 4.5/5
- Joy In Repetition 4/5
- New Power Generation 4/5
- Tick, Tick, Bang 4/5
- Can’t Stop This Feeling I Got 4/5
- Graffiti Bridge 3.5/5
- Still Would Stand All Time 3/5
- New Power Generation pt. II 3/5
Overall Score: 4/5