Prince’s “Batman” Reviewed
It was the summer of 1989 and Prince was ready to rebound from his less than stellar commercial results for album # 10, Lovesexy, and, still signed to slave owners Warner Brothers, he agreed to record the studio album for Tim Burton’s Alan Parkerish “Batman”. I wasn’t crazy about either the movie or the album at the time, get a load of them now, right? This was the harbinger for the proto-Marvel (yes, of course we know, but Marvel set the tone), superheroes with psychological problems and with the exception of the first three Spiderman movies, I have never really enjoyed the concept. Surely Christopher Reeve’s first “Superman” was where it was at, instead we get self-important Tim Burtons instead of humorous genius Richard Lester.
So I haven’t listened to “Batman” in a long long time. Working my way through Prince’s catalog, I was surprised how little I remembered. So far, after Dirty Mind, I knew them all in real time, but I hadn’t listened to much of this stuff for way too long. Still, at least with Controversy, I remembered the hits perfectly, here, I had to listen to “Batdance” for it to click back into place.
“Batdance” is Prince’s rethink of the TV show theme, and it is much better than I remember it, a kaleidoscopic funk workout that finds what was always there, that blurting title powed and zoomed, with samples from the movies (“ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”) and a doctored Prince vocal, and it sounds, well, just terrific. A ton of fun. And that is another thing about going through these Prince albums, my taste has changed apparently, because it sounds so much better than it did. The problem with Batman is the ballads. “The Arms Of Orion” -featuring Sheena Easton, is a big time bummer, an awful AM Radio middle of the road bore. “Scandalous” is better, a great vocal by his Royal Purpleness, but the song is very weak. If that is the worst, “Lemon Crush” emerges as one of Prince’s great strangely ignored songs, a back catalog find of the first order, a beat manifesto with one of his great choruses. A terrific song, and all the other funk workouts are first rate as well. “Vicki Is Waiting”. gentlemen, let’s broaden our minds “Partyman”… all this stuff sounds good.. The “studio album” concept (Danny Elfman did the soundtrack”) is somewhere between concept and segue, but it doesn’t kill the songs because, well, it was modern dance at the time and leant its hand to big time remix concepts.
It isn’t that Prince “got “Batman” -though the lone crusader bit must have amused him, it is that funk is very very adaptable to concept, so he adapted what he would have done to what he had to do. Lyrically, there is nothing very insightful here, it doesn’t illuminate Michael Keaton’s dour performance at all, it doesn’t much add to the movie except as an added plus.
Recorded in six weeks, this began a falling out with WB, and it is something of a shotgun marriage as well as a (successful -six weeks at the top of the charts back when that meant something) sellout that didn’t descend to actually selling out; a commercial double where much of the music was better than Lovesexy (also something of a commercial cop out). This is what Prince did in his prime, precisely what he chose to while stroking mainstream pop success.