Prince – Controversy, Dirty Mind, and 1999

Controversy, Dirty Mind, and 1999: Quite a threesome. Newly remastered on 180g LP by Warner Bros., these iconic albums chronicle the evolution from Prince’s early sound—deeply rooted in dance and disco—to the heavily laden funk he arrived at by 1980’s Dirty Mind and its follow-up, Controversy. 1999, Prince’s second-best-selling record, reveals the sonic chameleon changing again, trading in a more commercial vein. No wonder many fans consider the 1982 double-LP the most accessible effort in his catalog.

Perhaps it’s the heavy use of drum machines and synth drums on Dirty Mind and Controversy, but these outings still sound brittle on the extreme high end. Bernie Grundman takes the helm on all three, but upon revisiting originals, you’ll see Grundman mastered them the first time around. Original LPs of these titles can be purchased for about $5 in good condition, and the CDs don’t sound half bad. The biggest differences in sound quality between the original and remastered versions? Additional midrange depth and extra warmth in the bass register. Such warmth may actually make the aforementioned drum machines stand out; it’s a double-edged sword.

If you are sitting on the fence and trying to decide on just one of these titles, 1999 is the one you want. The new version offers a big jump in low-level detail over that on the original. In addition, it’s substantially smoother throughout the high-frequency spectrum, particularly compared to the original as well as Controversy and Dirty Mind. A smattering of vocal distortion sneaks through, especially during Prince’s loudest screams, but again, even these parts have been substantially tamed.

Moreover, vocal harmonies are more easily discerned and the record seems to have better overall pace, with the upper bass coming through much more clearly and cleanly. These enhancements add to the enjoyment of the dense production Prince puts forward on 1999. He stacks the deck with the title track, “Little Red Corvette,” and “Delirious,” finishing hard with “Lady Cab Driver” (the church bell and squealing girl in the background never sounded so vivid), “All The Critics Love U in New York,” and “International Lover.” The 2nd LP’s flip side unveils Prince plotting another moderate style change, headed towards what would soon become The New Power Generation sound.  —Jeff Dorgay

Rhino/Warner Bros., 180g LPs