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25 Years Ago: Prince Gets Cinematic on ‘Graffiti Bridge’ Album

NPG Records

Graffiti Bridge the film may have been deemed a commercial failure but Prince’s 12th album of the same name was much better received.

On a $7 million dollar budget, Prince brought in an impressive ensemble of artists including George Clinton, Mavis Staples, Tevin Campbell and his Purple Rain protégés the Time for the musical drama.

The singer had already spent the last decade working on his cinematic excellence when it came to crafting solid album. Purple Rain, his 1984 film debut, had grossed more than $65 million and was by every definition a critical darling. Just a year before Graffiti Bridge, he had reportedly spent plenty of time on the set of Batman, the shadowy 1989 Tim Burton-directed flick Prince scored that would become an undeniable influence on his film.

When it came time to turn his attention towards the making of Graffiti Bridge, it would have been easy for Prince to take the formulaic route: follow up one smash hit, cult classic movie and album combination with a continuation of the same story and yet another soundtrack.

But it was “a different kind of movie,” he said in a 1990 Rolling Stone interview. Because, after all, “It’s not violent. No one gets laid.”

This time around, Prince revived his character The Kid to rival Morris Day, played by himself, for control of the Glam Slam night club. It’s a spectacular battle between Day’s money-making modus operandi that appeals to the masses and The Kid’s longing to play to a spiritual calling that uses music as a metaphor for a tug-of-war of good and evil. Throughout it all, it wouldn’t be Prince without blurring the lines of the carnal and the holy, conjuring Ingrid Chavez as a the slinky liaison to a higher power.

Critically noted for its melodrama, Prince still hits a musical stride in his confident strut. Though much of the album, released on Aug. 20, 1990, was revived from outtakes of past sessions, original tracks like “New Power Generation” ushered in the first appearance of Prince’s backing band of the same name with high-octane bombast.

Watch the Trailer for Graffiti Bridge

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“I can’t please everyone,” Prince mused in the interview. “I didn’t want to make Die Hard 4. But I’m also not looking to be Francis Ford Coppola. I see this more like those 1950s rock and roll movies.”

For as notoriously enigmatic of a frontman as Prince has always been, Graffiti Bridge often found him taking the backseat. Instead, he called on his all-star cast to take the reins. The sexed-up future beats and coy lyrics were unmistakably Prince, but his vehicles were a span — a bridge — of old guard soul meets of-the-moment electro.

The Time’s return marked an impossible overlooked mythos. Members Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, fired from Prince’s touring crew in 1983, had since rose to their own fame as producers at the helm of Janet Jackson’s ultra successful breakthrough album Control — and equally influential for its fusion of R&B and rap.

But Warner Bros. Records refused to back the movie without an original lineup and the Time agreed to reconvene, gracing Graffiti with saxophone funk (“Release It”), sugary come-hither seduction (“Love Machine),” organ-fueled locomotion (“Shake!”) and flashy swagger (“The Latest Fashion”). Following Graffiti Bridge, the Time reunited once more for their comeback LP, Pandemonium, which would birth the No. 1 Billboard R&B hit, “Jerk Out.”

“We were like, ‘Okay, we’ll do your movie, Prince, but we’re still going to do our own album.’ We were already on the path to do that,” said Jimmy Jam in an interview looking back.

And then there was the gospel virtuoso Mavis Staples. Entwined in a storyline of salvation, few voices could emancipate quite like Staples demanding you know, “I’m Melody and I’m still cool” on the track named after her character, Melody Cool. If ever an album had a messiah, it might be Staples bellowing, “Everybody runnin’ ’round talkin’ ’bout saving souls.”

While Graffiti Bridge became the relative end to Prince’s center stage film career, it did introduce an enduring collaboration with the New Power Generation. In all the earnestness of the project, few could negate that Prince had once again owned the album’s affable, campy flair like only His Royal Badness could and showed, as always, that pop’s favorite experimentalist was never afraid to tread new waters.

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