Prince's fifth album came right before the lascivious multi-instrumentalist became a huge star with his 1984 film and soundtrack, Purple Rain. But Prince had already proved himself to be the most audacious talent to emerge in the 1980s, and 1999, the bulk of which features Prince on all the instruments, reflects the dance-rock styles that he also brought to the acts he produced, particularly the Time. Prince knows how to run a one-man-band individual instruments don't blend together as much as they compete in a funky showdown which allows tracks like "Automatic," "D.M.S.R.," and "Delirious" to sustain their long playing times. But the album's two enduring hits, "1999" and "Little Red Corvette," outshine the rest, and define the essential roles that rock and funk play in Prince's music. "Little Red Corvette" is a sexy song about a car, which would have been enough to make it a terrific rock song even if it didn't also boast an infectious chorus and a great guitar part. As for "1999," count on it being the dance song of the millennial year. --John Milward
Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
With Dirty Mind, Prince had established a wild fusion of funk, rock, new wave, and soul that signaled he was an original, maverick talent, but it failed to win him a large audience. After delivering the sound-alike album, Controversy, Prince revamped his sound and delivered the double album 1999. Where his earlier albums had been a fusion of organic and electronic sounds, 1999 was constructed almost entirely on synthesizers by Prince himself. Naturally, the effect was slightly more mechanical and robotic than his previous work and strongly recalled the electro-funk experiments of several underground funk and hip-hop artists at the time. Prince had also constructed an album dominated by computer funk, but he didn't simply rely on the extended instrumental grooves to carry the album -- he didn't have to when his songwriting was improving by leaps and bounds. The first side of the record contained all of the hit singles, and, unsurprisingly, they were the ones that contained the least amount of electronics. "1999" parties to the apocalypse with a P-Funk groove much tighter than anything George Clinton ever did, "Little Red Corvette" is pure pop, and "Delirious" takes rockabilly riffs into the computer age. After that opening salvo, all the rules go out the window -- "Let's Pretend We're Married" is a salacious extended lust letter, "Free" is an elegiac anthem, "All the Critics Love U in New York" is a vicious attack at hipsters, and "Lady Cab Driver," with its notorious bridge, is the culmination of all of his sexual fantasies. Sure, Prince stretches out a bit too much over the course of 1999, but the result is a stunning display of raw talent, not wallowing indulgence.