How Prince Struck a Perfect Balance With ‘Anna Stesia’
"Anna Stesia" is Prince's most direct response to everything he wrestled with on the shelved Black Album – a musical representation of his issues with good versus evil, the flesh versus faith.
The funk-focused Black Album – which finally saw official release in 1994 – leaned decidedly toward more carnal pursuits, while the project he issued instead sought some middle ground. Arriving in May 1988, Lovesexy evolved into Prince's most spiritual release, and its center point is "Anna Stesia."
The Black Album was originally set to appear in December 1987, just eight months after Sign O' the Times, but a conflicted Prince pulled it a week before the project was due. What emerged next held far more complexity, and was almost entirely new. By the time he was finished, only "When 2 R In Love" remained from the abandoned Black Album, as Prince furiously recorded over a two-month period between December 1987 and January 1988.
The other songs were essentially recorded in order, and largely alone. He begins by offering a clear link to where this journey began. The house-rocking "Eye No," a reworking of "The Ball" from the similarly unreleased Crystal Ball, is followed by an expression of flinty sexual braggadocio in "Alphabet St." and the busy thump of "Glam Slam." Then "Anna Stesia" – with a title that recalls the Greek word for resurrection – suddenly uncovers the complex emotions that tend to follow this kind of sweaty catharsis.
What came before begins to seem like an empty exercise on escapism and ego; Prince now wants something more profound, and more lasting. "Maybe I could learn to love / If I was just closer to something," he muses here. "Closer to your higher self? / I don't know, closer to heaven / Closer to God."
From there, Lovesexy takes a decidedly more introspective turn. Prince awakens to a different and much deeper kind of desire, even as God and Satan (or, more specifically to the Lovesexy project, Camille and Spooky Electric) wage a fierce battle inside his heart. "Anna Stesia" is the moment when that war is won, at least for the moment. We're allowed to bear witness as Prince – famous, of course, for his playful duality – comes down definitively on one side: "Love is God, God is love," he sings as the rousing coda unfolds. "Girls and boys, love God above."
On an extravagant tour that followed, "Anna Stesia" played a similar role, ending the first half of a set list that started out with darker fare before moving into more positive themes. None of that could save Lovesexy, which remains unjustly ignored amidst over-inflated admiration for a deleted predecessor.
Prince sold just 750,000 copies before being halted at No. 11, making Lovesexy the least-successful album since For You, his embryonic 1978 debut. It was perhaps constructed too quickly to fully explore such weighty themes. Still, Lovesexy certainly deserved a better fate.
Prince would continue to grapple with these competing impulses for the rest of his career – indeed, for the rest of his life. But, as we found out on lesser releases like 2001's The Rainbow Children, he never struck a more finely tuned balance between them.