Prince’s ‘Condition of the Heart’ Questions It All – Even Love
Even situated among many experiments on Around the World in a Day, Prince's quietly impactful "Condition of the Heart" may have been the most experimental. Also, the most beautiful.
It's not that Prince did a bunch of unexpected musical things; in fact, quite the opposite. The first two and a half minutes of this delicately conveyed 6:45-long track were devoted to an instrumental interlude, and the vast majority was simply Prince at the piano. Besides that, there was only minimal, heart-beat like percussion, and a synth to complete things.
On an album of continually unorthodox, textured grandiosity, "Condition of the Heart" stood out for what it didn't do. Rather than repeat his arena-funk success story, he allowed this track to unfold - at its own pace, in its own time, free of commercial expectations and even other members of the Revolution. Before Prince ever sang a word, he'd already taken full advantage of the attention naturally afforded a song in the third-place position on Around the World in a Day – well before "Pop Life," much less "Raspberry Beret."
Then there was the song's layered narrative – beginning with two presumably fictional targets of unrequited love, one in Paris and another in London. From there, Prince carefully constructed a series of tantalizing, but determinedly opaque glimpses into his mindset.
Was this newly minted superstar somehow the "sometimes lonely musician"? If so, then it had left him questioning himself, and the entire star-making process: "Isn't it a shame that sometimes money buys you everything – and nothing," Prince sings in one of his most androgynous pre-Sign O' the Times vocals – but only after underlining his own doubt by referencing a girl who chose an actual prince of the Arabian variety rather than one from Minnesota. (This uncertainty is more fully explored in "The Ladder," even as Around the World in the Day hurtles toward a conclusion that finds Prince – literally – left to eternal damnation.)
Despite all that he'd so quickly achieved, this album made clear that Prince knew the dangers of fame, had internalized how it might go wrong – and was determined to protect his career from that sad fate. Even so, keeping himself creatively engaged – to say nothing of romantically satisfied – wouldn't simply be gifted to anyone, even if they had just banked a smash-hit movie and multi-million-selling album. He'd confound plenty of people, fans and critics alike, while making something actionable out of that worry.
Certainly, the simply gorgeous "Condition of the Heart" was among the first in what would be many, many sharp left turns along Prince's musical journey – and there remains much to unravel here. As he got to the heart of the song, Prince suddenly shifted from the third to first person – making his raw appeal for tangible love all the more personal. With that, "Condition of the Heart" again changed creative concepts, just as it had changed the larger album's musical direction.
Prince started with a dramatic construct involving transcontinental lovers, then seemed ready to make a larger statement about his growing unease with the pressure to repeat the past. Perhaps already feeling isolated from the adulation attached to Purple Rain, he then attempted to convey something deeper, more real. He spoke – not sang – the final words, opening up a new line of thinking: Maybe this had been directed all along at Susannah Melvoin, the sister of Revolution member Wendy Melvoin who Prince began dating around this time.
Either way, "Condition of the Heart" spoke with emotion and specificity to Prince's need to be seen as he was, not as others would like to see him. In some ways, he'd continue to fight for that very thing through every successive incarnation of his endlessly fascinating career.
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