Homesick for Superstardom, Prince Reaches for ‘Gold’
When sessions for 1995's The Gold Experience wrapped up, Prince labored over an outstanding number of possible track list configurations for an outstanding number of songs he recorded. His studio perfectionism was typically matched by a determined desire to create a sequence of songs that resulted in the emotional impact that he had envisioned. But, in all the track listing's tested variations, at least one song remained fixed in place as the album's closing track.
"Gold," Prince famously informed the press, was going to be the next "Purple Rain."
This news would be welcomed by Prince fans. The pair of albums released the previous year, in 1994 — The Black Album and Come — had been polarizing, especially in contrast to the warmly received early-'90s offerings, Diamonds and Pearls and the Love Symbol Album. "Cream," from the former of the two releases, had been Prince's last Billboard Hot 100 No. 1.
This was, it suffices to say, less than an ideal way to start off the newly established second chapter in the Prince arc that the release of 1993's The Hits/The B-Sides compilation had marked.
But The Gold Experience—and by Prince's word, the record's titular ballad—would revisit the apogee of conceptual artistry and commercial superstardom that had been found with the singer's mid-'80s magnum opus. Its value was practically baked right into the song's (and album's) 14-karat title.
It sputtered out at No. 88 on the pop chart.
Contrary to the cosmic pop salvation the Purple One envisioned, The Gold Experience's second single (third when counting "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," shared with the previous year's The Beautiful Experience EP), trailed in the shadow of its preceding single, "Eye Hate U," which reached the Top 20.
Still, the ambition is palpable right from the song's outset. The shimmering resonance of Tommy Barbarella's keys create an atmosphere of gentle suspense, promising an epic payoff as Prince sings, "There's a mountain and it's mighty high / You cannot see the top unless you fly."
But the song finally does kick in, what's delivered is radically different from the visceral, emotive fire that burns on "Purple Rain." Perhaps too formulated for radio, "Gold" appears driven more by a boilerplate formula than by the raw soul passion that characterizes the greater share of Prince's well-stocked arsenal of pop ballads.
The underwhelming Prince ballad is captured almost perfectly by the tepidly executed enthusiasm of the actors portraying audience members in the questionably-budgeted music video (viewable below). Reflected in the single's poor chart showing, Prince's next epic would have to wait for another day.
Salvaging itself from the fate of critics' adversarial puns, The Gold Experience album did in fact manage to reach gold status. Its would-be masterpiece, however, remains understandably unnoticed in the vastness of Prince's output. Fortunately, an Emancipation of sorts was only a year off.