When Prince Suggested Trying a ‘New Position’
“I do nothing professionally, I do everything for fun,” an intruding Christopher Tracy announces to a flock of quizzical guests at a polished, gentry soirée. Christopher Tracy is, of course, Prince’s lead role in his sophomore directorial endeavor, Under the Cherry Moon; and the music that enters the scene is the song “New Position,” a steel pan-driven tutorial on bedroom mojo recovery.
It’s this dialogue that too perfectly captures the unrestrained genre-intermingling and celebratory spirit that animates 1986’s Parade — the second album credited to Prince & the Revolution that accompanies a Prince-commandeered feature film. And it’s “New Position,” the jittery second track on the soundtrack that encapsulates the rawness of Prince’s celluloid alter ego’s devoutly playful credo.
Yet, it’s a surprise still to some that the album kindled by the Billboard Hot 100-topping “Kiss” was penned in service of a film so discreetly forgotten. Under the Cherry Moon, a moody, black-and-white French romance homage, was a commercial and critical blunder. But the tension between the failure of the film project, crippled by clunky acting and stilted execution, and the smashing success of the album’s lead single has shackled Parade to a purgatory of ambivalence in its popular perception. While the album’s more familiar numbers are as cherished as any seductive Prince hit in his canon, Parade’s masterfully adventurous eclecticism is unjustly shadowed by the contextual field of Under the Cherry Moon’s artistic misfire.
Just as Parade occupies a peculiar space in the running of Prince’s decade-long fusillade of pop excellency (that is, as is generally accepted, the stretch from his self-titled commercial breakthrough in 1979 to 1988’s Lovesexy), the strutting “New Position” sexcapade stands out like a diamond among pearls on his eighth studio album.
Situated between the technicolor baroque flourish of “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” that opens the album and the daunting lustful whisper of “I Wonder U” fronted by Wendy Melvoin, “New Position” sees the groundwork of a usual Prince dance-stimulant with its author this time stripped down to his bare essentials, musically as well as physically. A Caribbean steelpan melody punctuated by tom-oriented drum flits that tightly follow the ascending bass patterns complete the minimal list of ingredients with which Prince constructs “New Position.” Sweetened by Melvoin and Lisa Coleman’s backing vocals, the disrobed musical arrangement is complemented by lyrical decrees that map sexual exploration as a means to the destination of spiritual rejuvenation. The result is something that stands convincingly against the thunder of “1999” or “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” but at half the cost.
And though “New Position” seems to burst with familiar infectiousness among the more foreign styles that bookend it on the album, it actually rests gracefully within a fluid stream of pop-funk glamour that’s nothing if not perfectly recognizably Prince. Which is, naturally, by design. Upon first entering the studio to track percussion for the Parade sessions, Prince recorded drums for the record’s first four songs (“Christopher Tracy’s Parade,” “New Position,” “I Wonder U,” “Under the Cherry Moon”) in a single uninterrupted take. And on the finished product, the first three recordings bleed seamlessly into one another, affording each track the dual citizenship of self-contained musical expression and an integral component to a cohesive movement.
Lyrically, on “New Position,” Prince employs the double entendre with such expert finesse you might think it was his first instrument. Except with Prince at the helm, the risqué innuendo and the innocuous facade reverse roles, shrouding a biblical longing to "go fishing in the River, the River of Life" behind more straightforward motions to rescue two faltering freaks’ sexual rapport. But these two life pursuits are hardly in conflict with one another. For Prince, in fact, they’re inherently intertwined.
“We can’t last," he bargains with us, unless we abandon our comfort zones to find “something that’ll make it alright." "It” being a life on either side of the bedroom door deficient of “a shot of new spunk." And for those of us who lack access to the pleasures that enliven the spiritual and erotic expressions of Prince’s existence? The answer lies within the very name of the messenger. As “New Position” later reveals, he is that salvation: “I can make you happy, I can make it real good."
Prince Rogers Nelson, dearly departed, remains firmly within our grasp. And Parade's “New Position” was bequeathed by our hero as a nudging reminder of that.