"Open your heart/Open your mind" begins the titular track of Around The World In a Day. The song is good advice. A closed-minded evaluation of the album will inevitably yield disappointment (another mainstream rock production like the palatial Purple Rain it is not), but a close listen with an open mind testifies to the fact that Prince by 1985 was busy cementing himself as the foremost artist of his era amidst a sea of mundane and formulaic '80s pop music.
Day represents a kind of maturity in Prince's musical style, one that allows for some self-indulgent genre-hopping and shows he has a bit more depth and imagination beyond the Purple Rain rock posturing. Indeed, given the thread of development that his mid-80's albums reveal, his command of songwriting and the music industry by this time allowed him to mature along with his fans, thus cementing an adamant following after a career breakout which would grow over his lifetime.
He dives into Hendrix guitar jams, RnB, radio-friendly pop, and his signature style of Sly-influenced funk. The experiments like Tambourine make the album's individual tracks excellent (Paisley Park, Raspberry Beret). However, that fact also tends to give the album a sense of disunity which can jar the listener at times. It's a smorgasbord instead of a unified sound. This is illustrated by how the songs were recorded (often on the road in different studios while on the Purple Rain tour).
Prince is smart enough to consciously be trying to move beyond the typecasting the blackbuster nature of Purple Rain threatened him with, but this causes him to shoot off in several different directions at once. They include indulging in lonely torch songs, becoming the second Jimi Hendrix, and pursuing the sound of the Beatles' Revolution era fuzz and far east influences. In a way, it seems to aim for something like what the Beatles achieved on Revolver).
The first song on the album, Around The World In a Day, is just such an eastern-scale influenced track. It is credited to Prince as well as his father John L Nelson. (This is a nice touch, showing some maturity about his daddy issues as dramatized in Purple Rain). It employs such exotic instruments as finger cymbals, darbuka, and oud. Well, who doesn't love them some oud? The lyrics are a great introduction to the album, an entreaty to open up to the music forthcoming. Appropriately, it is this song which starts the album, forcing the listener to depart from expectation.
Paisley Park is sounds like a mix between The Beatles Penny Lane and their song Revolution, invoking an idealized Minnesota compound with a pixie swinging from a tree in-the-afternoon-style fuzz guitar riff. The song is Prince at his most idealistic. Condition of the Heart follows, a piano ballad swimming in a molten sea of sugared longing. Overblown as it is in arrangement (swoops of piano and wails included), it manages to dimensionalize Prince for his audience and demonstrate his piano chops even as it borrows from the Another Lonely Christmas vein of melodrama.
What follows is another Sgt. Pepper's-ish pop tune (string quartet included), Prince's Raspberry Beret. This was the breakout chart-topper from the album, and it is beguiling, another example of Prince's almost-innocent yet salacious fuckery when it comes to lyrics and the subject of love.
America ends the first side of the album, and Tambourine starts the next. They are both beat heavy uptempo tunes. The first is somewhat jingo-istic in therms of its lyrical content, and even the 20 minute version from whence it was edited does nothing to flesh it out except for some underwhelming solos. Tambourine is an experiment in funk minimalism which works in its sonically somewhat-arrested way. Prince gets a chance to show he can play the drums on the track, tho.
In a way, at this point you almost get the idea the album is a collection of singles with some b-sides thrown down, not a wholly realized album, because many of the styles don't seem to relate to each other much. The theme of going around the world works to tie it together like a well placed rug in your room, but that is no substitute for real shag carpeting.
Pop Life was the second single from the album yet it is a much weaker track. It is irritatingly repetitive but somewhat like-able at the same time, if that is possible. The lyrics try in vain to make the kind of moral commentary which Prince often reaches for with middling success. It amounts to a few platitudes, as does the song The Ladder, a soul revue which invokes a clunky metaphor as the image of one man's spiritual quest. Well, Prince indeed pursued this theme throughout his career with sincere intent if not totally believable effect, and to that degree this is one of his better attempts since the gospel flavor works to give it a shimmery surface if not real depth. It describes a king looking for salvation.
The real salvation comes in the fun barn-burner of a track Temptation. The album-closer offers a kind of cheesy faux-innocent conversation with god as the centerpiece, but the riffing smokes like the devil and the lyrics are acceptably seductive in a right shoulder pitchfork guy left shoulder halo guy kind of way. It's an epic that stretches to 8 minutes and features New Orleans Junior Walker style sax interjections. Prince is really in heat on this one, harkening back to to songs like Lady Cad Driver in sexual intensity. This his holy alter-ego speaks to him, telling him that sex must be for the right reasons. It's just like the Insane Clown Posse bait and switch... drawn in the tent with promises in the dark, then turn on the light and surprise them with a sermon! "I understand," Prince answers himself. "Love is more important than sex." It is still the old dualism instead of a new synthesis, but at least it has a moral compass. The end result is that it sounds kind of stupid to be talking with your electronically pitch shifted conscience while simplifying one of the great conflicts of humankind, but you still want to turn up the volume.
That basically sums up the album-- it depends on accepting its point of view. Moving on from a groundbreaking iconic image and album can be difficult for any artist looking to establish a lasting career. With Around The World In a Day he was able to show the world that he had range and imagination. It's a slightly twisted vision which lacks cohesion, hence the rating, but it is a very good listen nonetheless.