Prince Takes Us On a Masterful, If Confusing Trip to ‘Space': 365 Prince Songs in a Year
To celebrate the incredibly prolific, influential and diverse body of work left behind by Prince, we will be exploring a different song of his each day for an entire year with the series 365 Prince Songs in a Year.
Prince had already moved on to his next album, and the next phase, long before “Space” arrived as part of 1994’s Come. In fact, a follow-up album was already in the can. It would become the first credited to a new post-Prince glyph – and another skirmish line with Warner Bros., since they decided to hold The Gold Experience until 1995 rather than issue back-to-back new studio projects. His label had already shut down Paisley Park Records.
An angry Prince then chose to largely ignore Come, even focusing on then-unreleased songs from The Gold Experience during personal appearances and subsequently on the Ultimate Live Experience Tour. Meanwhile, just weeks after the arrival of “Space” as a single on Nov. 1, 1994, Warner Bros. finally agreed to release The Black Album.
Dark and often experimental, Come has a lot more in common with that previously shelved double album than with its actual successor. (The cover found a dour, now-former Prince standing before a cathedral adjacent to his birth and “death” dates of 1958-1993.) When it finally arrived, The Gold Experience was accessible, even breezy – the perfect belated landing spot for his Top 5 Billboard smash “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.”
Prince didn’t do “Space” any favors, either. The single confusingly featured the Universal Love Radio Remix as the a-side, rather than the New Power Generation take from Come. (There was an unreleased Madhouse version out there somewhere, too.) He also released a compilation of Paisley Park Records artists titled 1-800-NEW-FUNK, featuring one new Prince song – a duet with Nona Gaye. Meanwhile, by early 1995, Prince could be found regularly complaining that his employers were refusing to issue “his best album yet.”
Fans were understandably confused, and “Space” – though featured on an album that topped the U.K. charts, and reached No. 15 in America – became one of Prince’s more puzzling chart failures. Rather than his typical combination of pop, funk and rock, “Space” pairs his latest romantic overture with trip-hop’s perfectly moody sound. The results resemble little that came before or after, proving once again that there was almost no musical idea which he couldn’t master. (It’s also worth noting that Prince – call him the Lunar Lothario – is apparently just as successful with women on Mars, despite the arid, often brutally cold conditions.)
A pitched battle for creative independence with his label was bound to lead to some casualties, however, and this song was one of them. More than that, Prince’s purposeful shift away from mainstream expectations – his old Purple Rain fans weren’t exactly clamoring for an experiment with of-the-moment trip-hop – inevitably yielded disastrous commercial results. Rolling Stone uncharitably described Prince’s early ’90s moves as “the most spectacular slow-motion career derailment in the history of popular music.”
He hit on the idea of finding a different avenue to get his music to the masses, one that cut Warner Bros. out of the loop. But nothing – beginning with a musical, also to be titled Come – seemed to click. Prince kept trying. There was also an aborted movie project and then another musical. The latter, presented as a modern take on Homer’s Odyssey, actually made it to the stage, with equally disastrous results.
Glam Slam Ulysses, which featured 12 dancers and a slew of new songs including “Space,” never got past a few select showings at Prince’s Los Angeles nightclub. Bashed as “silly” by the Los Angeles Times, this dud ended up costing Prince several hundred thousand dollars. “If only he would forget about all this multimedia nonsense,” the Times critic added, “and get down on stage with a guitar.”
Of course, Prince eventually did just that. By then, however, Come – and the too-often-overlooked “Space” – had been lost amid the clutter of controversy and bad ideas.