Prince is one of the most fascinating popular entertainers in music history. Despite 30-plus years in the spotlight, he remains extraordinarily enigmatic. In the early years of his career, that was largely due to the infrequency with which he granted interviews. More recently, Prince talks more often but rarely seems to reveal much about himself on a personal level. He is an ever-polarizing figure who, despite his vast recorded output, has arguably never been truly accepted on a mainstream level. There is simply no one else like him, which makes him impossible to categorize.
Jason Draper’s new book, Prince: Chaos, Disorder, and Revolution, tells the story of Prince’s career. There have been books that focused strictly on musical analysis of the artist’s work (the indispensable Dancemusicsexromance – Prince: The First Decade by Per Nilsen) as well as those that delve into his personal life (Alex Hahn’s intriguing, though largely unflattering, Possessed: The Rise and Fall of Prince). Draper’s volume falls somewhere in between those categories, as it mostly avoids the rather distasteful portrait presented by some earlier biographers. But it isn’t the place to go for a truly in-depth look at what matters most about Prince: his music.
What I liked best about Draper’s writing is his dry, journalistic approach. This isn’t the work of an obsessed fanboy, nor does it ever stoop to tabloid-level sensationalism. Draper focuses mostly on Prince’s work, including (but not limited to) albums, movies, and tours. He clearly did his research, avoiding speculation and hearsay in favor of matters of public record. This isn’t the type of book where some former groupie or third-string backup dancer dishes unverifiable dirt, billed as an “inside source.” This is a clearly-written account of the hits, misses, controversies, and contradictions that have made up a unique career.
The obvious downside to this approach is that hardcore fans likely know most — if not all — of this information already. Though my once insatiable appetite for Prince-related news has subsided in recent years, I didn’t find anything illuminating or thought-provoking in Prince: Chaos, Disorder, and Revolution. As a recovering Prince addict, I’m perhaps not the target audience for this book. After years of gobbling up every interview, article, and review I could find, the primary benefit of Draper’s text is having so much well-organized information in one place.
If there are newer, younger Prince fans out there, this book is most definitely recommended. For the pop music fan with a casual interest and desire to know more, this book will be useful. Every once in a while, Prince flexes his musical muscles in a very mainstream forum (Superbowl XLI, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2004) and everyone seems to take note. People who have never bought a Prince album rave about his guitar playing. These folks will gain considerably from Draper’s efforts.
After reading Prince: Chaos, Disorder, and Revolution, including the author’s notes at the end, I have no doubt that Jason Draper respects, admires, and loves the music of Prince. That said, Draper could’ve maybe dug a little deeper into the analysis of that varied back catalog. Most of his critical opinions tow the line, more or less. Maybe he just happens to agree with the critical consensus more often than not. I do appreciate the time he spent looking at Prince’s increasingly uneven work of the last 10 years or so, however tempting it may have been to downplay. He devotes a healthy section to 2001’s The Rainbow Children, for instance. And to be fair, I’m guessing editorial concerns were a significant factor when dealing with such a prodigious body of work. He packed a lot of information into 272 pages.
All things considered, Prince: Chaos, Disorder, and Revolution is one of the best-written, most-factual Prince biographies currently available.