“Anna Stesia” – Lovesexy (1988)

This is the fourth song on the first track from Prince’s tenth album – Lovesexy. If all you’ve ever listened to is an illegal download (thief!) then you may be wondering just what the hell that sentence meant. But if like me, you own a copy of the CD then you know and understand the joy of having an entire album as one gigantic 45 minute track (skipping tracks is for punks). If you have the vinyl, this is the closing song on side 1. But good luck skipping to it if you have a pressing with no track separations on it (it’s art dammit!). Released in May 1988 by Warner Brothers, most of the songs on this album were recorded over a two month period from December 1987 to January 1988, except for “When 2 R In Love” which was a holdover from the abandoned Black Album. Said Black Album was ready to go and set for release in December 1987 (8 months after Sign O’ The Times) but was cancelled by Prince a week before it was due to drop. Apparently Prince felt it was too “dark”. If you’ve heard the Black Album, and I assume you have, then you’ll know how “dark” it is and can make your own judgements.

The story of the Black Album and Lovesexy is a tale, truly marvellous to behold (assuming all the rumours are true). I shall now attempt to tell the tale. So please sit back and relax as I relate to you the tale of “How A Prince Loved being Sexy and got Spooked by Electricity…”

“… time upon a once, a young Camille (allegedly) didn’t vibe on the way people were groovin’ to his Black tunes. Their dancing (allegedly) made him feel “the lowest utmostest” and he started to cry. In an effort to help Camille, his friend named Kitten, (allegedly) sought the aid of a young minstrel named Antonis of the Right Hot Chillin’ Pipers traveling show. Through him she obtained some powerful magix called Multi-Dimensional Mind Activators – also know as “ecstatics” in the common tongue. The Kitten (allegedly) shared the magical bounty with Camille who then (allegedly) consumed the “ecstatics” and got the Spooks real bad. The Spooky Electricity in his brain drove him to go on a 7 state murder spree shouting “I’m Bob George muthafucka!” to every one of his victims (allegedly) and bathing himself in squirrel meat. Luckily, a guardian angel called Ingrind (allegedly) was able to calm him and persuade him to (allegedly) confess his (alleged) crimes. As punishment for his (alleged) crimes he let the (alleged) Black tunes die and from the ashes that remained he created his penance, a Love Sexy, Glam Slam, monster jam.”[1]

At least that’s how I heard the story.

Whatever the back story might be, Lovesexy was the result. A funky psychedelic gospel album that is Prince’s celebration of love and life. This record also marked the end of an era in Prince music. This is the end of his 80s run of truly great albums (sorry Batman fans). And depending on your point of view, it never really got better from here. Whenever I read a music journalist writing about how Prince’s latest album is his “best work since Sign O’ The Times” (or Purple Rain) it not only makes me sad for the state of music journalism but it reminds me that Lovesexy, as great as it is, is often the forgotten child of the Prince catalogue. Lovesexy wasn’t as successful as his previous releases in the US but it did go to number 1 in the UK charts and due to the album’s success there, the Lovesexy tour began in Europe in July 1988, and the Englanders got to see nine shows. What that says about the English, I’m not sure. Maybe they sensed that the album was inspired by the same thing that fueled their Second Summer of Love[2] so they happily jumped on board Prince’s version of the “X” train.

Prince has referred to Lovesexy as his gospel album and when you listen to it you can tell exactly what he means. It’s euphoric in its expression of happiness. On this album you can hear how easily and effortlessly he’s communicating with his audience and increasing his closeness to them. He’s building the New Power Generation. A new society where we’re all as one. It feels like it has elements of enhanced sounds and colours (the soundscape and imagery is almost HD) mixed with a feeling of inner peace and understanding. And overlaying it all is a heightened level of perception and sexuality. If, by the end, you have any doubt about what he was trying to say with this album then you aren’t paying attention. This is not merely music, this is very much a trip.

“Anna Stesia” is a stand out track in Prince’s discography from an album of stand outs. It’s one of those songs that tends to be towards the top of every Prince fams favourite song list. It’s mostly a one man band but it does have some back up from the ladies in the band. The introduction to this song is unforgettable and instantly recognisable. The opening chord on the keyboard is all it takes to get a cheer from any Prince audience. The opening drumbeat, that comes in with the lyrics, mimics Prince’s “dark” heart beating in the quiet of his loneliness. The vocal performance sounds almost as though he’s about to cry. The song slowly builds with the addition of various layers of instruments and vocals throughout with lots of little flourishes and accents as the song progresses. The guitar gets more involved as the atmosphere builds and builds towards its ecstatic conclusion. And the outro is designed for 20,000 people to sing along with in concert and proclaim their love. It may start as a mellow and minor track but the way it finishes leaves us in no doubt that whatever happened to Prince prior to recording to this it was ultimately a positive experience. Maybe he took some ecstasy. Maybe the Black Album scared him. Maybe it was both. Or some other unknown reason. Whatever the case may be, “Anna” was born out of that experience so it couldn’t have been all bad.

 

Have U ever been so lonely
That U felt like U were the
Only one in this world?

Have U ever wanted 2 play
With someone so much U’d take
Any one boy or girl?

If you answered “yes” to both of these questions then maybe you too need some ecstasy. After the positivity of the first few songs on the album this seems like a dark turn. It’s such a departure that he had to include a little transition piece between “Glam Slam” and “Anna Stesia” so it wouldn’t be such a jarring change. The opening line of the song talks of Prince’s isolation from the world. He’s asking us to sympathise. To understand that loneliness is something we all feel at some point. Sitting just behind that is another question – what to do about the loneliness? By the end of the song we find out the answer is (spoilers!) “Anna Stesia”. The word “play” in the second question is delivered with such innocence that you could almost believe he was talking about skipping rope. He just wants to play (boy or girl, it don’t matter no more), to be touched, to be held. To have someone who truly cares. It smacks of desperation, but it also has that undercurrent of desire. A longing to feel something other than the loneliness.

 

Anna Stesia come 2 me
Talk 2 me, ravish me
Liberate my mind
Tell me what U think of me
Praise me, craze me
Out this space and time

Unlike the characters in our earlier story about Camille, “Anna Stesia” is not a real person. She ain’t no Russian princess, that’s for sure. Prince makes it clear by the way he pronounces her name that she represents “anaesthesia” which is “… the practice of administering medications… that block the feeling of pain and other sensations.”[3] In his loneliness and depression Prince is telling “Anna” to come and block the pain (and other negative emotions) that he is feeling. If she can somehow stop the pain, and sing his praises then he can free his mind. He tells her to “praise” him, which is an odd thing to add to a list of requests you are making to another person. But not to a list of demands you are making on a drug. This isn’t Prince begging for relief, this is him demanding it. Make me your deity. Praise me. Praise be. Do this for me out of space and time. In an astral dimension. In heaven. “Anna” is blocking his pain, singing his praises, leading him to heaven.

 

Between white and black, night and day
Black night seemed like the only way…
So I danced

The Black Album has a black cover. Lovesexy has a white cover (with a blooming flower on it). There’s no room for a single shade of grey here (let alone fifty). The Black Album was his attempt to get his funk cred back after getting some heat for selling out with his popular success. His choice was black and white. Funk or pop. The black funk seemed like the only way so he danced and created the Black Album. In his depressed state, Prince chose the darkness and recorded a “dance” album.

 

Music late, nothing great (Music late, nothing great)
No way 2 differentiate (No way 2 differentiate)
I took a chance

The vocal here becomes almost robotic, and the backing music changes slightly. There’s a keyboard stab in the background that sounds almost out of place, like it belongs in another song.  There are even laser beam type sounds towards the end of the verse (one of the flourishes that I mentioned earlier and I don’t think they’re repeated anywhere). The undifferentiated music that he’s talking about is the robotic, cookie cutter stuff that’s all over the charts. The stuff he’s trying to get away from. The Black Album was an attempt, a chance if you will, to go back to the funk. But the Black Album wasn’t so great – it wasn’t enough. At least not to Prince. If it differentiated him at all from what the other artists were playing it did it in the wrong way. So he gambles on “Anna”.

 

Gregory looks just like a ghost
And then a beautiful girl the most
Wets her lips 2 say

Now we set the scene. In a dark club, looking through the smoke, Greg appears as though Prince could almost see through him, to where the beautiful girl is standing. She’s taken some pills (she knows “Anna”) and is dehydrated. Her mouth is dry so she needs to wet her lips before she starts to speak.

 

“We could live 4 a little while
If U could just learn 2 smile
U and I could fly away, fly away.”

If you take some pills with me then, at least for a little while, you’ll be able to forget your sorrows and you and I can fly off to that far off land where loneliness can’t find us. You’ll smile with all your might. We can go to a better place together and fly with “Anna”.

 

Anna Stesia come 2 me
Talk 2 me, ravish me
Liberate my mind
Tell me what U think of me
Praise me, craze me
Out this space and time

Maybe, maybe, maybe I could learn 2 love
I mean the right way, I mean the only way
Perhaps U could show me, baby (show me, baby)

He needs a teacher. A guide. Someone to show him the way. “Anna” will show him how to love. She will teach him the correct methodology to enable him to properly express the emotion known as love. Great guitar screams at the end of this verse. Just to emphasise the point.


Anna Stesia come 2 me
Talk 2 me, ravish me
Liberate my mind

Again, he’s asking “Anna” to free his mind from the loneliness and sorrow. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

 

Maybe, maybe, maybe I could learn 2 love
If I was just closer 2 somethin’ (closer)
Closer 2 your higher self
I don’t know
Closer 2 heaven (Maybe) closer 2 God (closer to God)

How can he get closer to god? Learn to love? Closer to his higher self? Get high? He can get there with “Anna’s” help. To the heavens.


Save me Jesus, I’ve been a fool
How could I forget that U are the rule
U are my God, I am Your child
From now on, 4 U I shall be wild
I shall be quick I shall be strong
I’ll tell Your story, no matter how long (no matter how… no matter)

This is where the “Anna” finally kicks in properly and the love and understanding become clear in Prince’s mind as the chemicals in his brain start to adjust. The curtain has come down and he knows what he needs to do. Being the devote christian that he is, he equates this with praising his god.


We’re just a play in Your master plan
Now, my Lord I understand

(I understand)

Love is God, God is love
Girls and boys love God above
[repeated over chorus]

The great gift that “Anna” has given Prince is the ultimate realisation that “Love is God, God is love”. Love is everything. Love is the universe. Love is all creation. This is Prince’s revelation. All thanks to one little pill (maybe more than one). The power of “Anna” has led him to this realisation. Or rather, made clear what he was feeling and brought it to the surface.

If you haven’t guessed by now “Anna Stesia” is actually a reference to ecstasy and the effects that a drug like MethyleneDioxy-MethAmphetamine has on a person – blocking feelings of pain and bringing the joy of life to the surface. The effects of taking ecstasy include:

  • Euphoria – a sense of general well-being and happiness
  • Increased sociability and feelings of communication being easy or simple
  • Entactogenic effects – increased empathy or feelings of closeness with others
  • A sense of inner peace
  • Mild hallucination (e.g., colors and sounds are enhanced and mild closed-eye visuals)
  • Enhanced sensation, perception, or sexuality[4]

That’s the sound of Lovesexy. It’s as though he took all the joy and sensation of being on ecstasy and put it on wax. This is definitely a euphoric album and although “Anna Stesia” starts off in a “dark” place (coming off the Black Album) by the end of the song, once the pills have kicked in, there’s nothing left but joy and delight. “Anna” has numbed the pain and the suffering and all that remains is love.

This song and the rest of this album are the result of Prince taking some ecstasy (allegedly). And if this is what Prince is capable of producing after taking ecstasy then, shit – let’s get him some more. Imagine the amazing sounds he could have recorded if he kept taking pills. And why stop at ecstasy, get him some LSD and see where that takes him. We could have been tuning into the radio in the early 90s and heard the DJ say something like “That was Prince with his new smash hit ‘We R All Just 1 Consciousness Experiencing Itself, Subjectively, There’s No Such Thing As Death And We R The Imagination Of Ourselves.’ And now it’s over to Tom with the weather.”[5] This song specifically, and by extension the Lovesexy album, are both an advertisement for the positive power of modern pharmacology and better living through chemistry. This is not music, this is a trip.

 

Running time: 4:57

 

References:

Lovesexy (released 1988)

The Black Album (release 1984)

Batman (released 1989)

The Peach & Black Podcast

Sign ‘O’ The Times, Michaelangelo Matos, Continuum International Publishing, 2004.

Wikipedia

Prince Vault

AZ Lyrics

The Hits – Songbook

Prince In Print

 

[1] http://princetext.tripod.com/v_lovesexy_program.html

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Summer_of_Love

[3] http://www.anzca.edu.au/patients/anaesthestist

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MDMA

[5] If you know about Bill Hicks then you know that I’ve straight ripped him off here but it was too good an opportunity to let slip. If you don’t know who Bill Hicks is well then, you better ask somebody.

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