At the beginning of 1989, the tabloids were full of rumours that Prince was in dire financial straits.
While that seems unlikely, with hindsight it does seem a curious decision for him to take on a soundtrack gig for such a huge mainstream movie, stepping right into the belly of the Warner Bros. beast.
But then it’s also not much of a surprise that he smashed Batman out of the park.
On many levels, it was the perfect project for the time – the movie’s themes appealed to his post-Lovesexy spiritual concerns and also tapped into his own feelings about fatherhood. He explored those themes poignantly on ‘The Future’ and ‘Vicki Waiting’.
Musically, in the main he retreated from Lovesexy‘s album’s dense, complex, band-inspired sounds and went back to a minimalist approach, pushing his guitar right to the fore and making liberal use of samplers and a Fairlight.
But even though ‘The Future’, ‘Electric Chair’, ‘Partyman’, ‘Batdance’ and ‘Lemon Crush’ are essentially one-chord jams, Prince knows exactly how to hold the attention with false endings, escalating riffs, hysterical guitar solos and quirky chord voicings. The net result is a somewhat forbidding but still undeniably funky album.
Also he doesn’t scrimp on the dancefloor classics – put on ‘Partyman’, ‘Trust’ or ‘Batdance’ (a UK #2 and US #1) and to this day you’ll get any party started.
Elsewhere, ‘Scandalous’ is a brilliantly-sung, sometimes funny seduction ballad in the tradition of ‘Do Me Baby’ and ‘International Lover’, while ‘The Arms Of Orion’ is a pretty – if somewhat trite – ballad.
The album was a smash hit, selling over a million copies in its first week of release and becoming his first US #1 album since Around The World In A Day. Prince was almost returning to his Purple Rain popularity, no doubt helped by the huge success of the movie.
But this kind of mainstream success was short-lived. Something was eating him up inside – in typical form, he regrouped immediately and took on a deeply personal project, the doomed Graffiti Bridge movie/album.
Probably his least-remembered album of the ’80s – though arguably his last classic – Batman is ripe for rediscovery as we reach more end-of-the-decade, spiritual/political uncertainty.