It’s early winter morning here. The sun has yet to rise, and outside my window I can see the sparkle of frost on the lawn by moonlight. All is quiet as I sit here with my cup of tea, except for the sound of the Dream Factory album playing. Nothing moves and all is still as I sit here listening to it alone. Prince made a variety of great music over his career, some was for partying and sharing with others, and some was for private reflective moments. Then there was the music that he didn’t want us to hear at all, the unreleased tracks, the lost albums. It’s entirely appropriate that I sit here now listening to Dream Factory alone, as that is how I have heard it all my life. It wasn’t bumped at the clubs, or all over the radio, we didn’t talk about it at High School, and for most of us we didn’t hear it until much later. It is however one of Princes most important albums, one of his most creative albums, and one of my favorite albums. No, on second thoughts, it IS my favorite album.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Dream factory, and July 18th marks the anniversary of my personal favorite configuration of the album. There are plenty of versions floating around, with the June 3rd 1986 being one of the most popular. My preference for the July 18th configuration comes from the fact that the Pimpsandwich edition has some beautiful covers that complements it wonderfully, and I feel that this tracklisting flows better than the one from June 3rd.
Of course Dream Factory was never released, instead being pulled apart and used for Crystal Ball, before that project too was shelved and out of the ruins we got Sign O The Times. Many of the tracks on Dream Factory do appear on Sign O The Times, but it would be a mistake to think of Sign O The Times as being an upgrade of Dream Factory. Dream Factory works much better than Sign O The Times overall, it has a much more cohesive sound, and overall consistent vibe to it. A large part of this could be put down to The Revolution who contribute heavily to Dream Factory, as well as the track listing itself.
Sign O The Times opens with the title song itself, which adds a seriousness and a weight to what follows. Dream Factory opens with the much lighter sounding Visions, and it immediately changes the feel of the album. The Dream Factory is more colourful, more layered, and having Lisa playing the opening solo piano track announces that this is a much more collaborative effort. Lisa plays as only Lisa can, layered chords as the other hand plays a light floating melody, it has an intimate sound, almost as if one has walked in unannounced on her practicing piano. This feeling of a band effort is reinforced by the following Dream Factory title song, it is bright and has twists and turns that hold your attention, and there is no mistaking the outside influences other band members have brought to the table. The downbeat verses are upstaged by a great chorus where all the band contribute their different sounds. It works, and it rattles around in my head long after it’s finished. Train continues with this sonic assault and cleverness, the music mimicking a train, something that sounds cool rather than corny. Again, the band is the thing, and this time the horns add another element to the mix.
There is a jump in sound and style from Parade to Sign O The Times. In Dream Factory we have the stepping stone between the two, Parade has its fingerprints over several songs, such as Dream Factory and In All My Dreams, while Sign O The Times looms on the horizon with the tracks from that album featured here. We get both sides of the same coin, and the album looks both backward and forwards in its sound and songwriting.
Even songs that we are familiar with from Sign O The Times get a new life in this context, and surrounded by these Revolution contributions they sound more together and belonging. Side One and side four are where Dream Factory differs the most from Sign O The Times, but the songs that fill side two and three still have a sense of belonging and place. Dorothy Parker and It both seem to shine a little brighter, and with Sign O The Times buried deeper in the album it loses some of its weight. Strange Relationship gains a fantastic sitar sounding introduction (courtesy of a Fairlight CMI) which elevates it to another level and you can again hear the band influence on Prince adding layers to it, rather than the funk work out that it is at it’s heart.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the album is the run of Sign O The Times, A Place In Heaven, Crystal Ball. On paper they look like a desperate mix, but together on album they are a showcase for the breadth and scope of Princes, and the bands, vision. We have light and dark in equal measure, and each song acts as a counter balance to the other. Crystal Ball is the most ambitious of the trio, it has Prince at his most creative stretching things to the limit, it doesn’t always work but today in the early morning it sounds pretty close to perfect. Its songs like this that show Prince was more than a song and dance man, he was also an artist and a visionary.
Although side 4 opens with The Cross, it could in some quarters be considered the weakest side of the album. It’s at this stage that the comparisons to Sign O The Times don’t serve Dream factory well. Whereas side four of Sign O The Times featured The Cross, Its Gonna Be A Beautiful Night and closes with the divine Adore, Dream Factory closes with The Cross, Last Heart, Witness 4 The Prosecution, Movie Star and All My Dreams. The Cross is rightly hailed as a classic, and All My Dreams is a fantastic song that deserves more listens. The intervening songs are all good in their own right, but in such esteemed company they sound thin. They do have their charms, Last Heart with its late night pop sound, Witness 4 The Prosecution ticks all the rock boxes and sounds like something Prince could play in his sleep, and Movie Star is Prince playing with a knowing wink to us all, the lyrics themselves almost too clever for their own good. All My Dreams comes from a different place altogether and is in a league of it’s own. The vocal arrangements are beautifully textured, and Princes lead vocal sounds black and white against the music. It at times sounds like the theme song for a TV show, but it takes on a different tone mid song with some weirdness that adds interest without detracting from the song. Its fitting that the word ‘Dream’ should be in the title as it does have a dream like quality to it, and it summarizes the album nicely with the band contributing , and a piano solo that runs through the middle of the song that bookends the opening song on the album. By the time Prince croons “Don’t ever lose your dreams” a final time it does feel as if we are coming to the end of a journey with him, and in the case of The Revolution that is certainly true.
Dream factory is a natural extension of Parade, you can hear where it follows on from where Parade left off. Much more than that, it is an extension of The Revolution, and not only are they confident and strong with their contributions, Prince is also much more accepting and willing to use what they bring to the mix. The Revolution broke up a couple weeks after this configuration, but this is a fitting memorial to their greatness and how much a part they were of the Prince legend. 1986 is the greatest year of Princes career, we have plenty of evidence of that, and the Dream Factory is the key thread that pulls it all together. To properly understand the relationship between Prince and The Revolution, and the creativity they had together, you only have to listen to this album. This is the greatest thing they ever did together, and the pinnacle of their partnership. One of Princes greatest albums, this would not exist without The Revolution.
“The Revolution will be heard!”