“Cream” came during a difficult point in Prince’s career. Popular music was moving away from him. He was still making hits, but not at the rate he did during the mid-80’s. He was coming off of Graffiti Bridge, which was a massive flop at the box office, and his least inspired effort musically in at least a decade…maybe ever. For the second consecutive day I’m going to refer to the Questlove Supreme podcast with Alan Leeds, who was running the Paisley Park record label at the time. Leeds said that the popularity of hip hop “at best bewildered” Prince. At one point Prince held up a copy of the Billboard Hot 100, pointed at it and said, “Do you know what feels like to spend your whole life learning a craft and look at this and see Hammer and Vanilla Ice – who cannot sing and cannot play an instrument – and I can’t get in to the top 20.” Prince was torn between his creative instincts and trying to stay relevant in a rapidly changing pop music landscape.
In 1991 Prince & The New Power Generation released the album Diamonds and Pearls. You could feel Prince’s conflict in his music. Mediocre, half-hearted attempts at something sounding like hip hop are scattered throughout the album. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t still some good work. “Cream” isn’t Prince pushing boundaries, but it’s a good pop song. You can also see Prince trying to keep up with the times in the video. Nine minutes long, most of it a giant waste of time. The first several minutes are spent in a train station watching the girls – Diamond and Pearl – talk about whipped cream while Prince gives them some legendary side eye. Drummer Michael Bland orders chicken. It’s weird. If this was his attempt to keep up with what Michael Jackson was doing at the time visually, it didn’t work. The video ends up looking like an MC Hammer production on a massive soundstage with what looks like about 40 dancers. It’s not bad…just unnecessary. At least the song is good.
If you want the best version of “Cream” check out this video:
This video was recorded in 2004 for an MTV special celebrating his Musicology album and tour. I was lucky enough to see that tour in person at Summerfest. The whole concert was amazing, but for about 30 minutes in the middle of the show it was just what you see in this clip: Prince on a stool with an acoustic guitar holding 20,000+ people in the palm of his hand. My understanding is that some of the Musicology shows were recorded for a concert film. Rumor has it the Prince Estate could release them. I hope it happens because I’d love to re-live it.
I’m not even sure “Cream” is in my top 100 Prince songs. The thing is, Prince’s 101st best song is still better than most people’s best. “Cream” is included in every one of Prince’s Best of” compilations because it was a hit. In fact, it was Prince’s final song to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, staying there for a few weeks in November of 1991. It’s a cool song. It’s just not going to headline any of my Prince playlists. I still believe you could play this song at a party or a bar and most of the people would say, “Oh shit, I forgot about this one. I like this song.” I give “Cream” 3 out of 5 stars.