[The Family’s version of] “Nothing Compares 2 U,” for all its lush restraint and lilting pathos, was written in the mid-1980s by an artist named Prince. The musician had assembled a band called The Family as a side project and an outlet for his prolific songwriting abilities, and the song appeared on its first and only album as a futuristic soul ballad, with Close Encounters-inspired synth jams and an inspired saxophone solo. It’s an intriguing recording to listen to, but by no means does it sound like a future VH1 staple. Singer Paul Peterson channels the exaggerated regret of the lyrics—Tell me baby, where did I go wrong?—but his delivery is too polished, and too deliberate. As far as feeling bummed out goes, he gives the impression that his weekend has possibly been ruined, but not so much his entire life.
(emphasis mine, not in original)
+Commentary: The summation of the above song is dead wrong, since Paul Peterson isn’t the ONLY one singing on this song or even the only one singing the melody. Now don’t get me wrong, this ‘reviewer’ and cultural critic is clearly of the age that finds resonance in Sinéad’s tortured & simple version. Gotcha. However having owned this album new, buying it because it was the first one released by the Paisley Park Records artists and that is how into Prince I was at the time. Waiting years in anticipation for this new venture, and then playing it on repeat a hundred million times, give or a take a few million. Perhaps my bias is showing.
Let me say the original is not only far superior to the O’Connor version, it isn’t even comparable. Now I’m all for song interpretation, and I think her version was a great version (for the time), much better than the next album which was nothing BUT covers. Yet the original at the time it was released and as I’ve just listened to it again, still stands out. Far and above the rather sappy emo style that Sinéad brought to it. Channeling her dead mother for the video shoot, and sounding every bit a stalker who would most definitely need to be blocked on social media today is frightening. Possibly even needing a restraining even, there is nothing ‘nice’ in her version and I think that is why people are drawn to it. That darkness is my very definition of “too polished & deliberate” and in review should be considered scary. Just reading the comments below a YouTube version is full of love lost truly frightens me.
Nellee Hopper’s arrangement and production are tight, and in retrospect for me the background chorus always ruin it. The orchestration seems to tailor make it for Muzak or Karaoke in the long run, and that is also the essence of its endurance. As a former karaoke whore, believe me I’ve heard it sung way more times than is considered wise for anyone and should come with a strong dose of antidepressants. None as tremulously as she does, or with that signature rasp used to add a flourish of gravitas.
What always bothered me about its success from that album “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” is that there are better love-lost songs & love songs on it. While on whole it was not as good (to me) as her first album, it avoided the Sophomore Slump that most artists at the time fell into. If you are heartbroken, really, “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” doesn’t get more emo or despondent, but if you are bitter then simply choose “You Cause As Much Sorrow” or “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance” both fine for the love-lorn or heart-broken. It is a break-up song however and that will lead to a greater resonance.
Taking ‘Nothing Compares 2 U” and making it dead serious, overemphasized the lyrics, or reinterpreted them. While the original obviously wants the person back, and somewhat needed to show how seriously they’d been upset by the whole thing. They do not seem like there is the end of the world and I don’t think that is how Prince meant it, surely he was sentimental, but hardly sitting in a bathtub, surrounded by tealights, with a razor blade in his hand. As the O’connor version would suggest.
The best version is Rosie Gaines & Prince’s live version on the bonus disc of his ‘The Hits/The B-Sides’, in my opinion. That is just my opinion about a song that was seared into my brain long before Sinead thought to cover it. What are your thoughts about this classic? Tell me in the comments below.