Greenman looks at those flaws with clear eyes, but he’s such an admirer that he can be touchingly over-praiseful as well, particularly when it comes to lyrics. He can make all the comparisons to William Blake he wants (and he does), but many of the lyrics he approvingly quotes just don’t scan ... Greenman, on Twitter and elsewhere, can be very funny. He can also be punny. His penchant for wordplay sometimes gets the best of him in this book. But he’s focused and convincing where it counts, on the music ... Greenman’s book is not a straight path, but it doesn’t aspire to be. It mostly succeeds on its own terms, as an overview of the talent, the excesses, the adoration.
Greenman writes as both well-versed critic and diehard fan, compiling a work that's part biography, part scholarly text, even a little bit memoir to enlighten the enigma that was Prince ... Dig If You Will the Picture doesn't serve up a convenient throughline from album to album, era to era. Instead it's a hopscotch matrix of mini-essays that examines Prince from every possible lens and angle ... It's a bit like a rummage-store bin of Prince insight: You want it, it's in there, but you gotta go digging. This is not to discount Greenman's considerable literary touch ... Dig If You Will the Picture is also dense; only pick it up if you're ready to dive in deep. But at some 260 pages, plus an appendix, it's not such a daunting mountain. Much as Prince challenged his collaborators to rise to his level, Greenman will challenge you to reconsider your perception and interpretation of the man and his music.
Greenman is helpful on where to focus amid the messy late output, for instance on 2014's Art Official Age. He's less effective at explaining the volume of that vision ... Greenman, white and Jewish, does his best to deal with Prince and race, but he tends to set it too much apart from other subjects. He falls for the misdirection. He tells us about the mythic and scientific sources for Prince's purpleness, but less about his music's blackness, aside from obvious factors like syncopation ... As a fiction writer, Greenman is insightful about Prince's lyrical themes and performances of character, but he is comparatively perfunctory on the music itself. He also writes excellently about Prince's sojourns into film, and his section about Prince's mainly antagonistic relationship with would-be parodists stands out as an original contribution. But the book has a memoiristic aspect, about Greenman's own history as a Prince fan, that comes and goes but never gels, perhaps because it never finds an interesting way to deal with his distance from the kinds of identification that black, queer, and other fans felt with Prince. Compare Greenman's to Tate's, Hilton Als's, or Touré's writings on Prince, for instance, and it feels too much like a hurried browse.
Greenman has assembled a complete if slightly blurred image. This book is a thorough analysis of the music of Prince/The Symbol and readers (from the casual to the ardent fan) will view the music/performances through the lens of increased insight after reading. Although the biographical information is scant, it is effective in its brevity and foreshadows the making of the megastar whose star burns just as brilliantly after his 2016 death at age 57. Greenman cleverly dispenses slivers of Prince’s personal life to whet the appetites of those hungry for biographic information while leading readers to draw their own conclusions about its influence on his music. A fitting homage to the legacy of an artist whose body of work and persona remain a study in contrasts.
Greenman’s absorbing and entertaining study of Prince and his music compellingly underscores the Purple One’s enduring contributions to pop music ... Prince’s genius is on full display here as Greenman remarks on his prolific music virtuosity, putting out an album once a year, and his obsessive dedication to saving every little scrap of his writing and recording to use again. Greenman’s brilliant book celebrates a musician who crammed substance into every corner of his music.
Sometimes Greenman’s enthusiasm melts into diffusiveness, as when he invokes the psychological theory of flow to discuss Prince’s creative processes; sometimes it gets a little silly, as when, writing of Prince’s household staff, he notes, 'a pixie did his laundry and the universe, his will.' Still, the author avoids most of the worst clichés of music writing, and it’s clear that he knows and appreciates music at large as well as his immediate topic. Likely not the definitive book on Prince, but certainly one that merits attention by fans and students of pop culture alike.