Touched by the hand of Prince: ‘Martika’s Kitchen’ revisited

A look back at the teen idol’s ‘difficult second album’, recently reissued by Cherry Pop.

Signed to CBS Records at 18 years old and marketed as the ‘new Madonna’, former child star Martika achieved worldwide fame at the tail-end of the ‘80s with her self-titled debut album selling four million copies internationally and spawning global hit singles such as Toy Soldiers, More Than You Know and her cover of Carole King’s I Feel The Earth Move. Her second album, Martika’s Kitchen, failed to duplicate the success of Martika but is notable for featuring no less than four song writing collaborations with Prince.

“I was just a teenager when my debut album was released, and was genuinely surprised by the level of success it received. So when it came time for the follow-up, it was important to me that I stretch out and show some growth in my musical expression.”

In an interview with former Attitude editor Adam Mattera for Cherry Pop’s two-CD deluxe edition reissue of Martika’s Kitchen, Martika says:

“I definitely felt the pressure of high expectations… The recording sessions took place over a two year period, in Los Angeles, New York and Minneapolis… My tastes and influences have always been diverse and eclectic, so I really enjoyed popping around genres, combining different styles and elements”

Wanting to pursue a more mature direction for her second album, Martika approached Prince about working together. Prince became involved after Martika had already recorded most of the album. She had seen Graffiti Bridge several times and had written to Prince saying how the movie had connected with to her and reflected things she had written in her journals.

“Of all the recording artists I had grown up, it was Prince that made the strongest impression on me. He was the soundtrack of my life, I really wanted to work with him, so I sent a message through his camp and ended up flying to Minneapolis with my mom, who was my manager back then.”

The result of the collaboration was four tracks with writing and production input by Prince: Martika’s Kitchen, Spirit, Love… Thy Will Be Done and Don’t Say U Love Me. (A fifth collaboration, Open Book, was later released by Jevetta Steele.)

Prince recorded and submitted Love… Thy Will Be Done in December 1990 and Martika loved what she heard; her record company encouraged her to work further with Prince, and he quickly recorded further tracks.

“I remember sitting in Prince’s office for our first meeting. He said, ‘Welcome to Paisley Park. I wrote this last night, knowing you were on your way,’ and handed me a sheet of paper with the handwritten lyrics of ‘Martika’s Kitchen’ on it. I was excited to have my very own, Prince-penned theme song, filled with sexy personality, and so much playfulness. I got a real kick out of the old-style, double-entendre lyrics.”

Martika’s Kitchen, Spirit and Don’t Say U Love Me were recorded in December 1990 and January 1991 at Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen, Minnesota. For the title track, Martika simply replaced Prince’s vocals with her own in early 1991 (adding some extra lyrics, resulting in a co-writing credit), and additional vocals and instrumental overdubs were recorded in New York. (Later in 1991, Prince reused the musical backing of Martika’s Kitchen for Diamonds & Pearls era outtake Work That Fat).  The single was written and produced by Prince, but failed to be a success in America, peaking at number 93 on the US pop chart.

Of the four collaborations on the album, Prince biographer Matt Thorne wrote:

“Martika’s Kitchen, the album’s title song, has dated, and though pleasant pop, has a troubling association for any feminist listener. ‘Spirit’ casts Prince as an angel, his presence clear from yet another lyric about playing cards, while ‘Don’t Say U Love Me’ is about an unworthy man who steals Martika’s credit card. But ‘Love … Thy Will Be Done’, a gospel song, is on a whole different level, with an entirely different sound and seriousness to the rest of the record: it became an important part of Prince’s shows in 1995 and he was still performing it in 2012.”

In a posthumous appraisal of the Purple One’s best collaborations, Classic Pop magazine described Love…Thy Will Be Done as “a sublime, gospel-tinged ballad standing out as one of Prince’s greatest.”

Sadly, Martika’s Kitchen the album didn’t repeat the success of her eponymous debut album at home in the U.S., although it fared better here in Europe.

In the sleeve notes for the album’s two-disc reissue, Martika now reflects:

“I was really happy with how Martika’s Kitchen turned out, it was a fascinating journey to go through. Making the album allowed me the opportunity to explore and reveal a lot more about myself, and who I was becoming.”

Martika would retire from the music industry shortly after:

“I just wanted to get out of the public eye… The pressures of the music industry, of that life, I backed away from that. It’s much better for your sanity and the human side of one’s self.

“My music catalogue has financed my adult life. It’s amazing you can even make a living in music at all.”

In 2005, when Eminem sampled Toy Soldiers for his own hit Like Toy Soldiers, Martika admitted:

“On the whole, people remember me for (‘Toy Soldiers’), and to have it put out in the world on this level has been a really cool trip.”

By no means a ‘lost classic’ Martika’s Kitchen is a cut above most long-player offerings from late ’80s teen queens and pop princesses, although the trade-off for its sophisticated aspirations is (title track aside) a jettisoning of the infectious sense of fun that made her debut so engaging, but the Latin-tinged club pop vibes are endearingly ‘of their time’ and the four Prince collaborations are worth the entry price alone.

This package has been put together with the care and effort one always associates with Cherry Red Records’ reissues, and the bonus CD (“Side Orders”) features a staggering 12 remixes, including an unreleased radio edit of Spirit and two mixes previously only issued on promotional 12-inch vinyl. This set also comes with atrack-by-track commentary by Martika.

❉ ‘Martika’s Kitchen’ (Reheated Edition) (2CD) is released by Cherry Pop, a subsidiary of Cherry Red Records (CRPOPD195), RRP £10.95

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