Sign 'O' The Times

Prince

Paisley Park, 1987

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/22/1997

[READ THIS FIRST.]

Hard to believe, but Prince actually had the odds stacked up against him in 1987. U2 and Bruce Springsteen had critics digging through their thesaurus to find words to substitute "brilliant" and "classic". Prince had his own problems when he couldn't release his three-disc set, Crystal Ball that year. And, with the intense focus on the emergence of crack, AIDS and the deterioration of many inner city areas, "Let's Go Crazy" wasn't the choicest of songs to sing.

Throw these three elements together and add a lineup change and you've got a helluva creative canvas to work from. Listening to Sign 'O' The Times ten years later, it's hard to believe the entire album is a compromise. Narrowed down to a "double album", the album was one of the Artist's final works that put him on par with James Brown. (Note to internet fans: Crystal Ball is finally available to buy from the Artist's web site, just have $50 or $60 to spare.)

With each disc lasting about 40 minutes, Sign 'O' The Times is an album that feels far from a double set. The Revolution begins its exit on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Sign 'O' The Times, capping a decade of work for Prince, making some of the funkiest music in Prince's career. The New Power Generation may be capable of creating beats as grooving as The Revolution, but they have yet to match the depth that band members Wendy and Lisa added to Prince's legacy. Their work on "Slow Love" and "Strange Relationship" provide for some of the strongest tracks on Sign 'O' The Times.

Few albums have began with more authority than on this album's title track. Over a stark, simple bass beat, Prince spins a tale of despair, with the often-quoted lyric:"In France, a skinny man died of a disease with a little name/by chance his girlfriend came across the needle and soon she did the same.." The electronic beat is menacing as Prince keeps saying "time.." as if the end is at his purple doorstep.

Social issues may have been a new item for Prince to tackle, but sex, his favorite muse, dominated much of Sign 'O' The Times. Aside from the flat out-get naked and do it-groove of "It", the clothes stay on in most of the songs on Sign 'O' The Times. The beautiful, "Ballad of Dorothy Parker" and "If I Was Your Girlfriend" all have a sexual tension that focuses more on foreplay than the actual act. The most perfect example of this approach is the jamming, "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man". The dialogue seems to be lifted from a couple at a bar as the main character wrestles with moving a relationship further into commitment. The two-minute instrumental in the middle of this song is amazing, adding to the emotional impact of the song.

While side two seems to be the more optimistic side of Sign 'O' The Times, "The Cross" remains one of Prince's most emotional songs in his career. For a guy who still sings "Darling Nikki", "The Cross" is a convincing nod to gospel.

The house-quaking beat of "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" could have very well ended the album. At close to nine minutes, "Beautiful Night" shows just how great Prince is live. It's a fitting closer with drummer Sheila E. doing a sexy rap. But "Adore" is the last song the listener hears. Ballads are always a risky gamble for Prince. While some of his ballads tend to be more sugar-coated than a Zagnut bar, "Adore" closes Sign 'O' The Times perfectly. Though chaos may be forever constant in Prince's life as well as the world, Prince is still one to believe that love conquers all. And on Sign 'O' The Times, he makes even the most cynical of lots agree with him.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 1997 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Paisley Park, and is used for informational purposes only.