Sign 'O' The Times


Paisley Park, 1987

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


After successful forays into rock, psychedelia and pop, Prince returned to his soul roots with the monster double album opus Sign ‘O’ The Times. This was the Prince album that bowled over critics and fans alike, rivaling Purple Rain as one of his greatest, most consistent releases ever. 

Like most of his work, it is filled with some surprising twists and turns, proof of just how restlessly creative Prince is as an artist. The thing I like so much about Sign 'O’ The Times is the way it marries funk and techno, blending the two genres into a sound that Prince can truly claim as his own. Even the points of the album where the lyrics and music are on the thin and repetitive side (“Housequake,” “It” and “Forever In My Life” come immediately to mind), you don’t seem to mind because it all adds up to one hypnotic and entrancing mix. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The title song is smartly placed as the album’s first track, bringing social awareness to the forefront right off the bat. Prince’s vocal and the spare synth melody come secondary on this song that discusses the perils of the current day, from AIDS to drug abuse to natural disasters. After such heady stuff, Prince follows it up with the lighthearted romps “Play In The Sunshine” and “Starfish And Coffee,” where we are told to leave our worries at the door, forget about all of our cares in the world and have fun -- even if it is just for a moment. Such soul throwbacks would do Chuck Berry and Little Richard proud, and they certainly help to balance out the heavier moments.

By heavy, we mean sexual, and there is much hedonistic material to be found on Sign ’O The Times, just as there was on Prince’s earlier double-album 1999. This time around, though, he’s a little more subtle and discreet about his sexual proclivities. The more graphic, in-your-face stuff is curiously absent, save for the two hormonal tracks “Hot Thing” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” where he switches into his comic-book alter ego with the squeaky voice. The ballad “Slow Love” is the perfect slow jam to make love to, though the manic “Hot Thing” is bound to spoil the romantic moment.

The second half of Sign ‘O’ The Times is started off by the genius duet with Sheena Easton, “U Got The Look,” which ends up going down in history as one of Prince’s best singles. Then comes the triple threat of “Strange Relationship,” “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” and “The Cross.” Had the album ended there, all would have been right in the world, but Prince is as excessive as ever by adding on the tedious “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night” and the dull-as-rocks “Adore.”  This lackluster pair of tunes ends the album on a dubious note, keeping it from being the man's finest album.

Which opens the door for just one more classic Prince album worth discussing…and you all know which one I’m talking about.

Rating: A-

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© 2007 Michael R. Smith 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.