Sign 'O' the Times (1987)


  
Disc One 1. Sign 'O' the Times 2. Play in the Sunshine 3. Housequake 4. The Ballad of Dorothy Parker 5. It 6. Starfish and Coffee 7. Slow Love 8. Hot Thing 9. Forever in My Life Disc Two 1. U Got the Look 2. If I Was Your Girlfriend 3. Strange Relationship 4. I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man 5. The Cross 6. It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night 7. Adore

 

Most Prince fans and most critics point to this album as being his very best, and I would have to concur. It’s quite easy for one to get a bit lost with Prince releasing music at the rate that he did during the 1980s and 90s. I always thought it might be better for him to ease up a bit in between releases and give all of his songs time to really sink in to one’s brain. I guess the fact that he simply wrote and recorded so much made this option unfavorable. In fact, this was supposed to be a triple CD as opposed to only a double. His record company wisely convinced him to cut the third disc. I’m sure it probably would have still contained top notch material, but having that extra CD probably would have made the purchase a bit too daunting for some, and many would probably choose to conserve what was in their pocket books. So from a record label’s perspective, probably a wise move

His first double CD, 1982’s 1999 was excellent as well, yet that one didn’t really have much diversity on it. It felt like one giant 80 minute funkafied dancing party. For this record, Prince really shines with his ability to tackle many different styles, yet still make this record feel unified. We have traditional funk/R&B, but we also have straight ahead pop, softer ballads, a gorgeous spiritual piece, and some psychedelic flare as well. Perhaps the reason that it all seems to flow so well is due to the fact that the entire album is simply chocked full of wonderful tunes.

Part of this album’s appeal, regardless of what style he is tackling, is that many songs sound rather sparse in terms of musical accompaniment. A lot of tracks seem to feature a prevalent drum machine dictating a particular groove throughout, but other than Prince singing, the rest of the music sounds rather hidden. The first single and title track is a perfect example. Another is Forever in My Life. But as mentioned, this is only true of some of the songs. Other songs such as I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man or Play in the Sunshine sound rather “full” in the instrumentation department, so the real challenge (which he succeeds) is to have all of these songs right next to one another, yet not jar the listener too hard in a different direction. Throw in the nine minute party epic It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night (with a Sheila E. rap) and a high energy duet with Sheena Easton (U Got the Look), and there simply doesn’t seem to be any room left for anything else in the “style” department.

You could also argue that most of what is on here is somewhat representative of what he’s done before. He’s not really breaking any new ground as opposed to culminating all of his previous styles. The only real “addition” on this record is his alter “ego” Camille. Many songs feature Prince singing in a sped up voice that’s supposed to mimic a female singer. In fact, when this album first came out, many believed that Camille was in fact a real person – another one of Prince’s many female protégés. The Camille experiment only backfires once, and that’s on the song If I Was Your Girlfriend. The track is actually quite good, but near the end, Prince (or Camille or whomever) feels he needs to narrate another explicit sexual encounter over the music. I just never got why Prince felt he needed to have orgasms on vinyl. A small sin, but a noticeable one.

Since Prince had so many A+ albums during the 1980s, you would think that finding one to call “the best” might be an arduous task. This isn’t the case. This is clearly the best of the best. Next to so much high class material, it really is quite fascinating to then appreciate just how excellent this album is – and how talented Prince himself was.

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