Prince’s “Sign O’ The Times” Reviewed
Two things about Prince’s ninth album in 1987, Sign O’ The Times.
1 – ” Hot Thing” is too digital.
2 – It doesn’t peak as high as other Prince albums, no “Purple Rain”, “1999”, or “Kiss”
And that is it, cobbled together after three aborted album sessions, the 80 minute masterpiece is everything they say it is and except for some of the production work , it hasn’t aged at all. There is the first tier tracks, “Sign O’ The Times”, “U Got The Luck”, “If I was Your Girlfriend” and then everything else. From a housequake to a crucifixion this is all sex and romance, gender playgrounds and hard funk, it is simply an astonishing performance, and on any given day (like today for instance), it would make it onto my top ten greatest albums of all time.
With Wendy and Lisa right besides him, Sheila E on drums, and Sheena Easton, his girlfriend on back up vocals, Prince plays with the women in every way imaginable. No longer a one man band, he formed a collective and the collective worked on his most consistent batch of songs ever. What Sign O’ The Times isn’t is a statement in any form except musical, and the statement says, this is what I want to sound like. In pure chronologically, Prince would follow it up with The Black Album and Lovesexy, one black, one white (on the cover of Lovesexy he looks pale!), on this double he mixes and matches.
The manufactured sounding synth drums kicking “Sign” snapshot -all AIDS and drugs which is fair enough, right? Is followed immediately by his answer, the sublime “Play In The Sunshine”. It is as though he is saying, things are bad so do this instead, the keyboards literally frolic, it is as good as “Delirious”. The song explodes with happiness. It feels live, it has the party atmosphere. The first side continues with the hard funk weirdness of “Housequake” before concluding with an ode, “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker” -written for his girlfriend Susannah Melvoin (she also sings backing vocals on it), and an answer song to Joni Mitchell’s “Help Me”. Four masterpieces in a row, or if you prefer, side one.
And it gets even better with a song so good, I may have to revise my opening comments. “U Got The Look”? I was listening to it the other day and started dancing on the street AND I DON’T DANCE. Made Sheena Easton a sex symbol, has humor, wittiness, it just… man, what a song. “But you are a natural beauty unaffected…” hahahahaha. And how is this for a hook?
“Your face is jammin’
Your body’s heck-a-slammin’
If love is good, let’s get to rammin’
You got the look, you got the look”
Go in search of a bad song, you won’t find it. Maybe “Hot Thing”? The drums are too textured. Anything else? No, not really, “If I Was Your Girlfriend” is such a clever come on, such a terrific image, such a gender twist. “I’ll Never Take The Place Of Your Man”, “Starfish And…” Aww, fuck it.