Sign 'O' the Times - Prince
2 CD(s) - Contemporary R&B - Label: Paisley Park - Distributor: Arvato Services, Cinram Logistics - Released: 01/04/1987, 04/1987 - 75992557726
3 reviews from the community
Review of "Sign 'O' the Times - Prince"
Quite simply for me this double album is Prince's opus. Heavily jazz influenced whilst combining Prince's ability to produce avant garde soul, funk and pop/rock numbers and the distinctive quirky qualities from a Prince record - what more could I have asked for? This was ahead of its time and perhaps for most in 1987 it was too ahead of its time. 'Sign 'O' The Times' is not a Purple Rain Mk II because in many ways it is simply years ahead of Purple Rain. When I first listened to the album I was instantly reminded of the production expected from Timbaland or The Neptunes who have undoubtedly derived much from Prince and for me though 'Sign 'O' The Times' as a social commentary is distinctly 1980s, its sound values are still pervading through American urban music today.Every Prince album marks a change in direction from the last so you do have to take each one as it comes although there are moments on the previous album 'Parade' from 1986 which serve as a familiar reminder. I stumbled across 'Sign 'O' The Times' at a bootsale marked up for £8 and it was still shrinkwrapped. I couldn't believe my eyes, Like some of the Beatles albums, the price for 'Sign 'O' The Times' tends to rise to £20 so shop around but every penny you spend will be worth it.
I am going to review what I regard as the key tracks.Disc 1
Sign 'O' The Times - a social commentary about the AIDS epidemic, drugs, the Challenger disaster, the doom of humanity and various problems of the 1980s, some of which are as rife today. The song itself is mid-tempo with a simple and yet so catchy electronic bassline complete with a repetitive drum machine pattern. Very minimalistic arrangements are central to this work. I believe that for the lyrical content alone this is one of the most under-rated hits of all time. Full with a dark message about the ultimate fickleness of the human race and a melancholy melody that fits this message like a glove this is as great a title track as 'Purple Rain' and arguably one of the best songs Prince has written.Play In The Sunshine - A total contrast to the previous track 'Sign o' the times' and quite possibly a song with the most random intro , consisting of Prince blaring the words 'OOO DOGGY' after a rising blare of ambulance sirens. I have to admit that the song goes straight over my head but it is a perfect example of a song that does as it says on the tin, or in this case the back cover. The song is a feelgood, fun song with a lot of soul and vigourous tempo. Simple lyrics with an almost nursery rhyme quality - "I'm feelin' kinda lucky tonight, I'm gonna find my four leaf clover," for instance. I think this track is all about having fun, the sort of song that is great for a Summer drive. I would say this is one of the most accessible tracks on the album. The arrangement again is quite minimalist but at the same time more full than the title track. A fantastic guitar solo, plenty of Prince screams, brilliant vocal harmonies - bouncy is the ideal word to describe the track.
Housequake - Hugely minimalistic arrangement and a stark contrast to 'Play In The Sunshine.' The track features Prince's 'alter ego' Camille on the vocals, Prince's vocals still sound amazing when given the 'Chipmunk' treatment as I affectionately call it. Housequake opens with another quirky line from Prince although this time a slightly camp "SHUT UP, ALREADY!" which continually crops up throughout the track. I can imagine in 1987 this track would have sounded at odds but fast forward to the 2000s and I can hear elements of this in Gwen Stefani's huge hit 'Hollaback Girl,' (co-written and produced by Pharrell of course) particularly the pounding drum patteren accompanied with the chant, which 'Camille' does to great effect here - "if you know how to party say 'oh yeah!.' Housequake is a very funky track with pounding drum patterns, classic Prince guitar licks, AND, genuine horns which bring classic funk from the JB's/Maceo & The Macks or whichever moniker you use for James Brown's 'orchestra' to mind. Like Hollaback Girl, 'Housequake' needs a few listens but becomes addictive.The Ballad of Dorothy Parker ("TBoDP") - a bit more mid-tempo than 'Housequake' but the 'big' drums from the previous track still provide the main musical arrangement although have to compete with a fantastic example of a funk bassline - the sort to be expected on certain Sly & The Family Stone songs rather than the typical late 1980s basslines on soul tracks.
Is the song a homage to Dorothy Parker, the poet? I'm not sure. Joni Mitchell, one of Prince's muses, is referenced however. Dorothy for the purposes of the story in this song is a "tall and fine" blonde waitress who picks up Prince with a line that has no subtlety whatsoever - "kinda cute, u wanna take a bath?" Prince's character agrees but because he is "going with someone" he insists he will leave his pants on while he takes this bath. HOWEVER, do the pants stay on? You'll have to listen to find out!I can hear a bit of continuity from the story in 'Raspberry Beret' where Prince was working part time and got picked up at work by a more experienced lover. Like 'Housequake,' 'TBoDP' is very minimalist so will probably require more than one listening before you get the hook. Prince's vocals return to normal without the 'Camille' treatment but boy can the guy sing. I always think of a D'Angelo song when I hear 'TBoDP '- usually 'Untitled' - D'Angelo to my recollection has cited Prince as an influence and you need look no further to hear this influence on D'Angelo's vocal style than this track. For those who are familiar with D'Angelo's 'Untitled' I would say that 'TBoDP' is an influential song.
Starfish and Coffee - slow, short and sweet. This is one of the more accessible songs that although doesn't make a lot of sense has a nursery rhyme quality that matches the tale of the tune which is essentially concerned with school days and a former classmate by the name of Cynthia Rose who certainly had a weird and wacky breakfast everyday!Although the song is a bit weird and wonderful, I cannot help but love it and would put it in the same category of almost nonsensical story telling in certain Beatles songs. The track begins with a bell ringing, which I guess could be either an alarm bell or the bell signalling the start of the school day. Prince's lyrics and the melody are very uplifting and are a fine example of word painting. I think this song is possibly one of the best album tracks I have ever heard.
Slow Love - One of those songs that says what it does on the tin! A highly jazz influenced ballad with great use of brass that proves Prince could easily have been up there with the great jazz legends as well as the 80s soul crooners of his time. I can definitely hear a lingering quality from 1986's "Parade" and the tracks from that which accompanied the 1930s homage in the film "Under The Cherry Moon." Prince's soft and sultry vocals are outstanding, lush and enviable. Definitely a song for lovers.Hot Thing - Recently alluded to by Mutya Buena in her 2007 collaboration with Groove Armada ('Out of Control' (Song For Mutya)) this track is another Prince exercise in paying homage to his funk influences. The stabbing horns are so reminiscent of Maceo & The Macks and various James Brown songs and lyrically Prince takes the innuendo of many funk tracks from the 60s and 70s a step further and although the content is nowhere near as blunt as certain tracks from the 'Dirty Mind' album for example, this one oozes sex, presumably like the barely 21 character which the song describes!
DISC 2U Got The Look - a unique 12 bar blues arrangement that sounded so unlike a typical 12 bar blues arrangement of the time. This is an extremely funky track and I don't think you can say "yeah that has a '1987' sound about it at all although the song certainly was part of the soundtrack for that year. This number famously features the talents of former lover Miss Sheena Easton (think British 1980s starlet famous for solo hits '9 to 5 (Morning Train),' James Bond theme 'For Your Eyes Only' and 'Modern Girl' amongst others) and is really a duet between her and the alter ego Camille. My only gripe is that I wish they had included the 12" 'long look' version on the album because it has one of the funkiest Prince guitar licks for an intro of all time but the song is fantastic in any guise. The lyrics are a bit random, like most of Prince's songs, but instantly memorable and fantasticly catchy.
If I Was Your Girlfriend - this is sung in the guise of Camille once again and has slightly confusing lyrics because you can either take them as being sung by Prince ( a male) which could suggest transvestite fantasies, or if you take the song as being sung by the feminine Camille, lesbian fantasies. However I will grudgingly agree with a consensus that the song is concerned with the desire for a male lover to have a relationship with his woman that is more akin to two female friends - namely of the "why won't you open up to me more" type. Either way, for me the track represents Prince at his androgynous best and Camille's vocals add a hilarious quality to certain lyrics.The arrangement is very ahead of its time, distinctly Prince and has of course been even influential in many contemporary urban tracks such as Beyonce in her hit with beau Jay-Z (''Bonnie & Clyde') and was definitely an inspiration for the N-Sync & Nelly hit 'Girlfriend.' Quite simply a seminal Prince hit and it should have been a top 10 hit in the UK although June/July 1987 did have a fine selection of singles in the charts so long as you discount Cliff Richard's "My Pretty One" and one of Samantha Fox's musical ventures! The album version has 'The Wedding March' as part of the intro, which I often thought was quite novel. I can hear why the song has inspired so many.
I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man - one of the other big hits from the album showcasing Prince at his Pop/Rock best and probably one of the most radio friendly tracks he released in the late 80s. For some reason I think this song has similar vibes to 'Dancin' On The Ceiling' by Lionel Richie because it always reminds me of the summer and has the similar sort of synth hook complete with electric guitars. A strange comparison I know but the point is the track is an example of fine, accessible 80's pop/rock. The song is full of bittersweet lyrics as the title suggests and represents another fine storytelling adventure by the genius of a woman who clearly gave her heart to a mean man who leaves her with their child and is looking for a replacement, finds Prince, who whilst acting as a shoulder to cry on points out he would be great as a one night stand but NOT as a replacement for the love she lost.
My final comment on the album is that I would recommend this as the best album to use for converting a non-Prince fan because if there isn't something on this musical pick 'n' mix they like, then they will never appreciate the genius of Prince.
Product Information : Sign 'O' the Times - Prince
Manufacturer's product description2 CD(s) - Contemporary R&B - Label: Paisley Park - Distributor: Arvato Services, Cinram Logistics - Released: 01/04/1987, 04/1987 - 75992557726
Listed on Ciao since: 18/07/2011