Tuesday, August 7, 2007

No. 93: Sign 'o' The Times

Band: Prince
Album: Sign 'o' The Times
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Prince's most diverse record, "Sign 'o' The Times" was originally slated to be a triple (!) album. Some of the songs were taken from sessions in 1982 ("Strange Relationship" and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man"), while the record produced three top-ten hits (the title track, "U Got the Look" and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man").
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: There's a lot in there and it's hardly as danceable as his mid-80s stuff. Still, it's the second Prince record on here, and it fits in the mid-90s.
Best song: "U Got The Look" is classic Prince.
Worst song: Again, because I worship the sun, I don't like "The Cross."
Is it awesome?: It's borderline, but let's say yes.

"Sign 'o' The Times" is a double album originally slated to be a triple album. So, inevitably, you know my feelings on it. It's bloated, there are great songs on it and there is filler. Rinse, repeat.

What's striking about "Sign 'o' The Times" is the experimentation on it (Prince himself hated the term, saying "I hate the word experiment, "It sounds like something you didn't finish."). Several songs have little or no guitar, just sparse keyboard production and Prince's staccato vocals; The title track is the best example of that method gone well. As is Prince's way, he tries different lyrical topics, falling from "The Cross" (religion) to the zeitgeist title track to the big-time sensuality of "U Got The Look" to the ode to platonic love "If I Was Your Girlfriend."

Also, "Housequake."

If you've not heard "Housequake," I can sum it up for you: Prince trying to be James Brown. In it, Prince swears (a lot), something James never really did. And the lyrics sound a lot more like a Parliament song than ("There's a brand new groove going round/In your funky town/And the kick drum is the fault/You gotta rock this mother") anything about "Hot Pants" or feeling good.

Still, the start/stop rhythms, the shouting peppering horns, the fierce bassline... It's straight up James Brown. And you know something, Prince does it strikingly well. His "ow"s and "eee"s aren't James' (whose are, though?), but he seems at home rocking the genre as much as James used to.


Is "Sign 'o' The Times" on par with "The Wall" or the White Album? No, but it's a different animal. Prince is weird; There's no way around it. And "Sign 'o' The Times" is pretty weird. That doesn't make it bad. It's just weird.

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