Prince: Daddy Pop

Cosmo revisits Sign ‘O The Times, regarded by some to be Prince’s last great album.

Side Note: Prince advised us in 2010 that the Internet is indeed dead.

Prince Roger Nelson AKA Prince is quite possibly the most prolific artist to ever grace the billboard top 20, and he is arguably the most prolific artist of the 80s, although 3rdin popularity to bothMadonna and Michael  Jackson. Prince shot through the mainstream like a shotgun blast with Purple Rain, the 1984 soundtrack to Prince’s acting debut. The accompanying movie soundtrack has gone onto sell an astonishing 10 million copies worldwide.

After the experimental works Around the world in a day released in 1985 and Parade released in 1986, Prince released Sign o’ the times in 1987, which was his second double album, his first being 1999.

Double albums in the pop world are almost always critically lambasted, often with the following criticism: It would work better as a single album, or better yet as an EP. However some of the music world’s most rewarding and critically-lauded albums have been double albums. The Beatles have The White album, Stevie Wonder has Songs in the Key of Life, Marvin Gaye brought us Here My Dearand George Harrisons debut solo album All Things Must Pass.

So, with an artist who is no stranger to groundbreaking experimentation, as well as controversy, it was only natural that Prince would release a challenging double album. “Sign of the Times”, the title and first track from the album, is a 5-minute-plus downtime topical track about the state of our nation in ’87, when AIDS, nuclear threat and gang warfare were at their most threatening, as well as being highly glorified within the media at the time.

Written on a Fairlight sampling synthesizer on a Sunday (this “fact” according to Wikipedia) using sparse rhythmic accompaniment, as well as a bluesy funk rock guitar pattern, “Sign ‘O’ The Times” begins the album with an ominous tone. This sober reflection on society would soon be knocked off its feet by track 2’s childlike “Play in the Sunshine”.  Just like “Sign ‘O’ The Times” sounds like a late-night news cast about the ills of society, “Play in the Sunshine” plays like an episode of Saturday Morning Cartoons, with a vibrant and sunny disposition.

Of course, most doubles often come with a weight of filler, with the filler often being experimental interludes as well as quirky songs like “Rocky Raccoon” from The Beatles The White Album. The first inkling of supposed filler would be Track 3s “Housequake” in which we are re-introduced to Princes alter-ego the female R&B vocalist Camille (Prince would adopt this personae during the mid-80s which resulted in recording his vocal tracks at a lower speed and then speed them up, thus resulting in a helium-esque sounding vocal.) “Housequake”is a funky-jaunt about a dance called the “Housequake,” and proves a smooth transition onto track 4s “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker.”

“The Ballad of Dorothy Parker “ is a curious track, it is rumored that during the recording of Dorthy Parker,  the power in Prince’s Minneapolis studio was disturbed due to a snowstorm. When playback occurred, Prince was surprised to hear that all the high end of the track was wiped out due to the power-outage, this resulted in a washed out sounding final mix. This happy mistake added to the overall vibe, which plays like a murky, quixotic p-funk love ballad dedicated to a dishwater blonde waitress named Dorothy Parker.

Sign ‘O’ The Times is stylistically all over the map, in a way that only Prince can successfully pull off. Along with the experimental tracks such as “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”, track 5s “IT,” as well as track 14s “The Cross,” we are presented with some of Princes most affecting pop songs to date starting with track 6s “Starfish and Coffee,” track 10s “U Got The Look” and of course “If I was Your Girlfriend,” which opens with the brief sound of wedding church organ. “If I was Your Girlfriend” finds Prince adopting his Camille personae once again, singing in a high-falsetto backed by steady backbeat accompanied by intertwining synth-hook and pop and snap bass.

One of the many areas that Prince excels is his beautiful balladry, and Sign ‘O’ Of The Times has ballads in spades. Track 7. “Slow Love” finds the Purple One singing about the virtues of Slow Love, about taking your time, about making it last over a vintage horn-driven R&B backdrop.  Track 14 “The Cross” is one of many of the highlights found on SOTT, almost gospel in its delivery. “The Cross” opens with a long strummed guitar augmented by an Arabic-sounding lead guitar melody, with Prince singing clearly in full voice over the top. Despite Princes overt sexuality, he has always been adamant about his own spirituality and proves that he can write a song about the man upstairs as well, and often better than anyone else.

Track 16. “Adore” bookends the album with one of Princes finest ballads ever. “Adore” is a beautiful tribute to the beauty of everlasting love that drips with emotional sincerity, in both its musical and lyrical context.

Sign ‘O’ The Times has been regarded by many as Prince’s last great album, with an emphasis on the great. I beg to differ: Sign was the start of a more mature, more funk-oriented sound that made way for Love Sexy released in ’88 as well as Prince’s subsequent albums with The New Power Generation in which Prince would flirt with a more modern hip-hop inspired sound.

Of course there was the name change (an act of rebellion against Warner Brothers records), the comebacks,  the disappearing acts, and the newspaper gimmicks. If Prince would have stopped after Signs, he would have sealed himself in the history books as one 20th centuries greatest artists; however with his endless creativity, energy and star power, Prince is still with us, still releasing albums and hopefully will for sometime to come.

U could say that I am terminal case ~ Adore

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