Prince – Sign ‘O’ The Times (1987)

Its silly, no? When a rocket ship explodes. And everybody still wants 2 fly.

Sign O The TimesSign ‘O’ The Times is always the critics’ choice for “best Prince album” or “last great double album of the eighties”. I don’t think it merits either of those claims. For me, it’s bloated, dated and for large parts of it quite actually boring. But when it’s good, it is very good indeed.

The album was reportedly a triple set until Warner’s asked Prince to reduce it, concerned about the under-performance of Parade a year before. They were right to be as Sign ‘O’ The Times suffered the same commercial fate. It’s easy to forget that Prince, although still a massive star at the time, was actually declining in sales. The same fate befell Lovesexy a year later, with the Batman soundtrack only holding up because of the huge success of anything related to the movie.

It’s not an album I could happily put on and listen to all the way through any more, as I found out yesterday when I ended up pottering around the house waiting for the next good one to come on. I lose patience with it far too quickly. This is meant to be a classic, after all. How many people actually listen to it all in one go?

So what’s not to like about Sign ‘O’ The Times? Well, it’s quality over quantity (there’s a great single album in there) and a realisation that I actually only like Prince’s fast songs. I could quite happily never hear the droning Slow Love or Forever In My Life ever again, whereas if side 3 had just been a 20 minute version of I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man or U Got The Look I would have been perfectly happy. I also find the sentiment behind the title track somewhat hackneyed – check the lyric quote at the top.

What makes it still worth a listen? Well, the best tracks were the singles, especially the peerless I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man and funkalicious U Got The Look. Both still stand up today and are regularly played as Prince classics. The title track also sounds really good, with it’s unusually sparse production for an eighties track (no sax, no splashy drums) even if I don’t look to Prince to give me social commentary.

All that said, I still think Prince is a bloody genius. Anyone with his work ethic and output is bound to knock out a few clunkers from time to time, it’s just that for me I preferred Lovesexy, Around The World in a Day and (I know, I’m sorry) the Batman soundtrack. Those don’t outstay their welcome.

Here’s U Got The Look. Think Soul Glo.

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