I will admit, when I saw that “Sign o’ the Times”, the next album from Prince, was rated #45 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, I was a bit cynical after thinking “The Joshua Tree” by U2 was rated way too low, at #135. I really shouldn’t care about these ratings, and I usually don’t. That said, although I may have started out with a bad attitude, I warmed up to this album fairly quickly. It isn’t my all-time favorite record by Prince, as there are at least two, and probably three albums I would rate ahead of this one, but it is certainly a shift in sound, and it has some great songs.
The title track, which is the first song and was the first single from this double album, is a wonderful contrast from over-the-top Prince. It is restrained and subtle, both with the instruments and vocals. It is interesting to hear how Prince plays differently on this record now that he had effectively disbanded his backup band, even though Wendy and Lisa, along with drummer Sheila E. can be found playing in multiple places on the record.
If I had to pick three tracks from this album that I liked the most, I would go with the funky “Housequake”, the smooth tune that is “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”, and the infectious melody that is “Starfish and Coffee”, my favorite on the record.
I was surprised to hear “U Got The Look” on this album, as it sounds like, and I had somehow assumed, that it was much older, closer to the “1999” era. I also had either forgotten, or never realized, that Sheena Easton is the female lead vocalist on this song. This is definitely classic old school Prince, a sound we don’t hear as often on this record, for good and for bad.
My son, the huge Prince fan that he is, tells me that the last song, “Adore” is his favorite Prince song of all time. I knew as soon as I heard it that I wasn’t going to agree with him, and I bet he knew it too. That said, it was also symbolic of some of his earlier work, in that as soon as I heard the slow jam and his grooving falsetto, it was only a matter of time before Prince completely lost it, and I wasn’t wrong. Very recognizable as signature Prince, even if it isn’t my favorite. “Sign o’ the Times” was just that for Prince, as he tightened the circle around him and took a few more inward steps towards his isolated central existence. All the while, he made a great record that extended and expanded his catalog and legacy.