Sign O’ the Times is Prince speaking in tongues; seemingly unfiltered music flowing out like the words of God and if you are not ready for the sermon…that’s okay, dude. Maybe start with Purple Rain. Oh no, there is no concept tying this record together, no cinematic companions, and no “Raspberry Beret.” Like the White Album or Life of Pablo, Prince is firing everything he has out of the cannon and just letting the listener sit with it. It is Prince at the peak of his creativity and there is no clearer nor more thorough expression of the man as an artist than Sign O’ the Times.
The recording of Times was a turbulent era in Prince’s career. His latest film, Under the Cherry Moon, was a commercial and critical flop and his relationship with the Revolution was on the outs. Turbulence often leads to creation and Prince could not stop creating. Between 1986 and 1987, he recorded three records: a triple LP called Crystal Ball, the colourful and mysterious Dream Factory, and an entire record of Prince adopting a feminine alter ego in Camille. Prince was on creative overdrive; his creative and romantic partner Susannah Melvoin would receive 3 AM phone calls saying “I’m cutting, what are you doing?” and head straight to the studio. Times would end up being a smorgasbord of what he recorded during this period; no clear theme or direction but somehow complimentary in its sequencing.
It’s impossible to leave Times after the first listen without being overwhelmed, but it’s also impossible to leave without finding a song that just lands. He apocalyptically stews on collective traumas of the day on the title track; buys stock in the beginnings of hip hop on “Housequake;” writes an infectious, Seussian nursery rhyme on “Starfish and Coffee;” relinquishes himself to Christ on “The Cross;” and presents his crowd erupting live persona on “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night.” That isn’t even half of the tracklist, folks. It’s absolutely bonkers. It’s Prince at his purest, it somehow captures both the exuberance of the late 1980’s and the nihilism of Reagan’s America. There is simply nothing else like it. It isn’t the record to start those on the Prince path, but it is the enlightenment waiting for those who walk it.
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