Sign ‘O’ The Times
I dont like headliners. i dont even like headlining. i see headlining the way i see opening—a trap— now that i know what i know (this will be the last album of his “capturing lightening in a bottle with effortless ease”) i see Sign different. like….a Swan song. i dont like goodbyes. id rather *vanish* than make it a final goodbye. even the blurry album cover gives me Back To The Future polaroid spooky fading like…..goodbye…….ahmir……………you. ……will……..never………..see……this……. brilliance………again…………..(legally tho–bootlegs are another lesson)–enough about me tho: Sign is brilliant because its a catalog album. he took the best material of the past 5 years of creation and perfectly placed them. he had higher ambitions tho: first draft was Crystal Ball: a 3-record set, sounding more like Parade on steroids. then he got talked down off the ledge and made a 2-record set Dream Factory—but then the Revolution broke up (his last show with them in japan had him destroying guitar on “Purple Rain” Pete Townsend style to everyones shock and NOT to everyone’s shock—-but everyone i asked about that night already knew…..this was over. So now an album cut buried on side 5 of Crystal is now the title cut of the 3rd (and accepted by Warner Bros.) incarnation of this project. i mean its not a “Prince” album but its a “Prince” album. Ambiguity was his middle name so he blurred lined everything: funk was in his rock, poetry was in his funk, sanging was in his jazz, nastiness was in his spirituality, god was in his sex: he wore us down for 7 years so of course it makes sense that a 5″1 “whatever he was” was our spirit animal. the only thing i miss about vinyl are the sides.
side one: perfect suite. side two: perfect suite —and so on. in the streaming age that flow aint there. its also the timing: black radio was still independent before clear channel, so cats like tony brown at WDAS could play album cuts and your world would STOP. and the most important thing to realize with Prince is that he made these PATCHES (the sounds coming from keyboard and drums) his OWN. i have the same drum machines and stuff and its not the same when i program. Thriller and Bad are examples of what Prince’s equipment sounded like without him sweetening the mix —they served MJ well—-and everyone else—but because of the painstaking scrutiny and process—small stuff Tamborines as high hats tuned high. Rim Shots as bongos tuned low. processing his synths through his guitar effects. its the small stuff that tell you “this is a Prince song” (actually prince was once quoted in saying his mixes were rush jobs and horrible….HA! funny guy) maybe because in ’87 he was up to 400 songs in the can.
perhaps he was tired. in fans mind he only made 9 records. in his mind he made 39 records—so to giving up those patches was the first move in many that will bring down the empire. rating then: @@@@@ this was the “he could shit on a record and it would be perfect” phase. how does it hold up now some 28 years later? @@@@@. but a sad @@@@@…..
Is this the last great Prince album? No. is this the first great “Downfall Of Genius” album? No. i know I’m being unfair here but as an artist Prince’s “whatever” moments were better than the status quo of his glory period “81-87”. so in some weird algebra equation: Lovesexy was a great album comparing it to what else came out in 88 (i think the only non hip-hop album i dug in ’88 was Sade‘s Stronger Than Pride—but again you gotta understand 1988 was THE most magical miracle of a year in post modern black music. what 67-68 was for Rock and Soul was now starting for Hip Hop and New Jack Swing. easily 13 @@@@@ worthy hip hop classics came out this year. so its like to even pull my attention away from Nation Of Millions and Follow The Leader and Straight Outta Compton…..pssssh man you better COME WIT IT.—i mean on the real i woulda took consistent. not like i needed to be sold on Prince. but if there ever was a year that the tides were gonna change? 1988 was that year. 88 shook black music at its core: to still survive the avalanche or ship wreck you better have released an impactful album that year OR ELSE.
although no “thriller” Mj’s “Bad” gave him steam to roll on in 88 although the release was last day in august of 87. George Michael was Sam Smithing black music in ways none of us coulda believed (Faith was number one black album 6 weeks in a row) Teddy Riley decided the curated Ultimate Beats & Breaks series was good enough to sing over as well as rap over and how does Prince answer? shoot himself in the foot: 1) shoot album cover completely in the nude, making it hard to stock in retail (check) 2) making entire CD one track, thus forcing you to listen as album as a whole statement—-this had no “What’s Goin’ On” flow to it so that move was annoying. his lead single was amazing tho (Alphabet St.) so hopes were high, but that video was horrible. and as the dude to be neck in neck with MJ for the title, he couldn’t afford silly mistakes like that. add there wasn’t a strong enough 2nd or 3rd single for radio this really just made Lovesexy…..”so so”.
at the time i didn’t panic cause i couldn’t fathom a day that Prince would squander his gifts. i just thought “oh well….maybe the next album would be incredible.—-i was wrong. there are some gems on this record: “Anna Stesia” and “Dance On” —“Eye No!” aint bad. and title cut is “aight” i like the extended version of “I Wish U Heaven”—and mostly the second half—-actually the “Scarlett Pussy” bside was better than the album for which it was promoting.—alas….i guess i wasn’t so ready for him to be so……”ordinary”?—by his standards of course.
(Then) @@@1/2 (now) @@@ “The Future” was a great start off but teetered off, RS said “its so sugary it should be off limits to diabetics”. i held out hope. “Scandalous” was still classic bedroom ballad P.