Prince: Sign O' The Times Page 2

In actuality, Prince made 28 more albums after Dirty Mind, a good 20 of which I'll warrant very few people remember. Sign O' The Times, though, was his zenith. His ninth overall, it was released as a double in 1987, perilously balanced between his absolute genius and the crazy self-confidence that finally overwhelmed his talent and opened the floodgates to a string of releases that, in refusing to self-edit and assuming everything he did was wonderful, proved that you definitely can have too much of a good thing.

Enter Camille
The project began with Prince recording with his backing band The Revolution for what was to be something called Dream Factory. With several tracks in the can, Prince fell out with beloved confederates Wendy & Lisa and became disillusioned or bored, or both, and sacked the band, whereupon the songs already recorded were incorporated into Crystal Ball with the band's contributions downplayed. Crystal Ball was planned as a triple album – seldom a good idea and already a bad sign of a rampant ego – and here's where it tips over into the Twilight Zone.


One of the first new tracks to be put down on tape was something called 'Housequake' in which Prince decided to speed up his vocals. Intrigued with the result and fascinated by the fact that it made him sound female, he continued the process throughout the whole album and decided to release the complete shebang under the pseudonym Camille.

Another stipulation was that it was to feature no picture of him on the cover so the public would have no clue as to the artist's identity. It would be designed to be a true test of the great man's pulling power and commercial clout.

Evil Influence
Not surprisingly, alarm bells started to ring at Warner Brothers HQ and, after a period of, shall we say, heated debates, a compromise was reached whereupon Prince backed down a bit and agreed to cull some material, add a little to leaven the Camille stuff and release it as a double called Sign O' The Times.

Before we wave her bye-bye, it might be fun to note that Prince later invoked Camille as the guiding force responsible for his next project, The Black Album, also shelved shortly before its intended release after the artist experienced a spiritual epiphany, became convinced the record was 'evil' and had been created under the influence of Spooky Electric, a demonic alter-ego induced by Camille.


OK then. Anyway, as it turned out, Sign O' The Times worked out just fine as a grab bag of supreme Princeness. The stand-out songs are the electro funky social documentary title track, the poppy 'U Got The Look' (with Sheena Easton), the saucy sweet soul of 'If I Was Your Girlfriend' and 'I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man' and the religio-epic 'The Cross'.

Artistically, it was all freewheeling downhill from here. More record company struggles, becoming 'The Artist Formerly Known As…', then scrawling 'Slave' on his face… In essence, after Sign O' The Times Prince was kinda done, stuck on thematic repeat and musical recycle.

Re-Release Verdict
Sign O' The Times was first released as a 2LP set in Europe in 1987 on the Paisley Park label. Working with the Prince Estate, Warner has recently issued a Super Deluxe set which includes more than 60 previously unreleased tracks, and two complete concert recordings (including Prince's only on-stage collaboration with Miles Davis). But the basic 16-track album is also available on 180g vinyl [Cat No: 0603497846528]. Remastering is by Bernie Grundman. HFN