Sign O the times is a minimalist funk piece, and the first single of the album. Along the lines of Prince’s other “first single” minimal songs (Kiss/When Doves Cry), this is a powerful piece, driven by loud drums and a tight funky bass. It was a bit hit for Prince, and unlike previous singles, had a sober message about the state of the world (in the late 80’s). Interestingly some of the questions posed on SOTT are still relevant today, rocket ships are still exploding and everyone still wants to fly, people still get AIDS and kids are still going to war. In a way, this song hasn’t aged, and is still very haunting. A splash of comedy at the end (calling his son Nate (if it’s a boy)) is a hint of things to come. SOTT starts sober, but it really a silly ride. The next song, Play in the sunshine shakes up the whole mood, snaps us out of our depression and just says – hell lets party! Play in the sunshine, for all intents and purposes sounds like a Revolution record, but in reality this is a solo effort from Prince, with a few helpers (Sheila E and Cathy Glover amongst others), and it sounds as personal as a Prince album as he has done.
The fun continues on Housequake, which sounds like a parody of James Brown, with the words “Shut up already, damn!” and “Bullshit” scattered all over it. It’s an old school sounding jam which is as popular as any Prince funk song to date, and was at the time a real innovation in his own sound. The “Camille” vocals, and the unusual rhythm just works and it’s a great fun song.
Next up is one of my personal, all time favourite songs – The Ballad of Dorothy Parker. Originally a demo, the song has so many ideas and is kept together by a pulsating funk slap bass. It has a very intricate drum, machine and is a real indication that Prince is working alone – this is not a song that the Revolution would have performed! Although it has had many incarnations, being played live so many times through the years – Prince has literally “dreamt” this song up and brought it to life. If there is ever a song that goes deep into Prince’s sync it’s Dorothy Parker. For me, the end fade out of the song makes it seem like a longer version is out there (although Ive never heard it). It’s the real gem of the album and many people’s favourites, as close to Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush, but very Prince through and through.
The next song (or demo) is Starfish and Coffee, with no drums, yet as rhythmic as any of his songs, Starfish and Coffee is about fun, yet again, but in a childlike way – almost revisiting his childhood but with an innocence and charm unlike anything he’s done before (perhaps Do you lie comes close). The song is so child friendly that it was performed on the Muppets.
Next up is the epic “It”, which is purely lyrically about sex. In contrast to previous innocent, sober, perverse or just silly songs – this one is deep rooted in sexual desire (almost desperation). But similar to the songs that precede it, “It” is very pure and from deep within. One feels Prince is writing and performing the bulk of SOTT alone, and IT is an unabashed personal feeling. The snog itself has an epic, Loud sound – with almost a soundtrack feel to it.
Hot Thing, follows on from “It”, and is on a similar theme, but more funky and a brilliant live song. “Slow Love” is a whimsical ballad, and almost a break from the personal, longing moods of the previous songs. Slow Love, is just about old fashioned love, and it has a feel of a song that could be on “Parade”. Side one finishes with another personal statement “Forever in my life” which is basically Prince and a drum machine singing a song that sounds like he made up on the spot, but no less as personal or brilliant that his other songs on SOTT. You feel like he wants to “grow up” on Forever in my life, and that he wants to stop the excesses of the past, to settle down to sober up. Just one side of his multi faceted personality coming through here.
Side Two starts with the album’s weakest moment, minor hit, “You got the look” with Sheena Easton is a standard rock song, made for radio. there is nothing especially ground breaking about this song, except perhaps it sounds like one of Prince’s few attempts to make a radio friendly song. I often skip this song when listening to SOTT. Side two really starts with the second song, masterpiece, “If I was your girlfriend”. From the beginning build-up, church organ and priest to the stunning drum rhythm and bass, this song is almost perfection from start to end. Lyrically about his desire to be so close to the one he loves he wants to be her “best friend” to the deeply funky (perfect) bassline. The neuro erotic speech at the end, and the orgasmic finale – one of Prince’s finest songs.
Next up, and perhaps because of the genius before it, “Strange Relationship” is often overlooked amongst Prince classics, but is really one of his best ever songs. Lyrically about a personal conflict of how he loves and doesn’t love someone at the same time, and succinctly explaining that he is at a point where he might do something rash – he questions the relationship and like all hard questions, really doesn’t have an answer. Like all his classics, this is a personal statement, couple with a really funky and catchy beat – one again the brilliant bassline being my favourite part.
The next two songs are not my favourites, but in reality are very important elements of SOTT. “The Cross”, a personal religious song, which is a fairly simple song bordering on heavy metal and devoted to God. And “It’s gonna be a beautiful night”, which is a fun (late 80’s) dance song, on the same lines as “Baby I’m a star”, take it or leave it song. Both are great live, and were probably written to be performed live.
Lastly, comes the classic “Adore”, perhaps one of Prince’s best ever ballads. Fittingly another deep and personal message from Prince, where he explores the extremes of his love and adoration (similarly to If I was your girlfriend). By the time you’ve reached the end of this song and of the album, you realise you are a million miles away from the sobering title track of SOTT and have been through a real adventure.
SOTT up to that year (1987) should surely be considered one of the best albums every made. And depending on personal preference, the best ever Prince album. It is undoubtedly his most honest offering to date, and this is reflected by the brilliant reviews the album received.
For me, this album is a 5 out of 5.