He’s partying because what else can he do? Prince likes ***ing. Well, he doesn’t like it exactly but he talks about it *** loads, and even when he’s not talking about it I’m thinking about it because he’s the most reckless man, swapping between sexual bombardment and an enduring dissatisfaction as recklessly as I’ve ever known. He’s suffering from the dreadful awareness that he’s not a whole person. It is a beautiful album that changed my mind as concisely and brilliantly as we hope music can.
I hadn’t wanted to hear this because everyone said I should. But I’m a ***ing idiot. Beneath some Sly Stone smatterings and things ‘Sign o’ the Times’ is a brittle album, sweaty and panting for a bit, but a rigid, juddering affair for a whole lot more. It’s an exposé, a harrowing look at Prince’s struggle with sex, love, and everything else because of them. It’s like a frazzled out circuit. He’s anesthetized because so little can compare – “I think about IT baby all the time”, he sings between synth stabs that will kill you. The upbeat things don’t last, just the electro, as bare-boned as ever.
Everyone says it’s an ‘am I gay or am I not?’ thing. What a ***ing injustice. He’s too self-aware for that. This sexuality, this thing, isn’t Prince, it’s something Prince talks about. He knows where he is, he just doesn’t know why he’s there. He knows he’s so androgynous and knows that the enjoyable-cum-chilling slowjam ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’, taken from 1986’s ‘Camille Project’, is so worryingly life-filled and life-less. This is stuff ‘Parade’ didn’t touch. I’d never been into pop culture but ‘Sign o’ the Times’ changed my mind and what the *** makes a great album if not that? Pop music and pop culture, their impermanence and outright naughtiness, haven’t ever been married like this.
Maybe sex is always the motivation. Prince flaunts it rudely for one half of the album and sensitively for the other but while the feeling is base, the album is magnificent (It was planned to be a three-disc LP. That would’ve have been incredible. Or terrible.) Prince is gluttonous and he can’t even get that right. He’s in a crisis, trying to work out what’s so sedating about the romance and sexual drive he so deeply trusts. ***. It’s not a happy album, note the unspecified melancholia over ‘The Ballad of Dorothy Parker”, but it is delicate, as exact as it can be, and that’s how ‘Sign o’ the Times’ does what any great album must. It is feeling above understanding, absolutely there in Sign o’ the Times’ audacious guitar licks and flickering subtly in the fuzz during ‘Starfish and Coffee’, Prince is so overcome by emotions that I can’t and won’t stop investigating. As if I’ll work it all out.
‘Sign o’ the Times’ is a boogie into the abyss. ‘1999’ was his rock-God thing but he’s always been lost. Very nearly he was alone and wearing nothing but a slightly skewed party hat. Cultural and counter-cultural revolution was pretty much done by 1987 and with it that sense of tenacity. It came back, but for a while it was just Prince, possibly gay, either rockin’ or trembling, but always helpless.