Own It or Disown It: #258: Prince, Sign o’ the Times

OwnItorDisownIt

The most beloved album from one of the most beloved artists of all time turns thirty years old today.

Our society’s increasing willingness to cater to any whim, from educating about the merits of whatever whims exist in the world to providing near-instant access to every permutation of any whims, means that one’s experience and familiarity with what are commonly considered ordinary aspects of growing up can occur years or even decades after they are supposed to, if they even occur at all. For instance, this week I learned that I just don’t care much for funk music. Yay!

Sign o’ the Times is considered to be the best album by Prince, commonly considered one of the greatest artists of our time, and ranks well on lists dedicated to both counting down the best albums of the 80s and the best albums of all time. This, in other words, represents probably the best argument in favor of funk, so if I’m ever to get into it, I should start here. I’ve given it several chances over the past week, and my big damn opinion on Sign is that it is…fine.

And maybe that’s not fine to you. Great, splendid, fill me in on what I’m missing, I encourage you. I look at the wall of accolades on the Wikipedia page, with perfect scores from Allmusic, Rolling Stone, and Pitchfork, and, more than anything else, I feel envious. I’m not trying to be contrarian here, I’m not writing this to set anyone off, I’m not trying to ruin anyone’s day. At the end of the day, Sign gets a big ol’ thumbs up from me. That said, if I’m scoring this, this is a soft seven out of ten.

It isn’t as though I hate funk and everything it stands for. I’ve loved albums that have elements of funk in them (I gave the very funky To Pimp a Butterfly a perfect score). As represented here, though, as channeled as its own genre rather than filtered through genres I’m enamored with, funk comes across as being full of itself, settling on repetition too easily and too quickly. I’m surprised I’m saying that, too, given I’ve had to deflect that argument against hip-hop so many times, but my beloved hip-hop breaks up that repetition with vocalists who cut through the noise and find rhythms that might not otherwise make themselves known. Try listening to El-P’s “Deep Space 9mm” and its instrumental back to back, and you’ll appreciate how his vocals lift up what is otherwise an energetic but lacking piece. With Sign, though, there’s only Prince cutting through, and while he’s a fantastic singer, he’s not enough of a felt presence over the course of these eighty minutes to make me feel as though this project is anything other than fine. No joke, the first time I got halfway through the ten-minute “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night” (which is presented here as being played at a concert), I found it to be so unspectacular and ordinary that I double-checked my version of the album to make sure it wasn’t a bonus live version of a track on this album.

The short of it is “it’s not you, it’s me”. I don’t hate or dislike this album, and I did have fun with enough tracks to give it a recommendation (“If I Was Your Girlfriend”, in particular, threads the needle between thrilling and touching). I just don’t think it is a ten-on-ten masterwork of music that needs to be in everyone’s library.

VERDICT: OWN

This write-up has fewer videos than usual because there aren't that many online. Sorry.

Read past editions of Own It or Disown It.

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