Single Review: Prince – Sign o’ The Times
Single Review: Prince – Sign o’ The Times by Mark Wong
So it’s five months into 2016 and yet again the music world brings us more heartbreaking news that Minneapolis’ musical prodigy Prince Rogers Nelson has passed away. Prince is often considered as a pivotal cornerstone for 1980’s music. Starting his career at the age of 17 by writing and producing his first record, you knew Prince was always going to be the only rock royalty we needed in this world.
Sign o’ The Times is from Prince’s ninth album of the same name. The track is primarily composed with a Fairlight CMI, which was a high quality digital sampler at the time. The samples can be heard through the computerised sounding keyboard riff and the funky bass line. From first impressions, you notice how stripped back and simplistic Sign o’ the Times is from a production perspective. This may seem odd due to the impeccable detail that’s heard in Prince’s previous efforts such as 1984’s masterpiece: Purple Rain.
Simple production a genius move
But the simplistic production and composition shouldn’t be something to fret over. This is a genius move from Prince because it’s not the keyboard riff that carries the track rhythmically, it’s the deep hooks of the Linn LM-1 drum machine. These drum beats which are accompanied by the groovy sampled bass lines provide succinct rhythmic breaks between different sections of the verses which allows Sign o’ the Times to behave like a blues track while keeping the roots of R&B and rock embedded into it’s core. Prince also adds short bluesy guitar phrases where his playing recalls the musical ghost of guitar virtuoso Jimi Hendrix.
Sign o’ the Times can be seen as the first time that Prince incorporated more serious themes into his music. It’s a contrast to other themes that were explored in his earlier work, such as sexuality and neuroticism. Sign o’ The Times is Prince’s analysis of the major socio-political issues that were present in the late 80’s, such as AIDS and drug abuse. “In France a skinny man/Died of a big disease with a little name/By chance his girlfriend came across a needle/And soon she did the same.”
Recalls struggles in early Blues music
Here Prince is suggesting that if the state of the country persists in this manner it will cause global turmoil. The input of the seductive bass lines and drum beats between “Time” and “Times” after each verse is brilliantly incorporated as it’s these two words that really allow Prince to put the hardships of these world issues into context. This resembles the tough topics found in early blues music where the struggles of work are discussed.
In conclusion, if there were only four words to describe Prince it would definitely be: one of a kind. While Prince’s career was always shrouded in secrecy and mystique due to his androgynous nature, his impact on music will never be matched again. He had a phenomenal sixth sense for the musical art form where he managed to cross over between many genres, ultimately producing a trademark sound that only he could pull off. In times of grief, Prince will always be the only rightful heir to music because quite simply there is no other artist who can compare to or rival him.