So how come she won’t just do it anyway? The reissue of his 1987 masterpiece unveils dozens of unheard songs. Prince“Sign O’ the Times”(The Prince Estate/Warner Records), Prince’s Vault Reveals a Brilliant Trove With ‘Sign O’ the Times’. He was grounding himself once again in deep funk like “Soul Psychodelicide,” a song he’d suddenly cue onstage by shouting “Ice cream!” (A 12-minute version is finally documented on the new album.) He sounds as goofy and loose as he’s ever been, and lines like, “Baby, I can’t stand to see you happy / More than that, I hate to see you sad …” go slipping by without any special notice. With possible exception of a superb folk-funk take on “Forever In My Life” that improves on the drier album cut and the supernaturally hypnotic minimalism of “Crystal Ball” that really demanded to be crammed on the record somehow, it’s difficult not to agree with Prince’s final track list selections for Sign O’ The Times: the rejected cuts are uniformly strong, but the tracks that ended up on the album are that extra bit more special. Now anybody else, after a debacle like Under the Cherry Moon had his career as a director/actor/auteur/love-god swirling down the toilet, nearly sinking his customarily brilliant album Parade in the process, would come out of their corner kind of cautious-like. This statement provides a workable summary of this drool-inducingly generous repackaging of arguably the finest album by Minneapolis’ most famous musical polymath. For most artists, a song and performance as effortlessly graceful as this would mark a career high-point. The album’s ambition was amplified by its playfulness, its casual mastery, its willingness to tease and please while ignoring — and transcending — boundaries. For all the thrills of the bonus materials, what really impresses here is how strong and distinctly undated the original 16-track double album still sounds. One find among the Vault songs — an intriguing road not taken — is “In a Large Room With No Light.” Built on music by Wendy & Lisa, it has an upbeat Latin big-band feel, with a blithe scat-singing refrain and zigzagging melodies and harmonies, belied by Prince’s lyrics that detail dead-end lives and “situations that aren’t right.” Another Melvoin-Coleman-Prince collaboration, “Power Fantastic,” glimpses Prince at work. Fearless, eclectic, and defiantly messy, Prince's Sign 'O' the Times falls into the tradition of tremendous, chaotic double albums like The Beatles, Exile on Main St., and London Calling-- albums that are fantastic because of their overreach, their great sprawl. “Sign O’ the Times” didn’t start out as a double LP. He’s dropped his most messianic urges, too, and that makes every moment that leans back in the direction of Dirty Mind and Controversy and 1999 all the easier. “Sign O’ the Times” would have been very different if Prince hadn’t disbanded the Revolution and muted, minimized or shelved most of their contributions — though one of the peaks of the original album is a live Prince & the Revolution track, “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night.” The album might well have been more embellished and less hard-edge, more communal and less a solitary quest. And he ended his engagement to Susannah Melvoin, though his love song to her, “Forever in My Life,” stayed on “Sign O’ the Times,” remade to become more austere and percussive than the countryish, guitar-strumming version from the Vault. Anybody else would have brought out one record, not two — I guess he gets sick of all those extra tunes cluttering up the studio — and nobody else would have put our their first single since Parade with what looks like a photo of the auteur in a halter top, miniskirt, and beaded garter.
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