Prince’s ‘Sign O’ the Times’ re-release shows that masterpieces never age
Prince was a prolific artist in his lifetime but his posthumous re-releases such as 'Sign O' Times' show even more of his genius
Prince is back. Well, not in the earthly realm, but his famed vault has meant that his estate has had a prodigious amount of material to work with since he made his transition to an ancestor on April 21, 2016.
Though he released 39 albums in his lifetime, Prince recorded much more music and stored it in his famed ‘vault’ at Paisley Park that contained more of the master recordings he’d sought complete control over in his life as a Warner Bros. artist. Complete albums were stored away in the vault, along with abandoned songs that Prince worked on with and without collaborators over his three-decade career.
Since he’s passed, the estate has put out a 1999 rerelease, remastered to account for modern digital recording techniques and an EP, Piano And a Microphone 1983 featuring Prince trying out versions of his hits and other songs in various stages of completion on the piano. They also put out Prince: Originals and a Prince 4Ever compilation album mostly of songs already released on other albums.
If that wasn’t enough, this year, the estate promised something the Prince community had long been waiting for – a remastered ‘super deluxe’ rerelease of his 1987 classic Sign O’ the Times. The songs were culled from three albums Prince had in progress – Crystal Ball, Camille, and Dream Factory recorded with The Revolution until Prince abandoned that project, cut them out, and recorded a bunch of new songs.
That album would become what is largely considered to be his master project and includes the title track, the hit “U Got the Look” with Sheena Easton, and the classic ballad “Adore.” Prince said in the liner notes for his 1993 release The Hits/The B Sides that he wrote “Adore” specifically for the Quiet Storm radio format that featured artists like his friend and collaborator Patti LaBelle, and Luther Vandross. But since then, ex-fiancée Susannah Melvoin has claimed the song as one he wrote for her.
The remastered CD, which just means that the album has been brought up from its likely original analog recording to digital and every track’s sound improved (playing the original meant having to turn the volume way up to account for the difference) came in multiple packages from an 8 CD, 1 DVD set to a 13 LP, 1 DVD set. Or you could just listen to the release on streaming media via Apple Music, Tidal or Spotify.
Both editions feature 45 ‘new’ songs and a DVD with the Dec. 31, 1987 Paisley Park performance, the last on his “Sign O’ the Times” tour featuring Miles Davis, and a June 20, 1987 show at Stadium Galgenwaard in Utrecht, The Netherlands.
The most obvious takeaway is aside from the fact that Prince was a productive, prolific musical genius with an insane work ethic is that the original Sign of the Times CD still holds up. It is an amazingly diverse work that spans pop, R&B jazz, and funk/soul with a little of the ‘Prince’ genre thrown in – a combination of all of them with that special sauce he had that made so much of his music sound innovative.
If you’ve ever discussed Prince’s music with a musician, and I have, they will talk about his technological prowess working with equipment that was new at the time like the Linn drum, as well as an ear that just heard things differently and a will that allowed him to take musical risks. Remastering this album is like someone restoring an old painting to its former grandeur – it’s only right to make sure that genius stands the test of time.
As for the 45 ‘new’ tracks, Prince’s output is overwhelming, which makes you understand why Warner Bros. tried to curtail his releases. You could probably spend the rest of your life exclusively listening to Prince and still not have enough time to absorb it all.
He wrote some really, really good and some great songs and made some great music well after his age and lack of radio airplay had people thinking his prime was long past. There are a few throwaways on every ‘new’ rerelease but many of the tracks on the Sign O’ the Times‘ super deluxe version have been fan fave bootlegs for years.
Standout tracks include “Witness For the Prosecution,” “Can I Play With U,” his collaboration with Davis, a ridiculously compelling version of “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” with horns, an alternate take of “Forever in My Life,” the jazzy “Electric Room With No Light” and a first-take version of “Power Fantastic,” a woefully underrated song that first appeared on The Hits and the B Sides.
There are likely more standouts but even I couldn’t get to them all before this was turned in. The thing about Prince is that if you are so inclined there is a seemingly endless output of tremendous art that if you love music or make it, you can take your time going through to find new things to enjoy or be inspired by. As Prince once said in a song, “there will never be another like me.”
That brother wasn’t lying. We were blessed by his talent in life and can still be surprised by it in death. Wherever in the heavens or the skies that he still reigns, he’s left us something to remember him by. How did we get this lucky?
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