News trickled slowly in this morning about a “medical call” at Paisley Park, Prince’s Chanhassen, Minnesota, recording studio complex. Before long, there were reports of a “death investigation” at the compound, and rumors swirled that it was Prince himself. It seemed a little hard to believe — despite reports of a medical scare, the legend had performed days prior at Paisley Park, and he’d announced plans for a memoir just last month.
By early afternoon, the news was confirmed: Prince had passed away. He was 57.
Still reeling, we dug into the Village Voice archives and found Greg Tate’s review of Sign o’ the Times, an album that dominated the 1987 Pazz & Jop critics’ poll, topping the Best Album and Single of the Year lists.
We’re talking a sumptuous song-and-sound casserole. Unlike 1999, Sign ain’t party-meat, mostly cereal, shorty on a superego trip serving up a half-baked smorgasbord to show off. Never has Prince’s mastery of modern pop instrumental and production techniques seemed as total and assured as they do on Sign. And Prince croons heavenly and heartily all over the sucker. The album is an extraordinarily consistent collection. The sense of wonder at work here is, as Michael Jackson might gush, magical. Instrumentally, there isn’t a failed cut, nor one that doesn’t serve up a Whitman’s Sampler of oddball song forms and nutty ear-candy. Sampled sound teasers fade into arrangements deadset to detour from gutbucket bottom to baroque fusion to Frippertronic guitar noise like t’aint nobody’s business if he do. The songs are just as likely to swing from minimalism to lush orchestration in a wink, as his voice is to drop from the ethereal to the visceral to the funny bone.
Sounds about right. Read on below for Prince’s much-deserved domination of the year.