With songs culled from a series of aborted albums during the nadir of Prince’s Purple Rain hangover, Sign O’ the Times has no business being anything but a career-sinking mess. Instead, it’s the best album of the 80s. Most of this is attributable to genius; Prince flips back and forth between R&B and rock like a kid popping wheelies, but that’s more virtuosity than the G word. Genius is knowing that “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and “The Cross” don’t need much adornment and the “Housequake” does. Genius is also the ability to usher in a succession of female vocalists—Camille, Susannah, Sheila E. and Sheena Easton, playing way out of her league—and coax career-defining performances out of them.
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