Sign ‘O’ the Times returns

sign1First released by German label Turbine Media in September last year as a pretty expensive limited deluxe edition (that nonetheless sold out very quickly), Prince’s classic concert film Sign O The Times was re-released in December in a slightly cheaper mediabook edition, just in time for Christmas. Well, if you can’t treat yourself at Christmas, then when can you?  This more space-savvy edition features the same discs (two Blu-rays and two DVDs) and the same booklet (in a reduced size naturally but featuring the same very informative essays).

While the album Sign ‘O’ The Times is one of my favourite Prince albums, I hadn’t actually seen the concert film since back in the VHS days, so there was a distinctly ‘blast from the past’ feel when I finally gave the Blu-ray a spin a few days ago. I remember the VHS looked pretty awful but as the concert was shot on film (barring the U Got the Look video that serves almost as an ugly video-noise intermission)  it really looks great in HD, The music of course is as sublime as ever, arguably the songs better in their concert form than they were on the original album- Prince was at his creative peak here, and I’m only hoping we don’t have to wait too many years for the Prince Estate to release a Super Deluxe boxset edition, full of goodies like Vault tracks and live music.

One of the curious pleasures of this edition- and everyone’s mileage on this might vary- is the commentary track, by a bunch of folks at the Peach and Black Podcast. Its light on technical details really but once its gotten past its awkward first several minutes, it offers the curious luxury of sitting in a room watching the concert with a few other Prince fans. Its chatty and very fan-based but its great; grabbing a few beers and watching the show doesn’t feel quite as lonely as it used to. You see, even though Prince was a musical powerhouse-cum-genius, in my immediate social circle he’s as popular as Trump on a Twitter spree. I think this commentary track is great fun, the guys know their stuff (certainly have seen the concert many more times than I have) and I’m certain it has great replay value.

Strangely enough, being a fan of Prince has become something of a Strange Relationship (sic) since his untimely death- there have been quite a few books out (I had the cruelly-brief memoir-book The Beautiful Ones as a present for Christmas) and the Estate album releases since have offered tantalising glimpses behind the curtain with which Prince used to maintain his mystique and mystery. In some ways he feels more real, more human, but while there are moments I think I understand him better, at the same time I realise that I perhaps know him even less than before. Certainly the near 90-minute documentary that accompanies the concert film here offers fresh insight and behind the scenes details about the album, tour and the film (as does the rather detailed booklet essays). There’s a fresh appreciation to be had here, and as a deluxe edition this set is pretty damned fine- sure its very much a fan-based project, very positive without any real negative reappraisal accompanying any of it: its clearly a celebration, sadly one well overdue. How tragic it is that it had to wait for Prince’s death to come into being, and seems to have arisen quite independent of the Prince Estate due to a rather troubled rights situation. I haven’t even gotten around to the second disc that features unedited interviews from the doc totalling three hours, so whether its fascinating or yawn-inducing, I can’t say.

I believe that the concert film is indeed being released over here in the UK shortly, and may indeed be the same restoration/master, but it does appear to be minus the special features that Turbine Media has curated here, and minus the Dolby Atmos soundtrack (there are three soundtracks, a bassy Atmos track, something called a Auro-3D 11.1 mix, and the original stereo mix which will keep purists happy even if it lacks something of the wallop of the other pair of tracks (all three appear to be different mixes entirely, rather than the same mix across the three different formats: everyone’s sure to find one that they prefer)).

So whether its worth the added expense (even the mediabook edition can be quite expensive, as it can only be bought from Germany and is itself a limited edition) depends on how much one needs that commentary track, the doc or that Atmos mix and the other two mixes. The packaging is very fine and it looks a quality product- I just hope one day there’s a Super Deluxe edition of the Sign ‘O’ The Times album to accompany it. Time will tell, but in the meantime, here’s hoping we get rumoured that Parade Super Deluxe later this year.


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