Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Musicology

SIGN 'O' THE TIMES
By Michaelangelo Matos
Continuum

I've begun several of Continuum's 33 1/3 series, 20,000-word miniatures devoted entirely to one album, and I hope to finish more. Michaelangelo Matos's Sign 'O' the Times, however, was the first to usher me into its second chapter pain-free--and not because of what he has to say about Prince's greatest album. Like several of these critiques, Matos's clears its throat with some autobiographical notes, and although I know the guy, we're not so close that I was aware he'd grown up on welfare in a Minneapolis suburb--a redolent story that ties him to Prince in a way few can claim. The close reading that soon takes over could only have originated with a bright kid in straitened circumstances for whom this first-of-the-month cassette became the center of the universe at a pivotal moment of adolescence. It's not always crisp, but it's full of stuff that never occurred to you, climaxing for me in the pages that describe "If I Was Your Girlfriend"/"The Ballad of Dorothy Parker"--one of the diptychs into which he divides the album. Note, however, that not even Matos, who's been pondering Prince for most of his conscious life, thinks to tell us what the charismatic little motherfucker signifies. It's as if it's too obvious to be stated--or comprehended.

Village Voice, May 11, 2004