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Thread started 01/23/03 8:22am

TRON

Classic article of the day: Kurt Loder's Rollingstone review of Sign "O" The Times

Sign o'the Times

Artist: Prince
Title: Sign 'O' The Times
Year: 1987

BY KURT LODER

Prince is beginning to be a puzzlement. Sign o' the Times, his ninth album in what is now a nine-year recording career, is of course largely dazzling; sixteen tracks spread across two LPs -- half of them brilliant, half merely better than ninety percent of the stuff you hear on the radio. There really is no one else like him (although a lot of people try to be), and he remains that rare pop artist to whom you can attach the word genius --or artist, for that matter -- without gagging.

But three years ago, with his album Purple Rain perched atop the charts and his movie of the same name racking up boffo box office, Prince appeared to be poised on the verge of some Great Statement -- some grand new synthesis of black and white musical forms, of sexual redefinition and spiritual devotion. He seemed, in short, to be about to put it all together. But in the wake of Purple Rain, he has drifted. Maybe the movie, with its quasi-autobiographical themes and its implicit challenge to his powers as a budding auteur, focused his creative energies in a one-time-only way. Maybe the Prince-mania that attended its release frightened him. (Or disgusted him. Or bored him.) Whatever the case, with the subsequent Around the World in a Day and Parade, he has been backing away from that peak ever since. Now comes Sign o' the Times, and the Great Statement remains unmade.

This is only a relative letdown, of course. Coming from almost any other artist, Sign would be cause for celebration (not to mention mad partying). The best music here is tough and inventive and exuberantly experimental. Dispensing with his former band, the Revolution (it appears on only one cut, the funk workout "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night," recorded live in Paris last year), Prince scales back its creative attack to what is essentially a one-man-band operation, with overdubbed assists from two estimable horn men, sax player Eric Leeds and trumpeter Atlanta Bliss. (There are also key bits by percussionist-singer Sheila E., ex-Revolutionaries Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin, Wendy's sister Susannah Melvoin, pop singer Sheena Easton and a new vocalist named Camille.)

The resulting minimalism, especially after some of the string-laden pretensions of Parade, is wonderfully bracing. "Sign o' the Times," the album's first single, sets up an immediate tension between a rubbery bass riff and a ponging percussion figure, blossoming rather darkly with the addition of subtly unsettling keyboard chords as Prince decries the contemporary prevalence of drugs and war and suggests, as an antidote, "Let's fall in love, get married, have a baby/We'll call him Nate (If it's a boy)." This is pure Prince -- the formidable rhythmic power, the sociosexual transcendentalism, the loopy humor -- and it's perfect, a piece of real aural art.

Elsewhere, and with equally impressive results, Prince reasserts his mastery of both black funk idioms and white psychedelic and hard-rock styles. "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man," with its Who-like crunch chords and its irresistible keyboard riff, is the most irresistible guitar rocker Prince has done since 1980's "When You Were Mine." And "It," with its Pink Floyd-style guitar tones, and the delightful "Hot Thing," which features an odd little Oriental keyboard hook, re-confirm Prince's genuine affection for Sixties-style trippery. The stylized funk tracks are even more revealing -- they seem in some ways to be almost homages. The sexy "Slow Love," with its jaunty keyboards and neck-nuzzling delivery, vividly recalls Sly Stone at the peak of his powers. And the uproarious "Housequake" is a virtual survey of thirty years of black performance styles: the title apparently refers to house music, which erupted out of Chicago last year; the singer's boastful persona is borrowed from rap; the wicked beat and machine-gun horn lines are pure James Brown; and the goofy exhortation that brackets the track -- "Shut up, already! Damn!" -- is lifted from Little Richard. As might be expected, the whole things smokes ferociously.

The balance of the album finds Prince being his unpredictable self -- which is, if nothing else, never dull. "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" takes it title not from the celebrated quiptress of the Algonquin Round Table but rather from a fictive blond waitress who has "a quicker wit" than Prince and (like him) loves Joni Mitchell. The hilarious and sexually arresting "If I Was Your Girlfriend" is a funk-thunk number with weird crowdlike backup vocals; it finds Prince wheedling his beloved with the disconcerting question "Would you run to me if somebody hurt you/Even if that somebody was me?" Then there's "The Cross," one of his most straightforward religious songs, which starts off as a sort of folk-rock ballad, then erupts into overpowering power-guitar chords and concludes in a shimmering puddle of jazzlike vocal harmony straight out of the Four Freshman song book.

In fact, Prince's virtuoso eclecticism has seldom been so abundantly displayed, from the Hendrixian funk that crops up on "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" and the Wizard of Oz drones that form the unlikely center of "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" to the razory instrumental run in "Play in the Sunshine" and the eerie keyboard wheezlings in "Housequake."

That all sounds pretty interesting. In fact, it is. "Sign o' the Times," "Housequake," "Hot Thing" and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" will be new Prince classics. "It," "Slow Love," "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" and the almost-heavy-metal "U Got the Look" are almost as good. There would be one great LP hidden in the sprawl of this double album if the songs exerted any uniform effect. Unfortunately, they don't. That's okay; one takes great songs wherever one can find them. But simple virtuosity -- mere brilliance, one might almost say -- seems too easy an exercise, at this point, for someone of Prince's extraordinary gifts. And he is beginning to repeat himself: "Play in the Sunshine" is the sort of soulful raveup he's tossed off several times before, and the little bass idea that so memorably animates the title tune crops up again in both "Hot Thing" and the mildly intriguing "Forever in My Life." This way lies decadence.

Prince appeared on the scene as a champion of outcast originality. He demonstrated for a new generation the beauty of true style and unconstrained personality, the complexity of the interplay among love and God and sexuality and -- most important -- the essentially multiracial nature of rock & roll music. He is an artist capable of altering popular consciousness in concrete ways, but Sign o' the Times seems unlikely to alter anything more profound than the face of the hit parade. Nothing wrong with that, but it's rather like the story about Jesus feeding the multitudes with miraculous loaves and fishes. Such fundamental nourishment is always appreciated. But when a full-blown feast is so obviously within Prince's capabilities, one wonders: Why doesn't he go for it?
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Reply #1 posted 01/23/03 8:38am

sabaisabai

avatar

Thanks for posting this smile
Life it ain't real funky unless you got that orgPop.
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Reply #2 posted 01/23/03 9:03am

dagodfather

thanks for reposting this ... also ...

I remember when "Sign" came out ... and ... reading Kurts review ... and thinking ... "does he like it !!??" ... and also thinking .. that this was where Rolling Stone mag was goin down hill ... even ... "the great" Kurt Loder cant give a thumbs up or thumbs down review ... he has to give this middle of the road thingy ...

Similar kind of review was in Newsweek ...

And now, most of those "critics" ... say this album is Prince - at Prince's best ...
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Reply #3 posted 01/23/03 9:03am

LittlePill

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TRON said:

Sign o'the Times

Artist: Prince
Title: Sign 'O' The Times
Year: 1987

BY KURT LODER



(There are also key bits by percussionist-singer Sheila E., ex-Revolutionaries Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin, Wendy's sister Susannah Melvoin, pop singer Sheena Easton and a new vocalist named Camille.)


Best line of the article. Was I the only person who was able to tell that Camille and Prince were the same person by just listening to Camille's voices?
Avatar by Byron rose

prince Proud member of Prince's cult for 20 years! prince
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Reply #4 posted 01/23/03 9:26am

Xpertlover

avatar

LittlePill said:

Best line of the article. Was I the only person who was able to tell that Camille and Prince were the same person by just listening to Camille's voices?
No you weren't. But I think it's pretty interesting that a guy like Kurt Loder didn't get it.
Another thing is that while he mentions almost every track on the album, he doens't say a word about Adore.
"How embarrasing to be human!"
- Kurt Vonnegut, 'Hocus Pocus'
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Reply #5 posted 01/23/03 9:57am

NuPwrSoul

It's always good to read the immediate reactions to his work and then compare it to more contemplative listens years after where the work can be appreciated in context.

Some of P's music is like fine wine.
"That...magic, the start of something revolutionary-the Minneapolis Sound, we should cherish it and not punish prince for not being able to replicate it."-Dreamshaman32
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Reply #6 posted 01/23/03 10:06am

7IS4ME

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sign of the times was awesome.i still play the album once a week and watch the concert as well
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Reply #7 posted 01/23/03 1:23pm

loosekiss

Xpertlover said:

LittlePill said:

Best line of the article. Was I the only person who was able to tell that Camille and Prince were the same person by just listening to Camille's voices?
No you weren't. But I think it's pretty interesting that a guy like Kurt Loder didn't get it.
Another thing is that while he mentions almost every track on the album, he doens't say a word about Adore.


True! How the hell can you review SOTT and miss Adore for pete sake! disbelief
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Reply #8 posted 01/23/03 1:28pm

mistermaxxx

I Remembering Buying this Issue of Rolling Stone&reading that Review.I dug the Album from Day One that was the last Album I Dug of Prince from Day One.that time period was truly a Cool time with Prince dropping tracks left&right.
mistermaxxx
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Reply #9 posted 01/23/03 1:42pm

rdhull

avatar

TRON said:

Sign o'the Times

Artist: Prince
Title: Sign 'O' The Times
Year: 1987

BY KURT LODER

Prince is beginning to be a puzzlement. Sign o' the Times, his ninth album in what is now a nine-year recording career, is of course largely dazzling; sixteen tracks spread across two LPs -- half of them brilliant, half merely better than ninety percent of the stuff you hear on the radio. There really is no one else like him (although a lot of people try to be), and he remains that rare pop artist to whom you can attach the word genius --or artist, for that matter -- without gagging.

But three years ago, with his album Purple Rain perched atop the charts and his movie of the same name racking up boffo box office, Prince appeared to be poised on the verge of some Great Statement -- some grand new synthesis of black and white musical forms, of sexual redefinition and spiritual devotion. He seemed, in short, to be about to put it all together. But in the wake of Purple Rain, he has drifted. Maybe the movie, with its quasi-autobiographical themes and its implicit challenge to his powers as a budding auteur, focused his creative energies in a one-time-only way. Maybe the Prince-mania that attended its release frightened him. (Or disgusted him. Or bored him.) Whatever the case, with the subsequent Around the World in a Day and Parade, he has been backing away from that peak ever since. Now comes Sign o' the Times, and the Great Statement remains unmade.

This is only a relative letdown, of course. Coming from almost any other artist, Sign would be cause for celebration (not to mention mad partying). The best music here is tough and inventive and exuberantly experimental. Dispensing with his former band, the Revolution (it appears on only one cut, the funk workout "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night," recorded live in Paris last year), Prince scales back its creative attack to what is essentially a one-man-band operation, with overdubbed assists from two estimable horn men, sax player Eric Leeds and trumpeter Atlanta Bliss. (There are also key bits by percussionist-singer Sheila E., ex-Revolutionaries Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin, Wendy's sister Susannah Melvoin, pop singer Sheena Easton and a new vocalist named Camille.)

The resulting minimalism, especially after some of the string-laden pretensions of Parade, is wonderfully bracing. "Sign o' the Times," the album's first single, sets up an immediate tension between a rubbery bass riff and a ponging percussion figure, blossoming rather darkly with the addition of subtly unsettling keyboard chords as Prince decries the contemporary prevalence of drugs and war and suggests, as an antidote, "Let's fall in love, get married, have a baby/We'll call him Nate (If it's a boy)." This is pure Prince -- the formidable rhythmic power, the sociosexual transcendentalism, the loopy humor -- and it's perfect, a piece of real aural art.

Elsewhere, and with equally impressive results, Prince reasserts his mastery of both black funk idioms and white psychedelic and hard-rock styles. "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man," with its Who-like crunch chords and its irresistible keyboard riff, is the most irresistible guitar rocker Prince has done since 1980's "When You Were Mine." And "It," with its Pink Floyd-style guitar tones, and the delightful "Hot Thing," which features an odd little Oriental keyboard hook, re-confirm Prince's genuine affection for Sixties-style trippery. The stylized funk tracks are even more revealing -- they seem in some ways to be almost homages. The sexy "Slow Love," with its jaunty keyboards and neck-nuzzling delivery, vividly recalls Sly Stone at the peak of his powers. And the uproarious "Housequake" is a virtual survey of thirty years of black performance styles: the title apparently refers to house music, which erupted out of Chicago last year; the singer's boastful persona is borrowed from rap; the wicked beat and machine-gun horn lines are pure James Brown; and the goofy exhortation that brackets the track -- "Shut up, already! Damn!" -- is lifted from Little Richard. As might be expected, the whole things smokes ferociously.

The balance of the album finds Prince being his unpredictable self -- which is, if nothing else, never dull. "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker" takes it title not from the celebrated quiptress of the Algonquin Round Table but rather from a fictive blond waitress who has "a quicker wit" than Prince and (like him) loves Joni Mitchell. The hilarious and sexually arresting "If I Was Your Girlfriend" is a funk-thunk number with weird crowdlike backup vocals; it finds Prince wheedling his beloved with the disconcerting question "Would you run to me if somebody hurt you/Even if that somebody was me?" Then there's "The Cross," one of his most straightforward religious songs, which starts off as a sort of folk-rock ballad, then erupts into overpowering power-guitar chords and concludes in a shimmering puddle of jazzlike vocal harmony straight out of the Four Freshman song book.

In fact, Prince's virtuoso eclecticism has seldom been so abundantly displayed, from the Hendrixian funk that crops up on "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" and the Wizard of Oz drones that form the unlikely center of "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" to the razory instrumental run in "Play in the Sunshine" and the eerie keyboard wheezlings in "Housequake."

That all sounds pretty interesting. In fact, it is. "Sign o' the Times," "Housequake," "Hot Thing" and "I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man" will be new Prince classics. "It," "Slow Love," "It's Gonna Be a Beautiful Night" and the almost-heavy-metal "U Got the Look" are almost as good. There would be one great LP hidden in the sprawl of this double album if the songs exerted any uniform effect. Unfortunately, they don't. That's okay; one takes great songs wherever one can find them. But simple virtuosity -- mere brilliance, one might almost say -- seems too easy an exercise, at this point, for someone of Prince's extraordinary gifts. And he is beginning to repeat himself: "Play in the Sunshine" is the sort of soulful raveup he's tossed off several times before, and the little bass idea that so memorably animates the title tune crops up again in both "Hot Thing" and the mildly intriguing "Forever in My Life." This way lies decadence.

Prince appeared on the scene as a champion of outcast originality. He demonstrated for a new generation the beauty of true style and unconstrained personality, the complexity of the interplay among love and God and sexuality and -- most important -- the essentially multiracial nature of rock & roll music. He is an artist capable of altering popular consciousness in concrete ways, but Sign o' the Times seems unlikely to alter anything more profound than the face of the hit parade. Nothing wrong with that, but it's rather like the story about Jesus feeding the multitudes with miraculous loaves and fishes. Such fundamental nourishment is always appreciated. But when a full-blown feast is so obviously within Prince's capabilities, one wonders: Why doesn't he go for it?


Here's an old response I gave about this Loder review:


Thinking back to Kurt Loders' review of SOTT that's always been with me in my mind, he stated that the release failed to make "the grand statement". He also referred to SOTT as "Prince's baffling brilliance. "I also remember at the end of the review that he wondered why Prince didnt just "go for it". Reading DMSR there were 15-16 songs intended to be called Dream Factory. Would this configuration have made the grand statement? Heres what Dream Factory was supposed to have:

Side one- Visions, Dream Factory, Train, It.

Side two:
Strange Relationship, Starfish N Coffee, INTERLUDE, Slow Love, ICNTTPOYM,

side three: The Cross, Last Heart Witness, Movie Star, All My Dreams.

Ten other songs were bandied about as part of Dream factory and later pulled etc. These include A Place In Heaven, SOTT, Joy In Rep, Teacher Teacher, Large Room,Wonderful Day, Slow Love, Big Tall Wall, Power Fantastic, and Crystal Ball. Would adding these songs have made "the" grand statement? You have Visions as the opener, a serious instrumental to get the gist across, then Dream Factory,
Dot, and It. Seems like Dream Factory and Visions are the only thing with statement written on it. Side two you have Strange Relationship, Starfish,Interlude, Slow Love and ICNTTPOYM. This side has very strong songs. A more
personal set of songs.Especially ending with ICNTTPOYM. Side 3 has The Cross for the lil Lets Go crazy type of preaching with equally enough guitar crunch as Lets Go Crazy, its just not a party type anthem, but never the less, in your face. Last Heart a personal song which could have turned into a catch-phrase. Witness 4 Prosecution is sorta strange to be included. Movie Star originally
for Morris, yet works with Prince, playing off of his celluloid screen exploits, which would have been appropriate at the time. The ending with All My
Dreams, a perfect "goodbye", pick me up life lesson, especially the ending lines "dont ever lose your dreams".

I think what Loder was getting at was that their wasnt much "power", i.e. guitar punch. Slipping in Large Room , replacing It, getting rid of Last Heart and using A Place In Heaven, Slow love in place of Witness would have made for
a better flow and making more sense. And since he recorded most of ATWIAD before PR was even released as the monster that it was, this technically could have been the PR follow-up. If it had been, who knows what would've happened.
But it took making ATWIAD and Parade to get to the point of Dream Factory-SOTT type of brilliance. From "ALL" the members of the Revolution.

I personally thought he made his grand statement and "went for it" with PR of course. Here he was heralded as the next Stevie Wonder on his first album, then he hit top 10 of his second release, came into his original freaky self with
Dirty Mind, cruised into a larger audience with Controversy (more accessible?), and created his masterpiece 1999, which had those that were not bandwagoners eating out of his hands, waiting for what his next move was gonna be. And that
was PR. Here he makes his statement. Lets Go Crazy, the religious watch out beware, pick yourself up, the love lessons of Beautiful Ones, the rock of Computer Blue (years ahead of My Computer or computer generation), the Prince
lasciviousness of Nikki, the never againess of When Doves Cry, the perfect pop of I Would Die 4 U, the triumphant Baby Im A Star and the wind up Stairway To Heaven of the eighties Purple Rain (could be both good or bad).

Seems like his statement was already made by the time of SOTT.Asking for one in 1987 was asking for a statement from ALL members because by then and with songs from 1985-86, most were group efforts. Wendy and Lisa of course, other
Melvoins, Sheilas' drumming, Leeds, Blistan and the other "cronies" to bounce off of for inspiration (Wally, Brooks, Cat,JJ etc). So to answer Loders' question of why doesnt "he just go for it?"-he did, in 1984. He went for it
again but with growth, restraints, etc added to the mix. What is missing though was the power of the guitar. The guitar was put on the backburner and brought up for specific use and embellishments, and oh how good those embellishments sounded. Sometimes refraining from bombastic guitar makes it all the more sweeter when it does get a chance to peak out. Of course the backlash of his original
audience etc lead to some of the guitar restraint, at least he got the chance to funnel that into sounds like Large Room, Power Fantstic, Slow Love, Dot Parker, etc.(he could only keep making Controversy for so long any ways).

Now that the bull is all over, bring it all back, make another statement, before there is no one left to care. "Hurry there isn't much time". No more time for
millennium mumbo jumbo:it's passed and we're still here. No room for bomb culture either(swipe), no one's gonna drop the bomb. You gave us the soundtrack for the so called rapture-revelation, now give us a statement for this so
called dawn. And make it just as good.
"Climb in my fur."
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Reply #10 posted 09/02/03 4:47am

DavidEye

"a new vocalist named Camille" smile


I remember Black beat magazine making fun of Rolling Stone for suggesting that Camille was a new singer,and not Prince.They wrote...


"In the new issue of Rolling Stone,there is an album review of Prince's 'Sign O The Times' album.For the most part,the writer seemed to be impressed with the artists' newest work.But he was the victim of yet another purple prank.In listing the album's personnel---which,the writer pointed out,is mostly Prince---they seriously listed the name "Camille" among the album's singers,without so much as a snicker".
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Reply #11 posted 09/02/03 7:49am

softandwet

TRON said:[quote]Sign o'the Times
and the mildly intriguing "Forever in My Life."


?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?! "mildly intriguing"??!?!?!?! i fucking love this song! its the favourite off of the album for me. i think, among others...
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Reply #12 posted 09/02/03 8:45am

violett

avatar

hmmm hmmm iteresting biggrin
heart
vi star
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Reply #13 posted 09/02/03 8:56am

FunkMistress

avatar

TRON said:

Sign o'the Times

BY KURT LODER

...sixteen tracks...half of them brilliant, half merely better than ninety percent of the stuff you hear on the radio.


lol
Sounds like us. We're so hard on him because we expect so much from him.
CHICKENS ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO COCAINE, SILKY HEN.
The Normal Whores Club
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Reply #14 posted 09/02/03 8:56am

Tom

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Kurt also did the Rolling Stone review for Purple Rain.

I think he knew that Camille was Prince, but was just acknowledging it in imaginary sense as his alter ego
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Reply #15 posted 09/02/03 9:00am

FunkMistress

avatar

TRON said:

the almost-heavy-metal "U Got the Look"


question
Uhh...Did Kurt receive an alternate version?
CHICKENS ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO COCAINE, SILKY HEN.
The Normal Whores Club
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Reply #16 posted 09/02/03 9:09am

Tom

avatar

FunkMistress said:

TRON said:

the almost-heavy-metal "U Got the Look"


question
Uhh...Did Kurt receive an alternate version?


Not like Megadeth metal, but consider the mid 80s...

I think he was refering to the heavy guitar used in the song, which was kind of uncommon in all the synth r&b stuff.
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Reply #17 posted 09/02/03 9:33am

wizardofmath

Kurt

Loder said

And he is beginning to repeat himself...this way lies decadance.


Isn't this the same person who raves over every new release from Madonna?

Yet, SOTT was missing some kind of originality?

confuse
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Reply #18 posted 09/02/03 10:41am

fms

avatar

come on people, this is rolling stone we're talking about, the same rag that gave the gold expereince 3 1/2 stars!!! yeah, that's about accurate rolleyes
anyway, prince did offer the full-blown feast that kurt loder mentions at the end of his lukewarm review: it's called the rainbow children.
Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths...(Jeremiah 6:16) www.ancientfaithradio.com

dezinonac eb lliw noitulove ehT
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