Mint Condition - 7 (2011)

Mint Condition

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Five band members, over a dozen charting hit singles and twenty years of classically-composed, contemporarily-rendered melodies and musicality. They were part of an emerging trend of male R&B acts when they hit the scene in the early 90s (Boyz II Men, Blackstreet and Jodeci, to name a few), but as of today, the quintet stands apart as the sole self-contained band of their generation. No matter what trends were prevalent on the urban landscape, Mint Condition cemented their reputation and enduring fan base by utilizing an organic (some would say old-school) and multi-layered approach, which appears intermittently on their Shananchie Records debut and seventh CD, fittingly entitled 7. [Note: the version being reviewed does not include the additiona bonus tracks available at Best Buy]

Five band members, over a dozen charting hit singles and twenty years of classically-composed, contemporarily-rendered melodies and musicality. They were part of an emerging trend of male R&B acts when they hit the scene in the early 90s (Boyz II Men, Blackstreet and Jodeci, to name a few), but as of today, the quintet stands apart as the sole self-contained band of their generation. No matter what trends were prevalent on the urban landscape, Mint Condition cemented their reputation and enduring fan base by utilizing an organic (some would say old-school) and multi-layered approach, which appears intermittently on their Shananchie Records debut and seventh CD, fittingly entitled 7. [Note: the version being reviewed does not include the additiona bonus tracks available at Best Buy]

The St. Paul, MN-based collective has always eschewed clichés---sex-starved lyrics, Auto-Tune and obligatory cameos by rappers-of-the-moment--- and on the tracks that find them at their best, Mint Condition is mesmerizingly modern and eclectic: a coolly duplicitous lover is put on blast in the edgy, up tempo "Mindslicka" ("But when I found, every time, that you had another side/and how did I, not realize that I just slipped on your ice again"), and urgent, 80s-era funk is what sets apart the opener  "Can't Get Away," conveying the angst of a man caught in the clutches of a toxic relationship: "Now I'm here at home alone, he's with you doin', what I want to be doin'/Maybe taking off your clothes, what can I do, gotta stop thinkin' about you."

Another set of stellar moments come in the form of ballads: the sinuous "Caught My Eye" crystallizes that electrical instant of attraction and the whispers of apprehension that follow: "Very nice to meet ya, Girl I like your features/maybe soon I could treat ya, to somewhere quiet no people/Or maybe get to know ya, over a chai or mocha/Saw you standing in line, Baby you caught my eye." The CD's most arresting vocal performance comes with the taut and tortured "Walk Away," which displays the resonance of Stokley Williams' lower register that's typically only heard during live shows: "Shame, this time it's all on me, the first time, you were to blame/We both don't we don't work, I should expect results, the same/So you don't need to get no closer, don't try to put that thang on me...." "Not My Daddy" pairs Mr. Williams with the delicately nuanced alto of Kelly Price, their vocals pitch-perfect and the band's instrumentality a climactic component as the two convey a couple battling archaic expectations in their relationship: "Trust, without it there's no love. It's true no matter what you try....I spy, you seek, you watch, I peek, so what are we doing with our love? It's not how it's supposed to be."

While the rest of their songs still eclipse the majority of what can pass for R&B these days (such as the tender, piano-anchored tribute, "Unsung," and the hip-hop-helmed "7", which cleverly intertwines titles from their many hits into a smooth, spoken word soliloquy), some of them seem robotically rendered or creatively truncated: "20 Years Later," for example, echoes the fury and chaos that a struggling drug addict feels as his life veers out of control ("Now I'm with another friend's ex, told her she can't call, he's my roommate, would be drama, but really, I'm married, just turned 47, and I now I'm back here with my mama"), but it dissipates without lyrical or emotional closure. "I Want It" is catchy, but beneath their skill set, and what could've been an arresting instrumental, "Bossalude," hovers somewhere between perky and pedestrian.

Simply put, 7 doesn't touch the scope of 2005's Livin' the Luxury Brown, and compared to 2008's eLife,certain tracks feel...well....rushed (not exactly sloppy, but undercooked and free of marinate). More than appealing for the casual fan and worthy enough, if not wonderful, for their most ardent FOOMS (the band's acronym for Friends Of Our Music), Mint Condition's seventh CD may update the band's modus operandi, but listeners who crave their unique artistry will wish that they didn't do so by leaving much of their trademark instrumentation behind. Moderately Recommended. 

By Melody Charles

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO "7"

 

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