Without using a statement loaded with hyperbole, it is most important to value the Minneapolis-bred ‘80s funk band The Time separately rather than as a unit. That’s because, as history preaches the unraveling truths from behind the shrouds, we learn that Prince had his hands in everything that once bore the group’s name during the early years, from the songwriting and production to the instrumentation and background vocals. As for the band’s leader, Morris Day—a frontman caricature dressed up as the suave goofball on a never-ending sexcapade and escorted by his personal valet, Jerome Benton, he was usually in the forefront of each release. The rest of the band took a backseat to Day’s scenery chewing and Prince’s executive orders. It was only until the band hit the road as Prince’s opening act that they proved their powers, funking and jamming like a gritty steroid-ravaging baby brother of Earth, Wind & Fire and James Brown.
Still, Prince was the star; leaving The Time in the shadows as the warm-up to the big finale.
As time would teach us, The Time proved to be the biggest mistake Prince failed to capitalize on. That’s because each of the band members made a profound impact on the rest of the music world. Just go down the line: keyboardist Jimmy Jam and bassist Terry Lewis, ultimately fired by Prince for engaging in an Atlanta studio experiment on the S.O.S Band, turned Janet Jackson into a goldmine; guitarist Jesse Johnson wound up looking like a funky heir of Jimi Hendrix on his A&M solo records, even jamming with funk giant Sly Stone on the R&B hit “Crazay”; Monte Moir laid down the riveting soundscapes on Janet Jackson’s “Pleasure Principle” while writing many more Jam & Lewis-produced delights, including the Alexander O’Neal classic ballad “If You Were Here Tonight”; drummer Jellybean Johnson, notable for co-producing Jackson’s “Black Cat,” produced for the likes of Nona Hendrix, New Edition, Alexander O’Neal and fellow Minneapolis R&B band Mint Condition; Morris Day pulled out a number of hit singles on his own, including “The Oak Tree” and “Fishnet,” while still sporting chauffeur/prop man Jerome Benton on his shoulders, years before P. Diddy even met Fonzworth Bentley.
Twenty years since The Time’s last album Pandemonium, an unexpected reunion of the original members at the 50th annual Grammys Awards sparked the idea of a new album. On the celebratory companion DVD highlighting the band’s 30th anniversary of star time (packaged as a deluxe edition commercially available at BestBuy stores), the original band members gather at a dinner table, rejoicing in their most recent union and priding themselves in the historical relevance of their new assignment. On the hour-long DVD, James Harris, III, best known as Jimmy Jam, expresses one of the marvelous unseen blessings from their new album. He confesses that “the interesting thing about the new record is…I can’t think of any point of time that a band has 30 years after the first [project], come back together, not use their original name, but are the original people.”
Without Prince’s blessing to use their longtime stage name, the band formerly known as The Time, now rechristened as The Original 7ven, finds themselves building on the inspiration of incessant possibilities, while also celebrating their uniqueness to the wonderland of funky R&B. Remember those ‘80s vintage electronic keytars? Or, the heavy use of the Linn LM-1 drum machine? Or, how about those spunky instrumental jam extensions that felt like distant cousins to the overloads of disco? Well, all those elements important to the landscape of Minneapolis funk are secured on the band’s latest effort Condensate.
“Strawberry Lake,” a twin to Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” and The Time’s "Fishnet" perfectly opens the album using Sly Stone and Graham Central Station fun, thanks to the stretched-out synth legatos and the worldwide invitation to “party till you drop and have the best time of your life.” On the lead single, “#Trendin,” Jam & Lewis puts the ‘80s bunch smack dab in the middle of the digital age boasting a barrage of clever pickup lines for Day (“Tweet it up y’all…I’m bringing heat/Beastin’ all hot topics every week”). Songs like “If I Was Yo Man” and “Faithfull” soothe the album with mid-tempo, mild-funk comforts.
Probably the album’s obvious painstaking gripe, albeit a very selfish one to the hardcore funk fan, is the abundance of stronger cuts tucked at the album’s end. Although “#Trendin” and “Strawberry Lake” opens the set with profound strengths, the last five cuts are definitely worth staking out. Sporting Jesse Johnson guitar pyrotechnics and “Sign O’ The Times” drama, “AYDKMN” (acronym for “Ahh, You Don’t Know Me Now) is an earful of orgasmic funk. Afterwards, “One Step” fires up a heavy dose of Nu Wave-driven gospel-funk and “Hey Yo” flows like Ne-Yo. Still, it is the climatic highlight, “Toast to the Party Girl,” that is without a doubt the album’s shining star. The co-lead and background vocal layouts from Treasure Davis and early Prince protégé Sue Ann Carwell help solidify some of the nostalgic Wendy & Lisa action from the 1999 era. When the song revs up its synth-fueled vamp, Morris spikes the punch with ferociously funky ad-libs, especially when he shouts for the “chili sauce” on a surprising reprise. Tagged to the album’s very end is the album’s definite sleeper: “Gohometoyoman,” a smooth, but naughty Quiet Storm ballad – anchored tightly to Prince romantics and Monte Moir’s wizardry – is just screaming for radio airplay.
Although it could be a shocker for some to notice the album’s reluctance in producing long-playing party favorites as explosive and as prodigious as “777-9311” and “Get It Up,” Condensate is an appetizing disc that portrays the original members of The Time standing steadfast in their element. Certainly the band pays homage to their Minneapolis roots and to the genius known as Prince, but the band chooses to pick up where they are now rather than where they left off as a group. With every seasoned member now contributing to the creative process, each getting their feet wet in the songwriting and with no Prince in sight pulling the executive strings, The Original 7ven is basking in the glory of their freedoms and is proving to be as strong as they were when they first started. So, please don’t call Condensate a comeback. Call it a second coming, a second coming of cool funk. Recommended
By J Matthew Cobb