The Original 7ven (aka The Time) – Condensate (2011)

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Prince once declared that The Time is so good, they’re the band scare him the most, and evidently, enough so that he took their name and went home. The story that follows didn’t play out in court, but starting today, it’s playing — or should be playing — on dance floors everywhere. The seven initial members of The Time assembled by the Purple One in 1981 are back together, in everything but name only. Their official name now? The Original 7ven, but you can still call them The Time. That’s what I’m gonna do.

Every great stage band has a great front man, and there’s few better than Morris Day. The man who once sang that he was Donald Trump (Black version) is really David Lee Roth (Black version): a good singer whose swagger makes him sound even better than he otherwise might be, and never takes himself too seriously. Yet, you can’t take your eyes or ears off of him because he’s entertaining the hell out of you. Suave, smooth, unflappable and *ahem* cool.

And like Roth, he leaves the serious business of musicianship in stellar hands, five players who have all been successful on their own. Jessie Johnson, might not be Eddie Van Halen, but this guitarist can play well in every style. The bass player (Terry Lewis) and one of the keyboard players (Jimmy Jam) claim more #1 Hot 100 hits than any other producer/songwriter team in in U.S. music history. The other keyboard player (Monte Moir) and drummer (Jellybean Johnson) are no slackers, either. Jerome Benton serves as Day’s comic sidekick and hype man. And, by the way, he does a damned fine job at that. Together, these boys are one tight unit who act as a natural musical extension of Day’s whims and fancies.

That was who played in the band when they made one of the best party records ever, What Time Is It? (1982), and that’s exactly what the band is like on Condensate, their first album in twenty-one years. The sound’s been tactfully updated just enough to entice partiers who weren’t even born when “Jungle Love” was a radio hit, but there’s nary a hint of hip-hop. For the first time since the mid-80s, I’m hearing the words “freaky” and “superfreaky” uttered in songs. And clever double-entendres like “you like the twelve inch….and I don’t mean the record!” instead of resorting to blunt gutter talk all the time. All of Day’s favorite lines like “ain’t nobody bad, like me” are back. This is like that Fat Albert movie where the characters are suddenly plucked from their comfy environs and placed thirty years forward…and still make themselves at home just doing their thang.

That’s because the Original Se…er…The Time, know how to make the present conform to their past. Take the lead off single “#Trendin” (see video below) where Day acknowledges his great popularity expressed through blogs and tweets (go ahead and laugh, I realize the irony of that statement), but the internet to him is just another tool to perpetuate his theme of badness. “Condensate” is a continuation of the original theme song “Cool,” which this time, over a tough bass/drums pulse, Day explains that he doesn’t sweat, he condensates. “Strawberry Lake” marries those vintage uptown Minneapolis synthesizers with cheery Sly and the Family Stone funk.

Of all these callouts to the dance floor, and there’s plenty of ’em, the one that’s hardest to resist is “If I Was Yo Man.” On Day’s cue, Jellybean throws down this forceful, falling-down-the-stairs beat (similar to the one on this song) that just can’t be programmed quite like he plays it. Every Time record has a lustful soul ballad, Teddy Pendergrass style, and this album’s followup to “Gigolos Get Lonely, Too,” is “Lifestyle” where Day’s vocal gets the Autotune treatment. Perhaps for the first time, Autotune doesn’t even sound that annoying, because the tune itself is smooth as melted chocolate. The classic call and response between Morris and the boys returns with a virtual commercial for GM’s luxury car marque on “Cadillac.”

Jessie Johnson gets showcased in several places, whether he’s providing funky rhythms on “Condensate,” gritty Stax soul lines like Steve Cropper (“Faithful”) or shredding it like a heavy metal guitar god on “Sick.” Several other songs are actually closer to straight ahead rock, such as “AYDKMN,” the new wave-y “One Step” and “Toast To The Party Girl,” which echoes all the way back to “The Bird” and even Prince’s Dirty Mind. It’s easy to label The Time as simply a funk outfit, but they’ve always had the ability to cross color lines and were never bashful about doing it, and doing it the right way.

When was the last time you remember a fresh, new record of urban music by a real band? Whose only goal was to make you smile and laugh while causing your ass to shake uncontrollably? It’s been way too long, I’ll bet. It’s Time to get back to that kind of music.

Old school cool rules.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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