The Original 7ven, the Band Formerly Known As The Time, whatever you want to call them, make sure you also call them funky. 21 years after their last studio album "Pandemonium", the original lineup returns with "Condensate", a fresh update of the Minneapolis Sound they played such a big part in, and their first full length without any Prince involvement.
For those unaware, the first three albums by The Time were essentially Prince albums with Morris Day on vocals. He wrote, played and produced just about everything on them, with only a few exceptions, and the band's lack of input on their studio work was just one of many sticking points that led to frictions between them and Prince. The growing rivalry was often played out onstage, with The Time feeling some measure of revenge by trying to top Prince every night with their opening set, and often succeeding. On multiple occasions Prince himself has called The Time "the only band I was ever afraid of."
I guess he was so afraid of them, he couldn't give them the courtesy of using their original name. Because Prince owns the name The Time, and wasn't in a giving mood, the band was forced to come up with a new one and chose The Original 7ven as a way to show all the original members were involved with this project. Morris Day has toured for years as "Morris Day And The Time" with many of the original members not present, but this is the real deal folks. "Condensate" erases any doubt of whether this band could carry on without Prince's involvement.
And there never should have been any doubt, especially with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis in the mix. After being fired from The Time back in 1983, the duo went on to become one of the biggest and most successful songwriting and production teams in the music world. Jesse Johnson is a guitarist extraordinaire, Jellybean Johnson is a monster on drums and Monte Moir is an unsung and talented keyboardist and songwriter in his own right. Add in Jerome Benton's comic relief and these legends are back doing what they do best and schooling just about everyone in current R&B/funk/soul circles.
Of course I didn't forget Morris Day, and "Condensate" makes clear this is still his show. The album is filled with Day's persona, played up more larger than life than ever. All the old bits are here, how cool and sexy he is, how all the ladies want him, how bad his band is, they even re-use some classic Time phrases and you wouldn't have it any other way.
The band wastes no time getting down to business with one of the best tracks on the album opening the proceedings, the infectious "Strawberry Lake". The Linn drums and sing along chorus nod to their best 80's work, while the song also calls to mind such funk legends as Sly And The Family Stone. It is a true celebration of all the elements and influences that make up The Original 7ven. First single "#Trendin" may instantly date itself with its Twitter heavy references, but even I can no longer deny how insanely catchy this song is. Lewis' popping bass mixes with nasty, buzzing synths as Day brags his way through it all. "Toast To The Party Girl" starts off like a long lost outtake from their debut album then progresses into an ending segment that sounds straight out of their 'Purple Rain' era work.
The Time were always more than a funk band and they prove that again with a variety of different tracks here. 'Girl yo shit is sick' they sing on "Sick", but nothing can be as sick as the guitar licks Jesse Johnson lays down on this hard rocker. "If I Was Yo Man" is about as perfect a pop/rock track as the band has ever done with an absolutely delicious melody. "Cadillac" is a sparse jam with an electronic drum beat and guitar scratches while Day does a classic call and response with the rest of the band over which of his many luxury cars he should take out for the evening.
Sexy, soulful ballads have also always been part of The Original 7ven's repertoire and they don't disappoint here either. Album closer "GoHomeToYoMan" is a throwback to old school soul while "Lifestyle" is a more modern take on the R&B ballad and the best slow jam on "Condensate". That chorus is so silky smooth and Day delivers a fantastic vocal performance on this one.
With 14 songs, there was bound to be some filler. The band originally wanted to pare the album down to 12 tracks, but decided their fans had waited so long for a new album, they'd give them a little more. I could do without the swinging "One Step" and "Hey Yo" is the only song where they seem to completely capitulate to modern R&B trends and lose their identity, but it's easily forgivable on an album that is otherwise this good.
I was cautiously optimistic about this album when word first broke it was finally complete and ready for release due to the deep respect I have for the individual talents of everyone in this band. Even through my optimism, I don't think I expected such a fantastic return from the Band Formerly Known As The Time. Fun, funny and funky, with one foot in their legendary past and one in the present, The Original 7ven can again lay claim that 'ain't nobody bad' like them. It's no surprise, word is Prince is now back in the studio, feverishly working on new material in the aftermath of this bombshell his former mates have dropped. Will the rivalry resurface again? We can only hope, but in the meantime do not miss out on "Condensate". You'd be hard pressed to find a better funk/R&B album released in 2011.
"Condensate" was released in the U.S. October 18, 2011 on Saguaro Road Records.