The gloating, cartoonish chortle is a teeny bit more reserved, but still sounds just about the same. “Ah-haw-haw-haw-haw-haw” gleefully cackles Morris Day early on in the title track, and you realize little has changed. He’s even managed (briefly – more on that later) to get the whole band back together. Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Monte Moir, Jesse Johnson, Jellybean Johnson, Jerome Benton and the caricatured Morris all go back to their old bag of tricks for this, recreating everything we remember, including attitude, production and lyrics from a generation ago. Well, everything except the name – apparently (and ironically) the “Artist Who Formerly Had No Name For a While” owns all rights to the name Day performed under previously and was unwilling to give them up without a fight. So The Time, now in a new time, become The Original 7ven, and Condensate is the result.
So what have a bunch of fifty-somethings got to offer more than 20 years after their last get-together (1990’s Pandemonium, which some felt already was covering previously trodden ground)? Well, for starters, there is a level of musicianship that is not really seen much in today’s computerized pop charts. There is definitely still something special about a sharp R&B/funk band that can really tear things up. Mm hmm, ye-a-ss and all the rest.
The fatter sound is quite welcome to these ears, even if the repeated hooks and vamping can get a little monotonous. Which is perhaps the one of the first signs of their age. Due to the narrower melodic and musical range of a lot of current hits, the vocabulary of today’s newer producers seems to have a lot more smoke, mirrors and distractions – breakdowns, instrument drop-ins/outs, beat changes – all to mask simple structure. Which have all become quite common to us now. Jam, Lewis and the rest of the 7ven are more old school, and don’t go there as often, with varying results. On “Strawberry Lake” (which has to be some sort of extension of Prince’s “Paisley Park,” “Raspberry Beret” and “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” and fellow Minneapolitan cousins Wendy and Lisa’s “Rainbow Lake”), it just flows – you just don’t want it to end, even though you know it’s simple. On other tracks, however, like “Cadillac” or “Role Play,” you realize it would help to change things up a bit.
And maybe that’s the second sign of age – little has changed. Morris is still a lovable pimp, Jerome his ever-supportive mirror-holding foil (maybe it’s in his blood – even in the bombastic “Under the Cherry Moon,” Jerome played a similar second fiddle for Prince), we still cue Jesse for the guitar solo and yes, we still get that attitude and cackle, developed many years ago when their then-young manager Prince repeatedly showed them Muhammad Ali press conferences to help them strike the right attitude.
What we end up with is an album that shows the guys are aware that it’s no longer 1987 via some newer references (apparently someone in the band has heard “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” and the Twitter-inspired “#Trending” is not only current but also not half bad), but at the same time still pretending it is. Champagne, caviar, Cadillacs, spoken word interludes and high-school entendres have long since given way to stomach-rattling beats and graphic sexual depictions – no need to wink-wink about lollipops when “Milkshake,” “Thong Song,” “Do Me” and “Freak You” have all hit the charts since the last time you were around. So either our boys are being gentlemanly or a bit old school – and probably a little bit of both.
However, there are also a lot of things to like about this album. It’s a bunch of guys who can still play (Jesse so much so that he split the 7ven after only a couple of months to go play guitar for D’Angelo), and that’s clear from the get-go. Also, they didn’t resort to any Santana-esque tricks of basically outsourcing the record to 25-year olds who could help sell it – so no Timberlake, Timbaland, Tim-anything, no guest rappers, no “featuring” collaborations or the rest. It’s all Original 7ven sweat on the tracks. And perhaps the best is, if you suspend a little disbelief, it’s still a lot of fun. You still smile at some of the lines, you still nod at a few of the beats, you still hum a few of the choruses, and you still have a good time.
If they didn’t do it for you back in the day, Condensate won’t change much. But if you liked them then, you’ll probably enjoy taking one more trip through town, pimpin’ it up with Morris and the boys on the way to the VIP room, even if you know times have changed. “Ah-haw-haw-haw-haw-haw” indeed.