Music @ the Speed of Life is an improvement on 2008’s E-Life, a static, paint-by-number disappointment from a band renowned for fresh, even innovative fare. But, not by much.
With hints of Guy, Earth Wind & Fire and Kool & the Gang, Stokely Williams (frontman-vocalist-drums), O’Dell (guitar), Lawrence El (keys), Jeff Allen (sax, keys) and Ricky Kinchen (bass) haven’t returned to the form that made them international standard bearers of contemporary R&B. They have, however, somewhat returned to credibility.
Intermittently, Williams’ vocals regain some sense of urgency and the songwriting again is fairly imaginative. Ultimately, far from the soul-funk phenomenon they used to be, Mint Condition these days qualifies as a decent pop outfit and not a great deal beyond that.
“In the Moment,” an engaging cut from the outset, opens the album with an anthem-like feel to it, sparking life as it catches and keeps the ear. The second track, “Believe in Us,” has been getting airplay in advance of the album’s Sept. 11 release date, but is not exactly the best this disc has to offer. Featuring guest artist Bobby Ross Avila (he’s also on “Never Hurt Again”), it’s a ho-hum, sing-song lullaby with sadly pedestrian lyrics (ie, “I can take you there, if you open I can show you how I care”). Heavy on production values, light on substance, it’s a run of the mill, throwaway number.
By the third track, “What I Gotta Do,” a pattern has developed of starting songs off drenched in synth to signal, one has to imagine, dramatic presence instead of simply letting the music sell itself. Which this one does quite well. Despite cheesy lyrics, the melody to this ballad truly kicks.
Mint Condition hasn’t returned to the form that made the band
international standard bearers of contemporary R&B.
They have, however, somewhat returned to credibility.
With “Blessed,” somebody thankfully stepped in and decided to take a break from over-producing. It’s honestly too bad more of Music At The Speed Of Life doesn’t follow suit. This lean, taut, put-a-funky-foot-where-it-does-the-most-good jam is made for clubbing.
“Slo Woman” similarly revisits Mint Condition’s glory days. It isn’t “Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)” by a long shot. But it is close enough, genuine songwriting and emotive delivery. Stokely quits shucking and jiving with formulaic crooning to come across with actual feeling on this sultry, laid-back jewel.
“Girl of My Life” with DJ Jazzy Jeff is boring. There’s clever gimmickry at the engineer’s board and, of course, the guest to enhance things. To paraphrase the old saying, though, you can’t turn tedium into shinola. The song is filler. And ineffective at that, ending with a stilted bridge clearly thrown in just to give Williams a chance to show off on the trap set. “Completely” is more wholly dispensable music.
At this point in the listening, it’s obvious “Blessed” and “Slo Woman” are the best Music @ the Speed of Life has to offer. “Never Hurt Again” really isn’t all that bad, except for Kinchen’s obnoxious showboating on bass.
Bottom line, however, it’s begun to look like Mint Condition, after a rich legacy of excellent artistry, now is only in it for the money. They figured out that even superstars can’t get away with telephoning in such tripe as E-Life. With Music @ the Speed of Life, they got a little more back to being for real. Not nearly enough, though. Unless you’re a die-hard Mint-can-do-no-wrong fan, pass on this one.
To learn more about Mint Condition’s Music @ the Speed of Life CD, go to www.shanachie.com.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.