“I never had as much fun as I had with the original seven… and it ain’t over yet,” Morris Day says wistfully on the spoken intro to his old band’s comeback record, Condensate. Morris Day and The Time – here renamed The Original 7ven because, well, mentor Prince’s copyright-related peccadilloes have gotten the better of him in recent years – may not have released an album together in 21 years, but you wouldn’t know that from listening to Condensate. Not only does the 7ven’s return manage to outpace the Purple One’s recent output in both effortless cool and gyrating funk, but Morris and the boys run rings around all other prominent pop/r&b outfits working today.

Often cashing in on frontman Day’s outsized loverman persona and penchant for not-so-subtle innuendos and brash come-ons, Condensate is a rarity as an r&b album, a pop album, and a comeback album: it’s stuffed to the gills with standouts, so much so that discussing high points almost becomes futile, and it on first listen makes a strong bid for the most fun any artist in 2011 has bothered to pack into a 60-minute platter. The Time are a marvel here, managing to showcase a remarkable technical virtuosity even as they churn out nimble, playful jams; thick bass grooves, rapturous guitar licks, lively backing vocals, and propulsive, funky beats are the order of the day here. Day, too, doesn’t sound like he’s missed a beat in the band’s absence, delivering each vocal with a wink and a smile, slipping effortlessly into his ego-driven pimp’s persona, riding each track smoothly, and perhaps most importantly, playfully. Day never hints at his age on Condensate, and that’s to his credit – largely because Day is hosting this sweaty dance party, the record sounds more youthful and effervescent than any other artists working from the same ingredients, and the results are infectious.

And what of the songs? Fortunately, The Original 7ven haven’t gotten their collective feet caught in the rut that many veteran artists do, using their technical skill and reputation as a crutch that supports flimsy songwriting; remarkably, they sound more vital and fun than, perhaps, they ever had. Only album opener proper “Strawberry Lake” hints at their Prince roots, and even then, it channels the halcyon Minneapolis funk of yore, drenched in those signature keyboards, tapping into the Day-Glo pop/funk of vein “Raspberry Beret” both in genial atmosphere and name-dropping of fruit. Funkadelic’s spacey grit seeps into the title track; lead single “#Trendin”, against all odds, manages to sound like a tasty throwback even as it lyrically name-checks Twitter, largely due to an insidious groove and an infectious hook; smooth, uptempo ballads “If I Was Yo Man” and “Faithful” retain danceablity and radiate sincerity even as Day trades on his charismatic playboy persona, and both boast proudly melodic choruses that lodge firmly in the brain. The term “earworm” may be a bit overused in music writing, but on Condensate, it’s applicable in spades.

Us music writers, we’re a curious lot: we love music, and have listened to an awful lot, but tend to listen with a critical ear. The newly-christened Time nimbly avoid criticism by, quite simply, crafting a record that’s impossible to dislike, counteracting overly critical listeners with an album that inspires rhythmic head-bobbing and ear-to-ear smiles. “Toast to the Party Girl”‘s playful harmonies and guitar theatrics (recalling in spirit Prince’s recent “The One U Wanna C”), the insistent funk-rock of “Sick”, the way The 7ven beat the young cats at their own game on “Hey Yo” (a track that, in its swift cadence and easy chorus recalls a less-processed Chris Brown or Jason DeRulo single), the fact that Day unironically uses the word “persnickety” without sounding ridiculous on “AYDKMN”‘s chorus – it seems like everything on Condensate uniquely targets every musical pleasure center, has in fact been genetically engineered to provide endless hours of fun, swiveling hips and big smiles and all.

Vibrant, humorous, playful, sexy – Condensate boasts thick grooves and infectious choruses from wall to wall, and re-introduces The Original 7ven as major players in their genre of choice. If there’s a more fun record released this year, I’ll eat my hat; until then, Condensate will remain on repeat. It’s an album that pleases so effortlessly that it’s easy to gloss over what an astounding achievement it is.

Grade: A

(Did you know that The Time aren’t the only Prince-cultivated band back in action this year? Check out our own Mike A.’s review of Gaslight by fDeluxe, the band formerly known as The Family.)

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