Being closely associated with a major talent can be both a blessing and a burden. This has certainly been true for the Minneapolis funk sextet, The Time, which has been closely asociated with its hometown buddy, Prince, one of the boldest brightest talents in pop music today. Prince helped The Time absorb his distinctive style and then helped the group get a record deal. The Time have paid the price, though, of inevitable comparisons to the incomparable Prince.
On their second album, "What Time is It?," they have tried to differentiate themselves from Prince. Though the music still bears the Prince stamp of sleek synthesizers, rave-up guitars and thudding drums, the Time's arrangements are simple and catchy rather than dense and challenging. Though the lyrics still reflect Prince's unabashed eroticism, the Time's approach is leering and comic rater than seductive and serious; the songs are thus less threatening and more appealing to mass audience.
The first single is "777-9311," a modern successor to the Marvellettes' "Beechwood 4-5789" and Wilson Pickett's "634-5789." Lead singer Morris Dey sings the song not as a devoted lover's plea but as an impatient come-on; he sings breathily atop a stuttering funk-beat sparked by Jellybean Johnson's rat-a-tat high-hat work and spiked by synthesizer surges from the band's dual keyboardists. When the song pauses for a rap, Dey comiccaly exaggerates his own playboy image: "Hey, Baby. I aint got all night/ You know I got to be cooler than this cat you're sitting with." The eight-minute song builds to Jesse Johnson's concluding rock and roll guitar solo.
Two other long pieces dominate the album; "Wild and Loose" randily evaluates backstage groupies over a funk march beat for 71/2 minutes, concluding with a hilarious encounter, where an attractive tells Dey "Jerk, that was the worst concert I've ever been to." "The Walk," with some hilarious seduction dialogue, proposes a street smart strut as the newest dance craze and offers 91/2 minutes of a contagious rhythmic groove for practice.
Female vocals on both albums by the Time are by Vanity 6, a Minneapolis female trio. Just as Prince once helped them, the Time have helped Vanity 6 get a contract and back them intrumentally on the debut album. The idea is to feature three women talking trash over the proven Minneapolis funk formula. The trio's lyrics are explicitly dirty and occasionally funny, especially when they trade nasty one-liners on "If a Girl Answers (Don't Hang Up)." Unfortunatley the women of Vanity 6 are unimaginative songwriters and severely limited singers and the dirty-joke raps quickly grow tiresome. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUMS THE TIME -- What Time Is It? (Warner Bros. 9 23701-1) VANITY 6 -- Vanity 6 (Warner Bros. 9 23716-1) THE SHOW -- The Time and Vanity 6, Saturday at 8 and 11 at Crampton Auditorium, Howard University.