Anyone who remembers Morris Day's maniacal, cackling cry "What time is it?" during some of the funkiest live shows of the early '80s will be glad to know that the Time is now. The seven original members of the Time, the Minneapolis new wave funk band founded under Prince's guidance, have reunited. It's the first Time: Day and Jerome Benton are once again the singers, Jesse Johnson is the neo-Hendrix guitarist and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis are the rhythm masters.
The Time ran out in 1984 when first Jam and Lewis, then Johnson and finally Day left the band, but the Time has come again today. Its reunion album, "Pandemonium" (Reprise/Paisley Park), is finally on the streets, and it's about time. (Apparently there's no truth to the rumor that Prince's label is planning a collaboration between Day's band and Rosemary Clooney, to be called "Paisley Park, Rosemary and Time.")
"Pandemonium" is the first album to be fully controlled by the original Time lineup. The band's first two albums were written and produced largely by Prince, and by the third album, Jam and Lewis were already gone. The most noticeable difference on "Pandemonium," the band's fourth album, is the increased profile of keyboardist Jam and bassist Lewis, who provide the same industrial-strength funk and radio-ready production they supplied as producers of Janet Jackson's two hit albums.
Johnson steps out more too, playing the kind of hard-rock, metallic guitar he always displayed in concert but rarely on the Time's records. On "Pandemonium" he jumps through the "black hard-rock" door opened by Living Colour and shows off some impressive guitar-hero moves. As always, Day takes the lead vocals, but this is the first album to capture the exaggerated gigolo character he created in the movie "Purple Rain." Day's persona is a self-styled ladies man who is so slick and so conceited that he always walks the fine line between macho fantasy and clownish parody.
This ambiguity is quite deliberate, and Day provides both escapism and laughs. Every time his predatory rap becomes obnoxiously sexist, he pushes it a bit further and turns the joke back on himself. The best laughs occur when Jerome Benton is on hand to play Day's sidekick; Benton expertly blends the irony of the Afro-American valet and the knowing superiority of the British butler in his witty character. Day and Benton -- the Don Quixote and Sancho Panza of funk -- established their routine in "Purple Rain" and they reprise it in the forthcoming "Graffiti Bridge." A number of songs from "Pandemonium" will be featured in that film.
The 10 actual songs on the album are threaded together by party sounds and snippets of dialogue (mostly Day and some "sexy socialites" flirting and sparring) in much the same way Jam and Lewis turned Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation: 1814" and Alexander O'Neal's "Hearsay" into connected song suites. In fact, "Pandemonium" sounds like one long vamp -- it's mostly a single unstoppable dance groove studded by Johnson's flamboyant guitar solos and Day's ever more ridiculous come-ons.
The rhythms are carried by Jam's layered synths, Lewis's prominent bass, programmed drums, live drums and chanting female vocals -- all ingeniously arranged to reinforce one another without getting in one another's way. One whole song is devoted to the boast that "we're cookin' up the groove" in this "Skillet," and you can hear the band sizzle. The album's first single is "Jerk Out," a seven-minute slice of funk that features Day talking up girls at a party while Jam and Lewis turn up the flame under the groove to high; Johnson lets loose with his guitar whenever Day gives it a rest.
"Blondie" is a hard-rock showcase for Johnson, and "Donald Trump (Black Version)" and "Sometimes I Get Lonely" are sophisticated romantic soul ballads like those Jam and Lewis have fashioned for O'Neal. Otherwise, the album is devoted to wild party jams with a crazed, leering Day saying things like, "Do you wanna see my tootsie roll?" It's silly more often than not, but it's been a long Time since anyone combined rock-and-roll guitar, dance-floor tracks and comic vocals so successfully.
Family Stand: 'Chain' Howard University graduate Peter Lord is part of an L.A. trio that recorded a 1988 album as Evon Geffries & the Stand and that has now regrouped as the Family Stand. The trio's new album, "Chain" (Atlantic), is an impressive blend of solid dance funk, jazz-rock touches and provocative lyrics. The first single, "Ghetto Heaven," offers the notion that romance can be the same kind of escapist, inner-city addiction as drugs and alcohol. "The Last Temptation" extends the analogy by describing the way people lie and die for love.
"Avenue Lust" compares a young woman who married an old man for his money with a singer who threw her career away on crack. The title song describes a woman who's still psychologically chained by her childhood memories of an abusive father. "Only" asks if sexual attraction is "just another chain." This theme of sexual, chemical, familial and political chains runs through the whole album, and the crucial song, "Sweet Liberation," thanks the singer's "mother, father light" for freeing him from "the prison of my mind." The ambitious thematic unity of this album recalls Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On."
Neither Lord nor his two partners -- V. Jeffrey Smith and Sandra St. Victor -- can match Gaye's vocal and compositional talents, but they come close enough to make this one of the year's most welcome surprises. The lyrics are supported by music that's every bit as bold and inventive. The funky rhythms avoid the usual patterns by adding a quirky bass shuffle here or some syncopated scratching there.
Lord and Smith produced the album themselves, and they added imaginative touches like jazzy violin on "Sweet Liberation" and screaming rock guitar against gospel shouting on "The Last Temptation." Lord's lyrics lapse into turn-off preaching only once, in "Little White, Little Black Lies." Much better is his comic approach to the world's absurdities on "Twisted": "only wear brand names -- got to be twisted ... think Vanna White's a closet genius -- got to be twisted."
'After 7' The producing-songwriting team of Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds and Antonio "L.A." Reid has been largely responsible for the success of acts like Bobby Brown, Paula Abdul and Babyface himself. Now they've turned their talents to their relatives. The trio After 7 features Babyface's brothers Kevon and Melvin Edmonds and Reid's cousin Keith Mitchell. The debut album, "After 7" (Virgin), was mostly written and produced by Babyface and Reid, and it reflects the duo's previous experience with the Ohio band the Deele.
The Deele was a funk band in the tradition of Parliament-Funkadelic and Earth Wind & Fire, and "After 7" combines those mid-tempo, bass-heavy funk grooves with the sparkling pop melodies that are a Babyface and L.A. Reid specialty. "Ready or Not," a recent No. 1 R&B hit, is a classic soul ballad, but the album is dominated by cleverly syncopated funk tracks that snap, crackle and pop beneath Melvin Edmonds's authoritative low tenor (which recalls Stevie Wonder) and Kevon Edmonds's sweeter, more boyish tenor (which recalls Michael Jackson). The lyrics are unambitious romantic fodder, but the music strikes an enviable balance between melody and rhythm.