Prince’s first major male extracurricular effort, Minneapolis’ six-man Time was an exceptionally fertile launching pad for several careers. As a scenery-chewing actor, vocalist Morris Day walked away with the Purple Rain film and did well as a solo artist. Jesse Johnson went on to emulate Prince not only with soundalike records but by mentoring a number of other acts as well. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis became an awesomely successful writing-production team, scoring hits for/with Janet Jackson, Patti Austin, the S.O.S. Band, Force M.D.’s, Human League and many others.
The Time’s three original albums alternate between straight, infectious dance-funk tunes and extended jams punctuated by all sorts of silly business. Day’s personality informs all the tracks, filling them with sharp-dressed sex-machine jive, but occasionally allowing a glimpse of the self-effacing chump who realizes that having an onstage valet (Jerome Benton) to hold the mirror for on-site preening is a satire on just that smugness.
Although What Time Is It? boasts “777-9311” and the pose-heavy “Gigolos Get Lonely Too,” Ice Cream Castle is the best of the three, a six-track party that includes the signature dance groove, “Jungle Love,” which the Time performed in a memorable Purple Rain club sequence. But loving is the Time’s speciality, and Ice Cream Castle lays it on in “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come” and “My Drawers.” To cap off this diverse LP, the title tune is fine bubblegum funk-pop.
Day went solo when the Time subsequently collapsed; ironically, Color of Success has less of his personality than the album with which the group left off, pointing him in a rather familiar pop-soul direction. Things turn ridiculous when Morris introduces a dance called “The Oak Tree” in a seemingly endless display of self-amusement; on stronger footing, he rocks steady with “Love Sign” and waxes smoothly romantic on “Don’t Wait for Me.”
Day got Jam and Lewis to co-write and produce a pair of songs on Daydreaming, turning the tracks into a dry run for the Time reunion as Jerome Benton, drummer Jellybean Johnson and Jesse Johnson all put in guest appearances. Overall, the album’s material is dire, a mix of dull ballads (including the macho bullshit of “A Man’s Pride”) and unexciting dance movers — even the Jam/Lewis efforts fail to connect. Despite an evident lack of conviction, Day’s smooth singing is appealing; insubstantial material is Daydreaming‘s undoing.
In 1990, a much-ballyhooed reunion brought the entire group back together, somehow coordinating these stars’ broadly developed talents into a solidly entertaining record of new material that is unmistakably Time-like. Faced with the challenge of getting all those little time-release pills back in the capsule, Pandemonium comes through like a breeze, fitting Day’s beseechingly egotistical humor, patented Jam/Lewis dance grooves and Johnson’s psychedelic funk guitar back together as if nothing had happened.
Johnson’s first solo album, Jesse Johnson’s Revue, lay bare his ambitions to usurp Prince’s throne. The record reeks of conscious imitation, from the chronic pink color scheme to the band’s carefully shaped mustaches. The self-produced music likewise favors a mixture of his former band and Purple Rain; it’s not unpleasant, occasionally catchy (“I Want My Girl”), but it’s no threat to the reigning monarch.
Although Prince’s influence is still evident on Shockadelica (check “A Better Way”), Johnson’s obvious talent and stylistic dexterity diminishes the significance of such comparisons. The accomplishment of leading a ten-piece band (seven instrumentalists and two female vocalists) and ending up with clear, well-organized sound is impressive in and of itself. The LP features a funky duet with Sly Stone (“Crazay”) and a diverse, appealing set of danceable songs with a surprising ending: Johnson sings a message of hope on the touching “Black in America,” accompanied only by acoustic guitars, synthetic strings and a small chorus.
Dispensing with his band (a drummer, saxophonist and female vocalist are credited) for a harder-edged solo effort, Johnson uses Every Shade of Love to show off his Hendrix-influenced guitar work. The eight tracks revolve around skittish strumming as much as surging keyboards, and those tracks that dig bottomless holes with endless one-chord vamps lose listener interest in short order. The delightful title tune and “I’m Just Wanting You” are notable exceptions.