Music

Mint Condition: Music @ The Speed of Life

R&B group's latest is a predictably solid collection of modern day crooning that proves there's nothing wrong with merely being pretty good.


Mint Condition

Music @ The Speed of Life

Label: Shanachie
US Release Date: 2012-09-11
UK Release Date: 2012-09-17
Amazon
iTunes

The idea of a five-piece contemporary rhythm and blues band that stays true to the current-day formula for crooning while actually playing live instruments and worrying more about technical chops than synchronized choreography seems so novel, doesn't it? The vocal groups have always been around -- from the Temptations to 112, such outfits have become a staple in popular music history's lore -- but it's a rare if not almost-extinct practice to both write and subsequently perform the type of smooth songs synonymous with today's version of R&B.

Maybe even more uncommon is coming across a group who has withstood the test of time and kept most of its original lineup in tact. Every 'N Sync has a Justin Timberlake waiting to break out, every Destiny's Child has a Beyonce salivating at the opportunity to rule the world, and every Jackson 5 has a Michael effortlessly eclipsing the status of not only his former group, but also the rest of popular culture as a whole. Rarely do R&B-leaning pop groups not have at least one member who has a larger picture in mind, knowing full well that the first time he or she gets the chance to embark on a solo venture, he or she will split faster than anyone could utter the chorus to "I want you back".

With that in mind, one could make the argument that St. Paul, Minnesota's Mint Condition have defied the odds, at least a little bit. Sure, they may have lost their former leader, Keri Lewis, to a career in producing, but it's hard to find any group that originated in the 1980s still going strong in the R&B world, let alone one that has remained mostly in tact through the decades. That type of persistence and maturity can go a long way and it does with their latest, Music @ The Speed of Life, a 13-track collection that doesn't reinvent the wheel anymore than it ensures listeners that if nothing else, the tire won't ever go flat. 

The exceptional moments come when members of the group expand their technical abilities, however brief those moments may be. Single "Believe in Us", for instance, glides through a typical modern day rhythm and blues ballad before launching into a fit of fusion-like jazz that criminally is edited out of the promotional version of the song. It may last only half a minute, but the spot reminds listeners that these guys aren't just a collection of pretty faces and smooth voices. The same goes for the DJ Jazzy Jeff collaboration "Girl of My Life", an otherwise pedestrian track that takes off as the song winds down and an inspired dose of funk comes alive with singer Stokley Williams' live drum work.

From there, the rest of the set showcases Mint Condition's reliable blend of contemporary rhythm and blues in a way that should surprise nobody, especially longtime fans. "In the Moment" might be the most complete track of the bunch, a powerful way to kick off the record. "Slow Woman" bleeds sex appeal with its hushed verses before releasing into an inescapable hook that is hard to forget. And "Blessed" keeps the tempo up while falling into the obligatory thankfulness that most R&B acts go for at least twice an album these days. Its steady backbeat is enough to get fans out of seats, though the predictable tone stifles any source of inspiration it could offer.

Speaking of inevitability, "Completely" sees the group shoot for the stars with a soaring ballad that falls in line with any rhythm-based adult contemporary mainstay on Top 40 radio today. Despite the prettiness of the harmonies, there is no escaping what might be the single most disturbing lyric of the year: "Girl what I'm saying it's true," Williams sings before adding, "If I cut my face, I'd bleed your name." The sentiment is romantic, the execution, however, is disturbingly flawed. It's a misstep on a record seemingly intent on doing its best to avoid even the slightest bit of risk. 

But it's also that type of concentration on consistency that makes Music @ The Speed of Life pretty good. Mint Condition have taken a lot of pride in playing it straight, all the way from 1991's Meant to Be Mint up until this, another solid yet foreseeable collection of contemporary R&B music, and for that, these five guys should be commended. There's something to be said for always being pretty good instead of only sometimes being great. Music @ The Speed of Life proves that Mint Condition are pretty good at being pretty good. And there's certainly nothing wrong with that.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
9
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image