Let me save you some time if you're in a rush and can't get through the entire review -- you need Mint Condition's new album, Music @ The Speed of Life, in your life. If you have a minute to spare, I'd love to tell you why. With their eighth album coming on the relative heels of their April 2011 release of 7..., these talented Minnesotans deliver their best collective set of music in years. Ricky Kinchen told Ebony that they make fans out of non-believers at their live shows, and I predict that's just what'll happen when folks get a hold of this album. Start to finish, this is Mint Condition, not reconditioned, but refined.
After having had this album on repeat for the last couple of days, it dawned on me that there is no better way to describe the state the band is in today than calling them by their name -- Mint Condition truly is in fine form. If they never have another hit, I'd love them forever for giving us classics like "Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)" and "What Kind of Man What I Be," but luckily they dropped new ones on us. The first single from the album, "Believe in Us," is quite the jam, but "Slo Woman" is going to have retired Mintheads everywhere reactivating their membership with a quickness. Although the songs sound totally different, it gives off an "Insatiable Woman" vibe, and that 1985 Isley Jasper Isley record happens to be one of my favorite songs of all time. Like the subject of the song, the band takes their time, allowing the bass line to simmer and slowly bubble just under the surface. "What I Gotta Do" is arguably even more satisfying, and serves as a great example of what it sounds like to make timeless music in 2012. The best part is, these songs aren't the only bright moments on the album. Admittedly, since they come at the beginning of the album, you get hit hard from the start with rich love songs and have to adjust to the slight transition in the mood for remainder of the album.
When it was announced that DJ Jazzy Jeff would be featured on a record, curiosity abounded about what he and Mint Condition could possibly have cooked up. The collaboration resulted in the introspective "Girl of My Life," which rides along nicely before a horn and string section escort a sizzling drum solo into new heights. The reflective mood is continued on "Completely," a song about coming into manhood and being ready to totally dedicate oneself to a special woman. Jazzy Jeff was just one of a couple of collaborators on this album. Bobby Ross Avila's unobtrusive talkbox can be heard on a few tracks, including the lead single.
Love is a major theme here, but just as the speed bumps and wrong turns in life have taught us, things aren't always the way we'd like them to be. Sometimes circumstances require us to ride solo for a while, whether we like it or not. That's the message sent to a certain somebody on "Nothin'" when instead of being the player, she ends up getting played herself. Because of the band's ability to really paint a picture through their lyrics, it's easy to envision the entire scenario unfolding. Even though there are bumps in the road, the album doesn't dwell in that space.
The sounds are richer on this album, multi-layered and infectious. "Be Where U Are" is a good example of this. If the song's hammering beat doesn't get your shoulders and head bouncing, I can't imagine what will. On the tune, Stokely makes it clear that no conceivable distance above or below land will get in the way of his desire to be with the one he loves.
The album closes out with the lyrically scenic "SixFortyNine/Changes" featuring Nathan Miller, Eric Leeds and Brother Ali. It has what I like to think of as a slight "twang," but an overall sound elusive of a single genre classification. This is yet another good example of the multiple layers embedded in each song, and you may end up with a case of sensory overload trying to absorb them all.
Throw Music @ The Speed of Life on and you'll have a ready-made concert right in your living room. Never before have I rocked a Mint Condition album in its entirety the way I have with this one, without skipping a single song. Regardless of how many albums they sell, this record is precisely what it needed to be. I can only hope that it is given the love and appreciation it more than deserves. With Mint Condition in the driver's seat, music sounds good at any speed.