Happy 25th Birthday to Tony! Toni! Toné!s sophomore LP The Revival, originally released May 8, 1990.
If youre a soulhead and all-around music aficionado like yours truly, Im willing to bet that while your record collection may run deep and diverse, there are only a small handful of artists that you genuinely, unequivocally, and undyingly cherish. You know, those few acts that you selectively and stubbornly consider a clear cut above and beyond the rest. Those who can do no wrong musically and whose work youll champion unconditionally. I certainly maintain a short list of this kind, and Ive recently expressed my Long Play Love for a few of them here and there. One gentleman that resides on my list, without question, and Ive yet to write about until today is the remarkable Raphael Saadiq.
Over the past ten years or so, Im hard-pressed to recall many albums that Ive played as frequently and adored as ardently as I have Saadiqs two most recent solo efforts, 2008s The Way I See It and 2011s Stone Rollin. Both are indisputable, yet unassuming, modern soul masterpieces, and there is no forthcoming album that Im anticipating as impatiently as his next one (still no official word regarding a release date, Im afraid).
Prior to these two LP gems, Saadiq loyalists found a helluva lot to love in his first two solo albums (2002s Instant Vintage and 2004s Ray Ray), his brief tenure as founding member of neo-soul supergroup Lucy Pearl, and his transcendent production work upon which hes generously blessed the likes of DAngelo, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Mary J. Blige, and Jill Scott, among a myriad of others. However, my and most peoples musical love affair with the man began even further back, nearly thirty years ago, with the emergence of Tony! Toni! Toné!, the dynamic Oakland-bred trio comprised of Saadiq (a.k.a. Raphael Wiggins, lead vocals and bass), his elder brother DWayne Wiggins (lead vocals and guitar) and Timothy Christian Riley (drums and keyboards).
From the groups inception in the late 1980s, Tony! Toni! Toné! helped to define the burgeoning new jack swing movement through their fresh, vibrant, and graceful songwriting style that effectively synthesized the groups classic soul and funk inspirations with their modern-day R&B and hip-hop allegiances. The band first tasted modest commercial success with their gold-certified 1988 debut LP Who?, which featured a handful of solid singles co-written/produced by Foster & McElroy (best known for their work with fellow Oakland heroes En Vogue), including the striking Little Walter. Though the albums critical reception was lukewarm at best, most critics recognized that it held promise for better things to come from the trio.
Just eighteen months after Who? was released, Tony! Toni! Toné! unveiled their sophomore long player, The Revival. Aptly titled, The Revival was a giant creative leap forward for the band, which breathed new life into their evolving and increasingly polished sound. Showcasing a newfound maturity and confidence that was only hinted at on its precursor, the album solidified Tony! Toni! Toné!s unique musical identity and unparalleled originality.
Eschewing the superficiality, arrogance, and chauvinism embraced by many other new jack swing acts, Tony! Toni! Toné! refreshingly embodied a more personable, respectful, and sophisticated style of songcraft. Indeed, from a songwriting perspective, the group shared much in common with another clan of soulful siblings: Kenneth Babyface Edmonds and his brothers Melvin and Kevon Edmonds, who with Keith Mitchell, comprised After 7. However, Tony! Toni! Toné! distinguished themselves from their new jack swinging peers by combining the more conventional R&B pop sheen of the Edmonds brothers with an unrivaled sonic adventurism that engendered an altogether funkier, jazzier, and more spirited sound.
Largely self-produced, with three tracks orchestrated by Foster & McElroy, The Revival is an exhilarating potpourri of musical eras and influences, featuring plenty of throwback nods to classic 1960s soul juxtaposed with hip-hop, jazz, funk, and even rock stylings. An enthralling, harmonious blend of dancefloor fillers and ballads, no coaxing is required for the listener to play this record as frequently as possible, as the narrator encourages us all to do in the albums opening moments.
Speaking of The Revivals rhythmically rousing opening track, Feels Good, it’s incredible that twenty-five years later, this rollicking, earnest ode to a paramour still has the power to lift spirits upon each repeated listen. To be sure, much of the credit for the songs indelible impact owes to the upward inflection and undeniable joie de vivre of Saadiqs voice. No wonder that this is the albums most recognizable song, and one of three tunes along with 1993s If I Had No Loot and 1996s Lets Get Down that most people immediately associate with Tony! Toni! Toné!s recorded output.
Two other uptempo, funktastic compositions were released as singles prior to Feels Good, and compelling arguments can be made that either of these is the albums strongest track. The Blues is my personal favorite, due to its stirring symphony of rolling bass, percussion, whistles, and horns. Not to mention that its tough not to empathize with Saadiq and Wiggins desperate pleas and unreciprocated attempts at salvaging their lovers favor. With Wiggins heartfelt rhymes, backing vocals provided by the lovely Vanessa Williams, and an all-too-brief sliver of Ellingtonian swing mixed in for good measure, Oakland Stroke is an impassioned tribute to their native citys musical legacy that namechecks Bay Area luminaries Sly Stone and Larry Graham, Jr. Granted, Im more than a smidgen biased since Oakland is also my beloved hometown, but this is a damn good song, and one of the more underrated offerings in the Tonyies repertoire.
Dividing the albums front and back halves are two of the most expertly crafted romantic ballads of the new jack swing era, or any era for that matter. It Never Rains (in Southern California) and Whatever You Want showcase, respectively, Saadiq and Wigginss more conversational vocal approach, reinforcing the intimacy and sincerity of the groups signature brand of soulful chivalry. In the same master class as Babyfaces Soon as I Get Home and After 7s Ready or Not, both tracks represent end-of-century R&B balladry at its very best.
Since all five of The Revivals classic singles are sequenced within the first half of the song set, critics and fans alike have traditionally overlooked and undervalued songs 8 through 14. But if you devote some time to the LPs latter half, youll discover some top-notch fare that further reinforces the bands superior songwriting chops. Arguably the albums most underrated tune, at least according to my ears, Skys the Limit grooves along a laid-back, guitar-driven melody that subtly echoes Journeys greatest pop-rock confections. Yes, that Journey. Call me crazy, but I hear hints of Send Her My Love or Girl Cant Help It throughout the track, albeit with a lot more bump throughout. Other highlights include the infectious funk of Skin Tight, which sounds a bit like the crossbred spawn of Cameo and The Time, and album closer Those Were the Days, a wistful piece of nostalgic reminiscing about simpler days gone by.
One of the quintessential recordings of the new jack swing movement, The Revival is an album with character, integrity, and dynamism in no short supply. Though for all of its indisputable greatness, The Revival proved to be just the tip of the artistic iceberg for Tony! Toni! Toné! 1993s Sons of Soul and 1996s House of Music leveraged the promise of its precursor to stunning effect, and elevated the groups songcraft to stratospheric new levels of refined brilliance.
Regrettably, the group released only four albums together in an ephemeral 9-year span, climaxing with the stellar House of Music. But while Tony! Toni! Toné! lacked for quantity of output, the same can never be said for the quality and consistency of their discography, which remains one of the most impressive in the history of soul music. Unbeknownst to some, the group (sans Saadiq) still tours regularly, with Amar Khalil most recently joining Wiggins and Riley, and the trio has also returned to the studio. Their latest single, Its a Beautiful Thing, was released this past September and their forthcoming fifth studio album is reportedly on the near horizon. So if you ever need to revive your love for this phenomenal band and their amazing songs, check them out on the road, keep your eyes and ears peeled for new material, or simply dust off your cherished copy of The Revival and play the record once a day or as needed.
My Favorite Song: The Blues
Oakland Stroke (1990)
It Never Rains (in Southern California) (1990)
Feels Good (1990)
Whatever You Want (1991)
Buy Tony! Toni! Toné!s The RevivalStream Here: