25 Years Later: Tony! Toni! Tone!, ‘The Revival’ Album
Either the funk is within you or it isn't. And if you've ever had the pleasure of listening to a Tony! Toni! Toné! song or see them live in action, it's clear that they possess more than a little of that intangible trait.
Comprised of half-brothers D'Wayne Wiggins and Raphael Saadiq -- then known as Raphael Wiggins -- and their cousin Timothy Christian Riley, the trio emerged from the musical hotbed that was Oakland, Calif. and placed their personal stamp on the music game with four critically-acclaimed albums -- not to mention a boatload worth of classic singles and signature cuts.
Influenced by Oakland legends such as Sly & the Family Stone and Graham Central Station plus the melting pot of sounds that their stomping grounds had to offer, the trio made their bones performing on the local circuit as well as touring with established acts such as Sheila E., Prince and other notable names before officially forming in 1986.
They inked a deal with Wing Records -- a subsidiary of Mercury Records -- soon after and recorded and released their debut album, Who?, in 1988. Singles such as "Born Not to Know," "Baby Doll" and the LP's biggest hit, "Little Walter," which served as a cautionary tale of a streetwise kid (played by comedian Sinbad in the accompanying music video) whose devious actions eventually serve as the catalyst to his demise, pushed Who? to gold certification. The world was on notice that a new group with the potential to shake things up were waiting in the wings.
And that's exactly what the group did with their 1990 sophomore effort, The Revival. The release came at a pivotal time when a change in the sound of R&B -- not to mention a new decade -- was being ushered in. Instead of syrupy love ballads dominating the radio, uptempo tracks with hip-hop-inspired production was where it was at in terms of popularity and relevance. Not to say that the love ballad was extinct, but the change in the kinds of records crooners and songstresses were making were edgier than ever and spoke more to the spunk of the modern b-boy and b-girl than the super-loving Casanova.
Watch Tony! Toni! Tone!'s "Feels Good" Video
But Tony! Toni! Toné! were in no rush to vacate their musical credo and delivered an album that spoke to the blueprint laid by their musical forefathers, all the while implementing elements of the new school to put a fresh twist on their tunes. The result was an album that marked the trio's coming out party as one of the more talented groups in their bracket.
Released on May 8, 1990, The Revival spent 64 weeks on Billboard's Top Pop Albums chart, peaking at No. 34 on the chart. The album was well-received by critics such as Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune, who wrote, "Although this album is loaded with raps, samples and mechanized rhythm tracks, it`s also drenched in Sly Stone, Ray Charles, doo-wop and Motown influences. Add a dash of loopy humor and you have a terrific '60s-meets-the-'90s recipe."
Journalist and critic Greg Sandow also showered praised on The Revival, concluding that "even though Bobby Brown and other, more famous names might be the established commercial heroes of current R&B -- it’s artists such as Tony! Toni! Toné! who are setting the course for whatever future the genre is likely to have" in his glowing review of the album for Entertainment Weekly around the time of its release.
And while both writers were correct with their assessment, their critiques don't fully do this album justice. Take for instance The Revival's opening selection, "Feels Good," which immediately hits you upon impact and knocks the wind out of your chest with its sheer brilliance right after a voice commands you to "Play this record as frequently as possible. Then, as it becomes easier for you, play the record once a day or as needed," of course.
And as soon you hear Saadiq's exuberant vocals, you get the feeling that the aforementioned voice was spot on with his advice. Produced by the group themselves, which marked an evolution of their creative process after having songwriting and production team Foster & McElroy overseeing their first release, "Feels Good" leans toward the sound of Who? with its new jack swing calling cards such as the frantic drum loops. Plus, there's the implementation of hip-hop via an eight-bar verse courtesy of Mopreme Shakur -- yes, you know whose brother -- under the name Mocedes.
If lyrics like "Moments that we share, special times alone / Just don't ever change, 'cause I'm so into you" and being told "if the rhythm feels good to you, baby, let me hear you sing" don't move you, it's a pretty safe bet you have the soul of a dictator and haven't had a good time in quite some time. "Little Walter" was also a solid hit and reached the top of the Billboard R&B charts, but "Feels Good" was Tony Toni Toné's first true crossover hit, reaching the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 charts and earning the trio their first platinum plaque.
With an opener like "Feels Good," you'd think that it would be all downhill from there, but that notion goes right out of the window once the next cut, "All the Way," invites you to kick back and get down with a track that brings to mind an episode of A Different World -- the frat dance team routines, Whitley Gilbert, Dwayne Wayne and all. Blurring the line between D.C. go-go and their Oakloand soul, "All the Way" may not be "Feels Good," but is far from a letdown. "Oakland Stroke" sees the group venturing into the world of hip-hop again and with favorable results before getting back to business as usual on "The Blues," which was the first single released in promotion of the LP.
Watch Tony! Toni! Tone!'s "It Never Rains (In Southern California)" Video
The Revival hits its crescendo around the album's mid-point when "It Never Rains (In Southern California)" meets the listener's ear. Inspired by a saying the group's manager used in reference to California's gorgeous weather, the song showcases Raphael Saadiq's promise as a soloist, which he would eventually realize years later, ultimately leading to him leaving the group after their 1996 album, House of Music. Passionately singing "I haven't seen your face in a year, I can't wait 'til I get there / Just to kiss and squeeze /And girl you know the rest 'cause they tell me," before reminding us of the reason for the current water crisis in SoCal. As if the song wasn't already flawless and one of the most well-written in their catalog, the fact that Lisa Bonet directed the accompanying music video raises its stock even further.
The smooth-sailing continues with the slow jam that is "Whatever You Want," which sees D'Wayne Wiggins - founder of Tony! Toni! Toné! and the guy that discovered Destiny's Child -- take center stage and sings lead, proving that the trio are far from a one-man show. The album hits its first snag on "I Care" due to the underwhelming intro and beat, but becomes an acquired taste after a few listens. The train gets back on track with the drum-heavy number, "Sky's the Limit," which finds Wiggins taking the lead again and delivering on his end, while Saadiq shines with his work on the bridge and the hook. Foster & McElroy contribute to two tracks on the album, "Don't Talk About Me" and "Skin Tight," both of which are uptempo selections and stand out for their distinct songwriting and arrangement.
"Jo-Jo" features a more than serviceable soundbed and is stylistically superb, but is eerily reminiscent of their song "Little Walter," which makes it fall short and seem a tad bit contrived, taking away from its value. The last song on The Revival, "Those Were the Days," comes off as a feel-good jam influenced by their beginnings in the church with its harmonious hook, not to mention the inspiring vocals, which complete the musical journey.
The Revival was a big success for Tony! Toni! Toné!, selling over two million records within the first two years of its release. While "Feels Good" was the album's biggest hit initially, time has shown that songs like "It Never Rains" and "Whatever You Want" -- the latter of which has been sampled by acts such as Ludacris ("Splash Waterfalls (Whatever You Want Remix")) and Nelly ("Luven' Me") -- may be more highly regarded 25 years later and are must-haves on any slow jams mix. This also makes the critique by Dennis Hunt of the Los Angeles Times that "the Tonys still haven't figured out how to make a gripping ballad. Theirs are still too low-key and casual" seem off-base and misguided.
Aside from that tidbit, the LP was championed by many, earning awards such as the ASCP Award for “Feels Good," NAACP Image Award for Vocal Group of the Year and an American Music Award for Favorite R&B/Soul Group. While not considered the group's magnum opus -- that distinction would be attributed to their Sons of Soul or House of Music albums -- The Revival marked the transformation of Tony! Toni! Toné! from talented to vanguards who would become one of the most important R&B groups of the '90s, making this album a certified classic.
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