Even a “lesser” Funkadelic album can be a masterclass on ass shaking and political rabble rousing.
And in the year of our lord 1973, the people did reject the funk. Or, at least, they took a break from it. Despite a strong start to their career on the charts, Funkadelic fell into a slump with Cosmic Slop, a commercial flop. With the political landscape looking increasingly Nixonian, Vietnam still raging and the most space-aged album of the year, Dark Side of the Moon, exploring the surreal with a decidedly somber bent, maybe the United States of Groove just wasn’t feeling it. Unfortunate, as not only is Cosmic Slop another stellar entry in a blazing opening run from George Clinton’s mad crew, but also a much more accessible album than the spiraling guitar jams and otherworldly funk that surrounded it.
Don’t worry, it’s still plenty whacky but there aren’t any ten-minute guitar solos. Instead, most of Cosmic Slop grooved on like a piece of Psychedelic pop, Love with less depression and more swing. But in the midst of a dour year, the relatively smiley jaunt presented here might have fell hollow on jaded ears. Let’s Get It On was Funkadelic’s only spiritual brother, with Al Green’s Call Me streaked with tears, James Brown’s The Payback sung with righteousness and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters playing with even more wonky funk ideas. And that’s before mentioning the year’s second biggest album, Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions, which was as desolate as it was beautiful. In this context, who could really get attached to such a bouncy, playful beast?
But beneath all that groove, Funkadelic was hiding an underworld of sorrow. The title track evokes the devil and the constant chant of “I can hear my mother call” feels more like the ending of a sobering Gospel hymn than a dance floor anthem. The same song has Eddie Hazel speeding through some finger-blistering work, a quick reminder that he was the best guitarist on the planet at the time. This fact was further cemented by his stark lead work on the spooky “March to the Witch’s Castle,” which sounded like a lost Cream song. A detuned bass prays in a mourning rumble: “Thousands of boys gave their life, and for what?” It’s a powerful sentiment, and its heaviness, both lyrically and musically, puts it in good company with Black Sabbath’s anti-war screeds. Though Funkadelic seemed to be indulging in “what we are doing in the name of comfort” that they sung against on their last record, they were really releasing an itching, maddening sort of mess that subtly raged against the political realities of the ‘70s.
The only thing out of place is “Don’t Compute,” a lusty little ode to a one-night stand that turns regrettable. Hazel’s guitar work is, as always, flawless, but the story feels flat, thanks to the spoke-sung delivery of Clinton and the loose-to-a-fault groove. It’s put into much more unfavorable contrast when the busted-artery love ballad “This Broken Heart” slams into its back end. It’s a cover of The Sonics (no, not those Sonics), brimming with a rosy string section and a surprisingly moving monologue over the bridge. Remove “Don’t Compute” and “March to the Witch’s Castle” and “This Broken Heart” are the twins that represent the emotional extremes of Cosmic Slop. It’s arguable that the album’s greatest weakness, what let it down in ’73, was that it relaxed in the middle ground. Not as desperate as America Eats Its Young, ecstatic as Maggot Brain or as bonkers as The Mothership Connection would later be, Cosmic Slop could be seen as a fun fling. And that it is, but during this era, even a “lesser” Funkadelic album was a masterclass on ass shaking and political rabble rousing.