One of the most delirious fun records ever released by the Clinton collective.
The easy read on Parliament vs. Funkadelic is that where Funkadelic was the experimental side of George Clinton’s pan-genre explorations, Parliament brought the groove. In other words, one had the art, and the other had the hits. This is a spurious delineation, of course, given the cross-pollination between both groups. It also ignores the shockingly deep mythology that Clinton built with Parliament specifically. “Chocolate City” got the ball rolling with a utopian vision of the leadership on Capitol Hill reflecting Washington D.C.’s majority black population, but things truly exploded with the Afrofuturist, deeply political Mothership Connection. The band’s smash hit was and remains a wild, unfathomable creation: a combination of Sly and the Family Stone’s alternately biting and hopeful social commentary mixed with Sun Ra’s lysergic vision of black people as an alien race come to observe and ultimately transcend mankind, all wrapped up in the most compulsively danceable disco funk to ever be made. This was as arty and outré as anything in Funkadelic, it just happened to shift a million units.
Mothership Connection’s follow-up, The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, is a spiritual, possibly even narrative sequel that cements Clinton’s new strain of mythos, starting with a spiritual organ swell and a sermon-esque “Prelude” that describes “Afronauts capable of funkatizing galaxies” sent to Earth to shape it with ass-shaking rhythms. Leader of this troupe is the title hero, though the good doctor’s message is delivered less through concept-album high-mindedness and more through floor-filling jams. The band is tight as a drum from the start, coasting into “Gamin’ on Ya” with a triple-time sprint through the stereotypical nine-note riff of generic “Chinese” music before sliding into a fat-bottomed number that places bright horns over a Bootsy bassline so molasses-thick that he nearly turns the track into dub. Jerome Brailey simmers Clyde Stubblefield’s syncopation into a bone-dry ratatat on “Do That Stuff” to leave ample space for Bernie Worrell to layer in wet squelches of synthesizer amid more horns. A breakdown finds Brailey joined by an equally supple, brittle bassline that shows just how funky Parliament could be even when easing off the gas.
The album lacks any of the band’s enduring hits, but it nonetheless is pure P-Funk goodness. “Dr. Funkenstein” delves more into the album’s story with Clinton’s spoken-word radio play performance, but it’s mostly a Collins and Worrell showcase, all buzzing synths and slinking bass. “Getten’ to Know You” stutters and struts like the best of mid-‘70s disco, organically crafted but hypnotically, almost robotically repetitious. “Everything Is on the One” preaches the gospel of James Brown, stressing funk’s birth as the shift of emphasis from the second beat of the measure to the first, and its punchy arrangement cuts through the sci-fi warbles that chirp and buzz at the margins, a reminder that for all of Clinton’s conceptual genius, he was still focused first and foremost on moving people.
Elsewhere, the band deviates from the routine in surprising ways. “I’ve Been Watching You (Move Your Sexy Body)” is a warped ballad, downtempo but with a hint of sludge to corrupt its gentle come-ons. Spikes of pitch-shifted, yelping vocals further disrupt the tracks swaying horns and tip-toeing beat, and the track manages to balance sultriness with oddity as its woozy oscillations prove to be as sexy as experimental. By and large, the album is a showcase for Worrell’s exceptional abilities as an arranger, with his horn compositions dominating nearly all of the tracks and adding jolts of organic warmth to Parliament’s increasingly strange, futuristic sound.
Dr. Funkenstein eased off the more forthright politics of its predecessor, focusing instead on the hopefulness of Clinton’s wild concept. But that is not to say that commentary is completely gone. “Children of Production” envisions the cloned children of Dr. Funkenstein brought to life, but the title’s Marxist allusions allow one to view the track from a different angle that opens up the clones to being a symbol for a disruption of labor, faceless drones used not for menial tasks but to join a collective sense of release. Closer “Funkin’ for Fun” sums up Clinton’s rejuvenated outlook on life; the man who once told Eddie Hazel to play as if his mother had died to capture the sense of the heat death of the universe can now write lines like “When you see my mother/ Don’t worry ‘bout me/ I’m just funkin’ around.” Sandwiched between Parliament’s two definitive LPs, The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein can too easily get lost in the shuffle, but it remains as vital an insight into the band’s shifting sense of self as either of its adjacent brethren, and one of the most delirious fun records ever released by the Clinton collective.