Proves Funkadelic’s central thesis: bow to the groove, not the trends.
Silence is something funk cannot abide. Space, sure. Bootsy proved that well enough with the grooves he laid down that depended not just on the notes but on the lounging pauses between them. Yet the ’90s and ‘00s heard silence from the godfathers of funk. By Way of the Drum was released in 2007 but was recorded in the mid-’80s. In the same fashion, Toys was an odds and ends compilation primed to simply remind people the Funkadelic/Parliament axis still existed, sort of.
The easiest comparison is the slapped together collection of B-sides Tales of Kidd Funkadelic, which remains one of the weakest albums in the pantheon. But that as a hasty cash grab from Westbound records as the funk troupe ascended to gold records. Though Toys was also on Westbound, by 2008, nothing Funkadelic-related was a money magnet. What’s more, it pulled from the fruitful ‘70 to ‘74 era, meaning any castoff from their debut to Standing on the Verge of Getting it On was fair game.
Thanks to that, Toys stands as a loose, light but exceptionally fun album of bits and pieces. Its nine songs stretch out over 50 minutes, riding luxurious grooves and milking everything they’ve got out of catchy melodies. The instrumentals, while not dazzling (Eddie Hazel seems on auto-pilot) are shiny, summery things, perfect for your next BBQ. The album even dips into a shimmering form of gospel that nearly makes it chamber funk. The humming organ and reverbed choir vocals of the relaxed revelation “Talk About Jesus” are so polished and echoey, Belle and Sebastian would have happily plundered it.
The traditional undercurrent of tripped out darkness is largely ignored. That makes it a slight album even when compared to P-Funk’s downward spiral in the ‘80s, but places it in funk easy listening territory. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The most troubling song here is “Stink Finger” which has “I don’t want to get up/ Quaalude me down” sung in fresh, catchy harmony over and over again. It’s a bit like The Shins singing about bakers cutting their thumbs off over Zach Braff-ready guitar chimes. But it’s so damn charming, it’s hard to take any offense. Just don’t be surprised if your backyard grill buddies start feeling weird as they realize what the words are.
Despite a few songs deflating over the six-minute mark, Toys is still a breezy compilation. Its saving grace might have been modest intentions–and a larger pool. Unlike Westbound’s original rush to catch the funk fever, the album had nothing to prove. On top of that, they had the hindsight of over 30 years to pick through the best cuts that hit the floor rather than the vinyl, where Kidd Funkadelic appeared to consist of anything they could get their hands on. That said, having a “Wars of Armageddon (Karaoke Version)” is frankly too goofy even for Funkadelic. But the fact that Toys stands as a decent, if not great, funk album, proves Funkadelic’s central thesis: bow to the groove, not the trends.