A bass-heavy affair with plenty of slapping and popping, discofied drum grooves, absurdist vocals and lyrics.
It would be virtually impossible, were you to find yourself flipping through a stack of records, regardless of genre, to pass up a cover like that of The Adventures of Captain Sky. A rather cheap-looking superhero (ostensibly the titular Captain Sky) rides a giant gold record, his Batmanesque cape splayed out behind him, Bootsy Collins sunglasses betraying nothing of his intentions and a smaller gold record held up as a shield against some sort of, well, who knows what. As he glides through a nameless metropolis—perhaps a comic book Chicago, given the band’s roots in the Windy City—a handful of unseen passersby shout “LOOK! ITS (sic) CAPTAIN SKY” and “YEAH! CAPTAIN SKY!” and “SING IT AGAIN CAPTAIN SKY!” And then from one of the buildings, an errant thought balloon shouts “MY HERO!” And that’s just the front cover.
On the rear of the jacket we’re given a glimpse of Captain Sky (aka Chicago native Daryl L. Cameron) as he exists in the real world, looking a bit like a somewhat confused Stevie Wonder draped in one of James Brown’s oversized capes emblazoned with “Captain Sky.” Although, since it’s a black and white image, it’s hard to tell whether or not it’s actually a cape. With its hemmed look, it could just as easily be a repurposed blanket or bedspread, given the rather low-rent, campy nature of the Captain Sky vibe. In any case, the overall aesthetic is one heavily indebted to that of the P-Funk universe, from the heavy funk to the over-the-top personae (the band consists of players with nicknames like Ghost, Spirit and Burn, in addition to Captain Sky) to the very sound of The Adventures of Captain Sky.
It’s this last element that is most redolent of the P-Funk approach. Released in 1978, The Adventures of Captain Sky is heavily-indebted to Parliament’s 1977 album, Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome, from the music itself to the track list (both albums’ respective two longest tracks fall in exactly the same spot in the running order, though Parliament managed six tracks to Captain Sky’s five) to the overindulgent use of affected vocals to convey a sense of otherworldliness to the proceedings. Regardless, the good captain and company clearly spent a fair amount of time worshipping at the P-Funk altar, honing their chops accordingly and taking their derivative brand of sci-funk to heights previously explored (with greater success) by George Clinton and company.
It’s by no means for naught. There’s the nearly 12-minute “Super Sporm,” a song whose hook is sung as “super sperm” amidst a series of less-than-subtle lyrical come-ons (choice lyric: “Just like I told you from the start/ Sperm will enfold you/ If you just let it come inside/ I know you will get it”). Delivered as a disco-funk number that was clearly meant for club play, it’s a surreal bit of aural weirdness that rivals anything committed to tape by Parliament or Funkadelic. Taking the P-Funk fetishization to the next level, the song’s midpoint deploys the prototypical P-Funk affected vocals while the good captain explains his concept dubbed “danceual intercourse.” Needless to say, it’s not a phrase that ever gained any sort of traction, even within the over-the-top world of disco excess. That said, it’s a track that’s been sampled by artists like Boogie Down Productions (“Super Hoe” and “You Must Learn”), Salt-N-Pepa (“Shoop”), De La Soul (“Supa Emcees”) and Public Enemy (“You’re Gonna Get Yours”)
“Now That I Have You” is a fairly generic soul ballad with lush harmonies, thumping bass and a proto-power ballad guitar solo thrown in for good measure. It’s an abrupt transition from the more dance-centric “Super Sporm” and, sitting as it does between the album’s other epic track, the 13-minute “Wonder Worm,” feels like a calculated breather allowing the target audience a few moments respite before deploying the danceual intercourse once more. “Wonder Worm” feels like an extended club mix, all long percussion interludes and repetitive grooves. The good captain again goes full P-Funk with a spoken-word intro that leans heavily into sci-fi/comic book nonsense before getting to the heart of “Wonder Worm,” a creature whose dance skills are inspirational.
Throughout, the album is a bass-heavy affair with plenty of slapping and popping, discofied drum grooves, absurdist vocals and lyrics, bizarro keyboards and plenty to keep listeners engaged. Yeah, it’s a complete rip-off of the P-Funk approach to sonic weirdness, but it’s nearly as effective as the original, if not quite as crazy. The musicianship is admirable, with each player more than pulling their weight and helping lift otherwise middling material to often impressive heights (though the push-pull tempos throughout can be a bit maddening as the band alternately and inexplicably speeds up and slows down, the beat threatening to give way entirely). Captain Sky would appear a handful more times over the next couple years (1979’s Pop Goes the Captain, with an even more DIY-looking bit of comic book artwork, and 1980’s Concerned Party #1), but his debut for AVI Records, a label well-known for their disco releases, remains his crowning achievement and is well worth seeking out once you’ve worn out your Parliament records of the same era.