We began writing the Southern Rock Opera some years ago. We wanted to examine people's misconceptions of the South, and study some modern-day southern mythology. The band Lynyrd Skynyrd's story seemed like the ultimate vehicle for tying all of these loose ends together into what would hopefully flow like one big story. It also gave us a great excuse for going with a 3 guitar lineup and exploring that musically. It should also be noted that the record was intentionally paced like a movie and was originally planned as a screenplay before it became an album.
The general feeling among fans who bootlegged the bejesus out By Way Of The Drum was that MCA shelved the album in 1989 because the label didn't get what they expected. And with the masters found a couple decades later, when the legacy of P-Funk felt far deeper than any late-'80s comeback attempt would hint at, you could say most fans who'd only heard rumor of it didn't get what they expected, either -- at least not unless they expected an overproduced, laminated funk record that sonically lagged six steps behind Prince. The band's vitally raw freakiness is tamped down by edge-dulling gloss; even the logo on the title track's original '89 12" release omits the skull over the "i" in "Funkadelic".
Urban Dancefloor Guerillas, the first album credited to an entity called the P-Funk All Stars, was Clinton's first major attempt to consolidate members of the assorted Parliament and Funkadelic entities into one headliner band (and circumvent name-rights issues in the process). This album gave them their first proper top-billing credit after 1982's Computer Games, featuring most of the same personnel, was credited as a George Clinton solo album. If a circa '89 Funkadelic couldn't get the hang of synthpop-infused electro-boogie and go-go rhythms, it's not because they hadn't tried -- Urban Dancefloor Guerillas, or at least its second side, was plenty proof they could pull it off. "Pumpin' It Up" and "Hydraulic Pump" are two distinct takes on where their sound fit in the '80s, with a squirrelly synth-bass provided by David Spradley in a fine pinch-hitting appearance for Bernie Worrell (presumably busy at the time with Talking Heads, who'd fit well on a less-segregated circa-'83 airwaves alongside these jams). "Hydraulic Pump" in particular is one of the Mothership's best cuts of the '80s, a wall of machine-shop boogie funk that sets a thousand piston-churning hands clapping and is one of the decade's few moments to catch Sly Stone still on his game. (If it sounds vaguely familiar to new listeners, that's because it was later loosely interpolated by one of the Coup's funkiest jams, "5 Million Ways To Kill A CEO.") And "Copy Cat" is more or less a self-answer to the canine counterpart "Atomic Dog," complete with ceaseless puns and harmonized meows in the service of calling out biters.
Not George Clinton, not the P-Funk All-Stars, not even Parliament-Funkadelic -- this is an actual Funkadelic record, something that nobody'd seen since 1981. Call it semantics if you want -- with the core members who've passed since The Electric Spanking Of War Babies (Garry Shider, Tiki Fulwood, Eddie Hazel, Glen Goins, and Cordell "Boogie" Mosson, to name a few), skeptics might consider this an All-Stars kind of effort anyhow, even considering the number of performances brought out from the vaults and stitched posthumously into the tracks. But as the most overstuffed and stylistically experimental thing to come out of the P-Funk camp possibly ever, pinning it down to any one idea of what's previously been offered under the Funkadelic name is beside the point. It's not out of the question to expect an uneven effort from a three-plus-hour triple album with thirty-three tracks (one for each year Funkadelic was in storage). And maybe it's hard to cut through all that to separate the fine from the mediocre; there's not much further on either end of the scale, whether it's outright stinkers or mind-boggling brilliance. But it does successfully put forth the idea of a version of P-Funk that incorporates a lot of familiar trademarks -- beautifully dazed close harmonies, deathless roller-boogie bounce, a philosophical notion of funk that permeates everything, no matter how far away it strays from "One Nation Under A Groove" -- while remaining wide open to brand new ideas.
Of course that presence was all over g-funk, and P-Funk's repayment slides into that mode with comfortable familiarity -- they're not quite impersonating themselves, but they do feel refracted through the knowledge of what they represented in the '90s and subsequently play up their most hip-hop friendly traits. "Summer Swim," "Hard As Steel," "Funky Kind (Gonna Knock It Down)," and "Rock The Party" all lean on the meandering Minimoogs and handclap-garnished, woofer-throbbing low-end rhythms that begged to be sampled (but, somehow, never really were). But Clinton's willingness to collaborate with hip-hop artists gives us another angle: the lead cut and first single "If Anybody Gets Funked Up (It's Gonna Be You)," co-produced by East Coast legend Erick Sermon and featuring featuring Flint, Michigan's MC Breed, both of whom had their own acknowledged debts to the P-Funk. The bounce doesn't rise far above waist level, and the most transcendent moments are its slower ones -- like the gorgeous "New Spaceship," featuring guest vocals from none other than Uncle Charlie Wilson -- but this album's possibilities of a reinvigorated, contemporary-minded elder statesman George Clinton engaging fully with the two-way integration of hip-hop into his music only made his subsequent absence that much more frustrating.
The first album to be released under the P-Funk aegis was a drastic break from the late-'60s singles that the Parliaments released on labels like Revilot and Atco, and the title signified as much: Osmium is the densest element on the periodic table, a transition metal found in platinum ore named after the Greek root word for "smell." Considering how much of a transition their early-'70s stank-riddled, heavy metal sound represented -- the platinum would come later -- it's difficult to think of a more apropos title for the LP that would introduce the world to Parliament as we know it. Or at least somewhat know it: the last album released as Parliament until 1974's Up For The Down Stroke thanks to a label dispute with Revilot, Osmium feels like a short-term hitch in George Clinton's vision of a complementary two-band dichotomy. In other words, it's a lot more similar to a circa-'70 Funkadelic record than tandem Parliament/Funkadelic LPs would be in, say, 1975; the main distinction is that it's willfully, absurdly eclectic to the point where it's clear they're still getting their identity together.
You know that twangy yodel from De La's "Potholes In My Lawn"? That's from "Little Ole Country Boy," which features an honest-to-god steel guitar and a full-tilt wailing lament of a monologue from Fuzzy Haskins freaking out about being busted as a peeping tom after trying to find out if his girlfriend was cheating on him. "My Automobile" pulls Clinton and Haskins' doo-wop origins by the collar right into the thick of a down-home, uptempo rockabilly-blues shuffle (with a little bit of what sounds like a sitar for twangy flavor). And cuts like the booze-brewing, family-supporting bootlegger tale/"Cosmic Slop" quasi-prequel "Moonshine Heather" and dirty-drawers goof "Funky Woman" ("she hung them in the air/the air said 'this ain't fair'/ she hung them in the sun/the sun began to run") are in keeping with the kind of oddball heaviness Funkadelic were concurrently cranking out. There's still room for headier concerns -- the gospel lament of "Oh Lord, Why Lord/Prayer" is easily their most reverent and straightforward cry against racial injustice, and there's an unbeatable series of koans running through "Nothing Before Me But Thang" ("There's good, there's bad/ But a thang is a thang/ And there is nothing before you but thang"). And if there's more weight than usual in the closing one-two of spiritual-minded sincerity -- the Jesus-invoking environmentalism of "Livin' The Life" and the afterlife reflections of "The Silent Boatman" (the only P-Funk cut to feature bagpipes!) -- they're strong early indicators that Clinton and company had more to them than just party jams and psychedelic freakouts. (Later CD pressings, including the retitled First Thangs, tack on outtakes, rarities, and a few expanded versions of '71-'72 Invictus singles like "Breakdown" and "Red Hot Mama," that adds some excellent music but dilutes the original album's character a bit.)
After three consecutive knockouts, it's easy to think of Funkadelic's fourth album as a bit of a mess in all kinds of ways. Its double-LP breadth is weighed down by a transitional and exploratory sound that wouldn't fully gel until Cosmic Slop. And a liner-notes association with the Process Church Of The Final Judgement had queasy critics chiding them for potential Manson and occult connections, inferences that wound up getting read into what were actually more acute social-justice-oriented lyrics. But this really is a defiantly rebellious record in a lot of ways, from its literal cannibal-Liberty/funky dollar bill album art to the message in the music itself. The seventeen minutes of Album One Side One are enough to leave a lasting impression, even through the lighter moments to follow: "You Hit The Nail On The Head" shouts down complacent power-mongers under Bernie's most fiery keyboards to date ("Just because you win the fight don't make you right/ Just because you give don't make you good"), "If You Don't Like The Effects, Don't Produce The Cause" chides a fair-weather underground stuck in a protestor-as-consumer mode ("You say you don't like what you're country's about/ Ain't you deep, in your semi-first class seat"), and "Everybody Is Going To Make It This Time" plays out like the recouping effort of a revolution that fell to a circular firing squad ("There's not a doubt in my mind/ If hunger and anger place the blame/ There won't be a country left to change"). 2b1af7f3a8