#276 – Parliament – Mothership Connection (1975)

October 19, 2012

It took me a while to figure out the whole Parliament-Funkadelic thing (or, if you insist, “thang”).  On the strength of the title, I picked up the early Funkadelic album Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow as a teenager, but even then found it far too sprawling and sloppy and weird for my tastes.  Some time later, not quite aware that the two were related (were in fact essentially the same band), I picked up a cassette of the Parliament album The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein  on tape at a middle American gas station.  I wasn’t even really sure what I was getting into, but it was cheap, and looked like it might be funny.

And funny it was, but it also quickly became apparent that for all the trippy sci-fi mythologizing, all the “swift lippin’ ego trippin’ and body snatchin’,” it was also a work of consummate and amazing musicianship.  It remains one of my two favorite Parliament records.  The other is this one, which preceded it, and which really is the place to start. Or I assume it is, anyway.  Truthfully, I never delved much deeper into the discography of either Parliament or Funkadelic.  I listened to Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain as one of the first albums of this project, and found it really surprisingly unpleasant.  The upshot seems to be that I like the smoother, more focused style of music put out under the Parliament name, and have limited patience for the more noodley, psychedelic meandering of the earlier Funkadelic records.

It’s a bit odd, I guess, that I love this record as much as I do, yet was never inspired to look too far beyond it.  This one and Dr. Funkenstein just feel, for one, like the obvious peak, especially in terms of lineup.  George Clinton had by this point poached not only Bootsy Collins and his brother Catfish from James Brown’s band, but, even more devastatingly, hornsmen Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley, who constituted much of the heart and soul of James Brown’s most potent musical era.  To my mind, it was this core of ex-JBs that lent Parliament the much needed touch of rhythmic and melodic discipline that elevates these records well above the more experimental, noisy earlier records released under the Funkadelic name. They provided a floor of unassailable groove that put the wildness above it in a much more workable, genuinely funky context.  Keyboard wizard Bernie Worrell seemed in particular to thrive in this environment, laying down his eccentrically virtuosic synthesizer parts over some of the tightest grooves imaginable. And as for the later stuff, I guess I just assumed it started repeating itself before too long.

But the real reason I never felt moved to more thoroughly explore the discography is one of slight uneasiness–almost embarrassment–at the conceptual/lyrical end of things.  I get that George Clinton’s zany outer space testifying had vaguely serious underpinnings in terms of its elevation of “The Funk” as emblematic of something worth celebrating–and mythologizing–in the African-American spirit.  But by the time I came to this music, that moment had long since passed, and all the weirdness and humor had become something more like fodder for stoned college kids to chuckle over–its cultural reference point had moved on to whiter pastures. The term “The Bomb,” for example, (meaning something awesome) seems to have originated on this album, and yet in my experience, it’s a phrase that became more or less the exclusive property of meatheads and fratboys.

There’s some larger point here, of course, about the transmutation of African-American music and style into something more mainstream (which is to say white), but it’s a point well enough explored elsewhere, and not one I particularly care to get into. I also just recently learned that another means by which this music made it’s way into the awareness of my generation was by virtue of being quite prominently sampled on Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, which is higher up on the list, and one I’m really looking forward to hearing.  But I had no awareness of that at the time, and it’s not how this music found me.  In any event, the lyrical elements of this record–its relentless outer spacey silliness–is the part for me that wears thinest fastest.  The music on this record is real deal, forever kind of music.  But you kind of have to be in the mood to put up with all the stuff that comes with it.

That being said, I hadn’t played this record in a long time, and hearing it this time, I was gratified to notice that, with the benefit of some time and distance, there’s also something pretty great about Clinton’s calculated silliness.  It’s not something I’d want to hear everyday, but it needn’t quite keep me away from this music in the way it has tended to in recent years.  In a way, it’s the “free your mind” part of the deal–of course it’s silly, but if you can relax around it–not find the absurdity of it so discomfiting–it reveals deeper treasures,not only in terms of music, but also language and humor and style.

Source: LP

2 Responses to “#276 – Parliament – Mothership Connection (1975)”

  1. […] surface, that sounds like an ideal arrangement.  The two Parliament records I know and love–Mothership Connection and The Clones of Doctor Funkenstein remain great albums, but the weight of all that schtick makes […]

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