Photo courtesy of Pitchfork
REVIEW- George Clinton brings his legendary funk collective back to the studio for the first time in 38 years, staying true to their sound while updating it for the 21st Century.
Back in the 1970s, George Clinton lead the gigantic musical collective Parliament-Funkadelic. The group recorded and released their huge, freaky funk music ( known as P-Funk) as the two groups Parliament and Funkadelic. Although Clinton abandoned the Parliament and Funkadelic names for recording by 1981, he kept the group together, recording semi-frequently throughout the 80s and 90s as the P-Funk All-Stars. Despite these setbacks, the group has toured continuously for the last half century. By now, many of the original members have retired or passed away, but were replaced by the children and grandchildren of other members as well as Clinton himself.
Since 2016, Clinton was teasing a new Parliament album. This January, Clinton indicated he was following through on that promise when Parliament released a new single, the hard-funking “I’m Gon Make U Sick O’Me,” featuring rapper Scarface. Last Tuesday, the album finally arrived.
Medicaid Fraud Dogg clocks in at over 100 minutes, far longer than any Parliament release from their 70’s heyday. The album focuses on the questionable practices of Big Pharma, but does so in classic P-Funk style, in which funk is the focus and the solution to the problem. Parliament manages to strike a balance between old and new, adding rappers, drum machines and auto-tune to their unique brand of freaky funk.
The album is at its best when the groove is strongest. Songs like “Ya Habit,” “Riddle Me This” and the trunk-rattling “Loodie Poo Da Pimp” are on par with the collective’s most danceable tracks of the 70s. While nearly every member of the 70’s version of the collective is gone at this point, the years of touring means that this iteration is just as tight, if not more so. They keep the grooves going for almost the whole 100 minutes, through the freakiest shouts and the slickest lines from original horn section the Horny Horns.
That being said, the album is still far too long. Clinton uses the extra time to dive into unnecessary ballads (“Psychotropic”) and awkward, grooveless, hookless musings (“Antisocial Media”). While the group may have added modern sounds, not all of them are as high-quality as their traditional funk. “Backwoods” is a somewhat boring mumble-rap tune without much of a hook that sounds exactly like every other somewhat boring mumble-rap tune without much of a hook. It never really grabs the listener’s attention, and was disappointingly un-funky. Meanwhile, “Mama Told Me” is an overdone take on 2000’s rap, but without the drive or the rap skill to make it work, and surprisingly devoid of the group’s trademark humor and camp that could have helped them pull off.
But there is a traditional-length album’s worth of high moments here. “I’m Gon Make You Sick O’ Me” thumps hard enough to make James Brown’s hips bust out of his grave, and “69” comes through in a freaky, 4 minute 20 second long haze loaded with double entendres. Meanwhile, “Set Trip” is a slick jam that finds Clinton & Co. poking fun at gang affiliations in modern hip-hop. “Medicated Freak” is a synth-funk story about drug abuse, featuring a beautifully angry rap verse. And the finale, “Type Two,” offers classic freaky, almost-gross innuendo, but this time in a modern-style rap, over a classic P-Funk type groove.
One of the album’s greatest strengths is how it blends old and new sounds. Fred Wesley’s old-school horn lines work nicely over synth bass that sounds closer to Dr. Dre’s G-Funk than James Brown or Sly Stone.
What held this album, and this iteration of the group, back from reaching its full potential is the loss of bassist Bootsy Collins (who left to pursue a separate career) and keyboard virtuoso Bernie Worrell (who died of cancer several years ago), who served as chief songwriters and producers along with Clinton. While the group has been playing without both for some time, and their replacements are more than capable musicians, three heads are better than one, preventing Clinton’s songs from reaching their full potential. On top of that, without Bootsy’s unique and innovative bass skills driving the song, much of the album feels unmotivated and dragging. And without Bernie’s keyboard swirls filling space and his top-tier solos, even the best songs do not hold up against the likes of “Flashlight,” “Aqua Boogie” (A Psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop), or “Unfunky UFO.”
While Parliament’s new album is an exceptional funky extravaganza, it may not have been quite worth the 38-year wait. But it still makes for a fun listen.