Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Parliament

  • Osmium [Invictus, 1970] B
  • Up for the Down Stroke [Casablanca, 1974] A-
  • Chocolate City [Casablanca, 1975] B
  • Mothership Connection [Casablanca, 1976] A-
  • The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein [Casablanca, 1976] B+
  • Parliament Live/P-Funk Earth Tour [Casablanca, 1977] B+
  • Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome [Casablanca, 1977] A
  • Motor-Booty Affair [Casablanca, 1978] A-
  • Gloryhallastoopid [Casablanca, 1979] B+
  • Trombipulation [Casablanca, 1980] B-
  • Greatest Hits: P. Funk, Uncut Funk, the Bomb [Casablanca, 1984] A

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Osmium [Invictus, 1970]
What happens when a black harmony group names an album after the heaviest metal, depluralizes its name, and pluralizes its music? It may be pretentious bullshit, but it sure is interesting pretentious bullshit--bagpipes and steel guitars, Bach and rock, Satchmo as Kingfish, work chants as dozens, all in the service of a world view in which love/sex becomes frightening, even brutal, and no less credible for that. B

Up for the Down Stroke [Casablanca, 1974]
What seems to distinguish this mysterious alternate version of Funkadelic (same personnel, different label) from the original is that it's more politic. Its excesses don't offend. Gone is all the scabrous talk of holes and bitches, and gone too are the politics themselves--the nearest this comes to social criticism is to praise the brain. But what's left is damn near a (musical) revolution. The material George Clinton has amassed over the years--the harmony-group vocal chops, the Jimi H. guitar, the James B. horns and rhythms--is here deployed in yet another audacious deconstruction/reconstruction of black pop traditions, and this time it works. All of the voice arrangements skew the original "I Wanna Testify" (which is reinterpreted for comparison) the way those of Big Star do, say, "Run for Your Life." The horns and guitars weave and comment and come front. And the title cut kicks and jams. One more riff like that and they'd take over the world. A-

Chocolate City [Casablanca, 1975]
On the first side A DJ who reminds me of original AM scatman Jocko Henderson jive-raps on the satisfactions of suffrage and then gives way to a danceable, listenable, forgettable groove. On the second side, interesting but hookless off-harmony excursions, two of them too slow and/or too long, break into some heavy funk for the ages. B

Mothership Connection [Casablanca, 1976]
That DJ from Chocolate City, or maybe it's the Chocolate Milky Way, keeps the beat going with nothing but his rap, some weird keyboard, and cymbals for stretches of side one. And later produces the galactic "Give Up the Funk" and a James Brown tribute that goes "gogga googa, gogga googa"--only believe me, that doesn't capture it. A-

The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein [Casablanca, 1976]
The message seems to be that clones are cool, and the proof seems to be the predictable yet effective funktoons that dominate the album. But I remain an unreconstructed Yurrupean rationalist/individualist, and I wish there were a few more tracks as specific as "Dr. Funkenstein" and "Sexy Body." B+

Parliament Live/P-Funk Earth Tour [Casablanca, 1977]
Because it mixes music from all three George Clinton creations (including a new chant) and conveys a lot of the anarchic, participatory throb of a P. Funk concert, this live double serves a real function. But the recording doesn't do much justice to the music's bottom, or its top. B+

Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome [Casablanca, 1977]
This seems like your representative 'delicment LP at first, featuring one irresistible and quite eccentric dance cut, other dance cuts that are at moments even more eccentric (including one based on nursery rhymes), bits of inspired jive, bits of plain jive, and an anomalous slow one. But with familiarity the three rhythm hooks that anchor the album start sounding definitive. And never before has George Clinton dealt so coherently with his familiar message, in which the forces of life--autonomous intelligence, a childlike openness, sexual energy, and humor--defeat those of death: by seduction if possible, by force if necessary. A

Motor-Booty Affair [Casablanca, 1978]
A kiddie record that features the return of the Chipmunks as "three slithering idiots" doing their thing underwater. Irresistible at its most inspired--aqua-DJ Wiggles the Worm is my favorite Clinton fantasy ever--and danceable at its more pro forma. A-

Gloryhallastoopid [Casablanca, 1979]
At its stoopidest ("Theme From the Black Hole," which features a "toast to the boogie" that goes--naturally--"Bottoms up!") this makes Motor-Booty Affair sound like The Ring of the Nibelungenlied. But at its dumbest ("Party People," apparently a sincere title) it makes Motor-Booty Affair sound like "Sex Machine" or "Get Off Your Ass and Jam." And there's too much filler. Stoopid can be fun, George--even inspirational. But mainly you sound overworked, and that's a drag for everybody. B+

Trombipulation [Casablanca, 1980]
Reports of George Clinton's demise are premature, but there's reason to worry about his body tone. Although the transcendent silliness of "Agony of Defeet" recalls past glories, the quotes from Bach, Brylcreem, and Mother Goose are dim echoes of the sharp confidence games of yore, and on occasion this sounds kind of like Fuzzy Haskins & Co. Hmm. B-

Greatest Hits: P. Funk, Uncut Funk, the Bomb [Casablanca, 1984]
Clinton, Collins, Worrell & Co. always saved their funnest riffs (and scored their smashest hits) for P-Funk's kiddie half, which means that these radio-length condensations of the peaks toward which their concerts unwound (and around which their albums cohered) constitute their most tuneful and atypical LP. In a band that made a point of prolonging foreplay, it's like a serial climax, and the effect can be exhausting and even disorienting. But as you might imagine, it's also very exciting, an opportunity to concentrate on the deep vertical pleasures of music that makes forward motion a first principle. And as you ought to know, it was always the dense layering of whomever's guitar, Worrell's keyboards, Collins's bass, and Clinton's crafty vocal arrangements that made their forward motion stick. A