Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Funkadelic [Westbound, 1970] C+
  • Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow [Westbound, 1970] B-
  • Maggot Brain [Westbound, 1971] B+
  • America Eats Its Young [Westbound, 1972] C+
  • Cosmic Slop [Westbound, 1973] B
  • Standing on the Verge of Getting It On [Westbound, 1974] B+
  • Let's Take It to the Stage [Westbound, 1975] A-
  • Funkadelic's Greatest Hits [Westbound, 1975] A-
  • Tales of Kidd Funkadelic [Westbound, 1976] B+
  • Hardcore Jollies [Warner Bros., 1976] A-
  • The Best of the Early Years Volume One [Westbound, 1977] A
  • One Nation Under a Groove [Warner Bros., 1978] A
  • Uncle Jam Wants You [Warner Bros., 1979] B+
  • Connections and Disconnections [LAX, 1980] C
  • The Electric Spanking of War Babies [Warner Bros., 1981] A-
  • First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate [The C Kunspyruhzy, 2014] **

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Funkadelic [Westbound, 1970]
Q (side one, cut one): "Mommy, What's a Funkadelic?" A: Someone from Carolina who encountered eternity on LSD and vowed to contain it in a groove. Q (side two, cut four): "What Is Soul?" A: A ham hock in your corn flakes. You get high marks for your questions, guys. C+

Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow [Westbound, 1970]
This is as confusing and promising and ultimately ambiguous as the catchy (and rhythmic) title slogan. Is that ass as in "shake your ass" or ass as in "save your ass"? And does one escape/transcend the dollar by renouncing the material world or by accepting one's lot? Similarly, are the scratchy organ timbres and disorienting separations fuckups or deliberate alienation effects? Is this music to stand to or music to get wasted by? In short, is this band (this black band, I should add, since it's black people who are most victimized by antimaterialist rhetoric) promulgating escapist idealism or psychic liberation? Or do all these antinomies merely precede some aesthetic synthesis? One thing is certain--the only place that synthesis might occur here is on "Funky Dollar Bill." B-

Maggot Brain [Westbound, 1971]
Children, this is a funkadelic. The title piece is ten minutes of classic Hendrix-gone-heavy guitar by one Eddie Hazel--time-warped, druggy superschlock that may falter momentarily but never lapses into meaningless showoff runs. After which comes 2:45 of post-classic soul-group harmonizing--two altos against a bass man, all three driven by the funk, a rhythm so pronounced and eccentric it could make Berry Gordy twitch to death. The funk pervades the rest of the album, but not to the detriment of other peculiarities. Additional highlight: "Super Stupid." B+

America Eats Its Young [Westbound, 1972]
Their racial hostility is much preferable to the brotherhood bromides of that other Detroit label, but their taste in white people is suspect: it's one thing to put down those who "picket this and protest that" from their "semi-first-class seat," another to let the Process Church of the Final Judgment provide liner notes on two successive albums. I overlooked it on Maggot Brain because the music was so difficult to resist, but here the strings (told you about their taste in white people), long-windedness (another double-LP that should be a single), and programmatic lyrics ("Miss Lucifer's Love" inspires me to mention that while satanism is a great antinomian metaphor it often leads to murder, rape, etc.) leave me free to exercise my prejudices. Primary exception: "Biological Speculation," a cautionary parable about the laws of nature/the jungle. Secondary exception: "Loose Booty." Remember what Hank Ballard says, you guys: how you gonna get respect if you haven't cut your process yet? C+

Cosmic Slop [Westbound, 1973]
Thank, well, Whomever, the "maladroited message of doom" inside the doublefold comes not from Brother Malachi but from Sir Lleb, and Whomever has rewarded the band with two definitively scary takes on sex and life in the future present--"Cosmic Slop" and "No Compute," both of which combine humor, pessimism, incantation, and baloney in convincing and unprecedented amalgams. Unfortunately, most of the rest is "interesting," including one profundo Vietnam monologue and many parodies of harmony-group usage. B

Standing on the Verge of Getting It On [Westbound, 1974]
Although too often it lives up to its title, this is the solidest record this restless group has ever made (under its own name--cf. Parliament) and offers such goodies as Alvin Chipmunk saying "gross mutherfucker" and a stanza that takes on both Iggy Stooge and Frank Zappa with its tongue tied. It also offers this Inspirational Homily: "Good thoughts bring forth good fruit. Bullshit thoughts rot your needs. Think right and you can fly." B+

Let's Take It to the Stage [Westbound, 1975]
The group that makes the Ohio Players sound like the Mike Curb Congregation still has a disturbingly occultish bent--"free from the need to be free," indeed. But at this point I'm inclined to trust the music, which is tough-minded, outlandish, very danceable, and finally, I think (and hope), liberating. Including a Stevie Wonder ripoff and a Jimi Hendrix impression and a Black Sabbath love song and a long Bach organ coda ("Atmosphere," by Clinton-Shider-Worrell) over a rap that begins: "I hate the word pussy, it sounds awful squishy, so I guess I'll call it clit." A-

Funkadelic's Greatest Hits [Westbound, 1975]
After "Can You Get to That," "Loose Booty," and "Funky Dollar Bill," which really are great, I'm ready to believe that "A Joyful Process" is balanced on an Ellingtonian paradox rather than immersed in schlocky pretensions. But the selection could be even better, and because Funkadelic is a groove band rather than a song band it's not very well-served by the "hit" format. In short, this is hardly the perfect Funkadelic LP. And in truth, neither are any of the others. A-

Tales of Kidd Funkadelic [Westbound, 1976]
As with James Brown, whose circa-1971 J.B.'s provided this band with its horns and rhythm section, there always seem to be waste cuts on George Clinton's albums. The difference is that Brown's are intended as filler even when they come out inspired, whereas Clinton's feel like scientific experiments even when they're entirely off-the-cuff. The title cut here, a thirteen-minute congas-and-keyboard reconnaissance decorated with a few chants, turns out to be fairly listenable. Which I noticed because it's preceded by a catchy march called "I'm Never Gonna Tell It," their greatest post-doowop experiment yet. Also out there: "Take Your Dead Ass Home!" Not to mention the horns and rhythm section. B+

Hardcore Jollies [Warner Bros., 1976]
A good sample of their surrealistic black vaudeville, this offers none of the great climaxes of their Westbound albums--no come shots, you might say--but an abundance of good old-fashioned raunch. As consistent as any album they've made, it's dense with ensemble funk and catchy riffsongs, post-heavy Mike Hampton guitar and post-backlash soul voicings. And it rescues from the public domain not only middle-period Jimmy Page but "Comin' 'Round the Mountain" and "They Don't Wear Pants on the Sunny Side of France." A-

The Best of the Early Years Volume One [Westbound, 1977]
By cutting down to one track each from the first two albums, this upgrades Westbound's (now deleted) 1975 compilation. The only essential addition is "No Compute," but most of the six substitutions are improvements. And the one regrettable deletion, "Standing on the Verge of Getting It On," serves a rough concept: to present a very strange vocal group rather than a funk or psychedelic band. A

One Nation Under a Groove [Warner Bros., 1978]
I can't figure out why some Funkateers profess themselves unmoved by this one. The twelve-incher does come up a little short on guitar, but a generous Hendrix fix is thoughtfully provided on a seventeen minute, seven-inch third side, and the title cut is as tough and intricate as goodfooting ever gets. Plus: "Who Says a Funk Band Can't Play Rock?" and "Into You," two manifestos that bite close to the bone, and "The Doo Doo Chasers," a scatological call-and-response cum responsive-reading whose shameless obviousness doesn't detract from fun or funk. Fried ice cream is a reality! Or: Think! It ain't illegal yet! A

Uncle Jam Wants You [Warner Bros., 1979]
This is fairly wonderful through the first cut on side two, but in a fairly redundant way. Bernie Worrell's high synthesizer vamps sometimes seem like annoying cliches these days, and not even Philippe Wynne can provide the marginal variety that puts good groove music over the top--maybe because he sounds like a high synthesizer himself. B+

Connections and Disconnections [LAX, 1980]
"This album does not include any performances or creations by George Clinton," disclaim Fuzzy Haskins and his band of claim-jumpers, but they sure try to simulate same, with generally pathetic results (except when they make "P-Funk" sound like "hee haw"). Where Jerome Brailey's mutiny on the mamaship deepened the funk, these renegades aspire to fuzak--pleasant only if you forget who they say they are. C

The Electric Spanking of War Babies [Warner Bros., 1981]
His embattled empire/utopia in pieces around if not against him, George Clinton reaches into the disgusting depths of his drug-addled mind and comes up with the solidest, weirdest chunk of P-Funk since one nation gathered under a groove. Featuring icky sex, Sly getting stronger, and an on-the-one reggae about digging "the first world" that should make his brethren and sistren (way) down south splank their spliffs. In short, chock-a-block, for which we can thank the baddies at Warner Brethren, who forced him to reduce a projected double-LP down to this supersaturated single. A-

First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate [The C Kunspyruhzy, 2014]
Three discs, three-and-a-third sample-ready hours, 33 mostly George-fronted subclassics, and you gotta hear Sly's Lord Buckley ("First Ya Gotta Shake the Gate," "Baby Like Fonkin' It Up," "The Naz," "Pole Power," "Snot 'n Booger") **

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