Thursday, 26 February 2015

Funkadelic - "First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate" Review

So what do you expect from your favourite iconoclastic band, when they reform after decades to produce a comeback album?

Do you expect them to pick up where they left off, and produce an album that sounds exactly like they did decades ago?

Or, do you expect them to embrace technology and produce something thoroughly contemporary and modern to reflect the sound and the era they now find themselves in?

Or, do you approach it with no pre-conceptions at all from the outset and take the new music as you find it?

Any fan of any band in the situation that Funkadelic find themselves in right now is going to find the third option extremely difficult. We're always going to carry baggage of expectation to the party. We all want a record to be something to be proudly displayed next to their classic works. But is it fair to expect a new album made 33 years after the group's last one to sound like the one they finished with?

If you think it is fair they should sound like something released decades ago, you really haven't considered the nature of the ever-wandering musical troubadour that is George Clinton.

Throughout the entire dual careers of Parliament and Funkadelic, and then his solo career, his sound hasn't been static - it has always changed with the times. Therefore it would be reasonable to expect that the new record would sound quite contemporary, right?

Well, in truth, what you get when you commit to the mammoth 33-track 3-hour plus triple album from Funkadelic is a little of both.

On first listen it is a confused mess of vintage and modern sounds, fused with the characteristic strangeness that marked the classic Funkadelic sound. It borrows heavily on modern hip-hop, with many of the tracks on the first disc sounding like offcuts from a lost Snoop Dog or Dr Dre album. That may not be a bad thing for some - there is nothing inherently wrong with hip-hop in this writer's view. However they seem to take the very worst aspects of hip-hop and ride them into town - leaden grooves that don't swing, reducing women to mere sex objects, horribly pointless usage of the dreaded Autotune function, and a gratuitous overuse of both the n-word and the f-word.

The irony is that Funkadelic heavily influenced Snoop and Dre, and yet Clinton seems to find it a wise thing to compete with them at their level.

There is still a bit of the old school P-Funk groove here, as on "Radio Friendly", but in this instance it appears to use the sound as a way of dismissing its validity; as if to highlight that that the preceding B-Boy/Gangsta style is somehow more artistically legitimate.

It's been mooted that the album has 33 tracks to represent every one of the 33 years that has passed since the release of "The Electric Spanking of War Babies" in 1981. It could also be inspired by the monumental multi-disc studio sets by Prince, such as "Emancipation". Either way, it is like most multi-disc albums and needs an editor. One third of the tracks fall into the 7-minute- plus category, and while P-Funk at their best could hold attention for long stretches in years gone by, most of the long form jams meander in one spot and never develop. The stilted groove the opener "Baby Likes Fonkin' It Up" would be more effective at half its 9:37 length. "Roller Rink" finds a smooth groove but never actually develops or progresses anywhere in the 12 minutes it lasts for. There really isn't any way to justify the inclusion of an irredeemable track like "F****d Up", whose lyrics amount to little more than a repeating of the title for the entirely of its 7:43 running time. "The Mathematics of Love" mines a more gospel-soul feel for an over-long 12-minutes length while churning out some occasionally questionable mathematical metaphors for sex.

George Clinton, throughout his solo career, has always changed his sound in an attempt to remain contemporary. A canny move, favoured by jazz legends like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, it is a clever way to shore up your audience with younger, hipper people as older fans drift off. In some cases he's been successful (see: "If Anybody Gets Funked Up") The difference is that where Miles and Coltrane were ahead of the curve and gaining new fans as they went, "First Ya Gotta Shake The Gate" in parts sounds like a conscious effort not to appease long time Funkadelic fans but to capture a segment of the lucrative hip-hop audience, They're no longer setting the trends, as they were in the 1970s, but rather pandering to existing ones. There is a lot of music to digest here, but like an album such as "Stadium Arcadium" by Red Hot Chili Peppers, itself an overlong multi-disc set, it works for the iPod generation where playlists can be made instantly or an occasional random track played at will. By dropping some tracks and re-sequencing whats left, you can make your own perfect album.

Taken as a whole, it paints a messy picture of some of the worst aspects of modern pop while looking back to some past glories, all framed in a classic P-Funk context. It might break new ground for P-Funk, but next to recent releases by other artists, it doesn't sound all that groundbreaking at all.

As per usual, don't just take my word for it, take a listen yourself below. There is a strong language warning for most of the album, however. Headphones are recommended.

3 comments:

  1. What a cranky review. It's a lot more fun than your tedious whining.

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    Replies
    1. "Cranky" is a curious way of describing it. But, the record is what it is. Cranky be fun sometimes too.

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  2. I disagree with the negativity in this review. Roller Rink BANGS. This entire album BANGS. I love it completely. Just about every track. It might be the best album I've ever had.

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