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Free your mind and your ass will follow” has always been George Clinton’s foremost message to the world. But even while he campaigns to unlock your mind, it’s clear his real goal is to shake your tail feathers. Which is why Urban Dancefloor Guerillas may be his most perfect record: Not only is it filled with the wonderfully hilarious wordplay of Clinton and his team, it’s a whole LP of consistently great dance music.

Last year, Clinton had a huge hit, at least in the metropolises, with “Atomic Dog,” whose thundering bass notes barked “Woof! Woof!” Urban Dancefloor Guerillas, by Clinton’s P.Funk All-Stars, is more the follow-up to that infectious dance track than his new “solo” album, You Shouldn’t-Nuf Bit Fish. In fact, it’s the P.Funk record that contains “Copy Cat,” a reprise of the hit that moves from woof to meow: “Yakety yak, bring in the dog, let’s put out the cat.” The solo record is a fine album, too, but it’s no match for the unstoppable good spirits of the P.Funk LP.

You’d think that the album credited to Clinton alone would be more of an individual effort and the P.Funk record more a collaboration. But everything Clinton does is a group project, and the same players, composers and themes pop up on both of the new LPs, which could well have been released as a double-album. The lines are so tangled that when Clinton goes “nuclear fishin"” on You Shouldn’t-Nuf Bit Fish, he “catches a keeper” on Urban Dancefloor Guerillas.

The P.Funk lineage can be traced straight back to James Brown, whose funk is the bottom line of Clinton’s music. (In fact, P.Funk has long included players from Brown’s own early bands.) Another influence is Sly Stone, and when nothing much was happening for Clinton a few years ago, he joined forces with Stone. The two went into a Detroit studio in ’82, accompanied by musicians in the P.Funk axis (Clinton himself is a producer and vocalist, not a player), and came up with the ’83 LP Computer Games and a couple of terrific singles, which are included on Urban Dancefloor Guerillas.

But Sly is just one catalyst for Clinton’s genius. By now, the P.Funk All-Stars have some real stars, like guitarists Eddie Hazel and Michael Hampton, bassist Bootsy Collins and keyboardists Bernie Worrell and Junie Morrison, and they contributed as much as Sly did to the new albums.

Clinton teamed with Morrison on Urban Dancefloor Guerillas’ “One of Those Summers,” an incredibly lovely R&B ballad, to which Clinton adds his characteristic good humor. The song has a pretty, wistful melody and a nostalgic lyric: “Out of the window was one of those moons/On the radio playin’ was one of those tunes/I was in one of my moods/And it looks like it’s gonna be one of those summers again.” But one of what summers, what moons, what tunes? The oddball vagueness about the memories becomes funny; and while the melody wafts from Morrison’s synthesizer, Clinton has duck calls honking noisily in the background.

“Acupuncture,” too, matches wit for musical canniness. A saxophone solo weaves all over the road with a sort of dippy but catchy melody, as the singer seems to be ruminating about acupuncture, “the unpill”; but you realize it may also be a junkie’s lament: “Stick it where it feel good, stop the pain where it feel bad.” You have to admire Clinton just for the risks he takes; that it all works is really sort of thrilling.

The rest of the album is the most straightforward dance music Clinton’s ever made — free of those in-jokes that often forced you to wrestle with his songs. There’s “Generator Pop,” a bouncing bit of encouragement to “shake your big fat fanny”; “Pumpin’ It Up,” which floats sweet singing on top of a killer dance beat, until it all breaks into a stinging guitar solo by Eddie Hazel; and “Hydraulic Pump,” a Sly/George collaboration and the best track here. Relentlessly pumping — “You pump up and down, you pump up and down, then you break it down,” Sly Stone teases — and full of weird mechanical noises used offhandedly, “Hydraulic Pump” shows off just what Clinton does as a producer. Out of a toy box of voices and rhythm elements — the most interesting here, the sound of a stadium full of people clapping not quite in unison — he assembles a coherent, irresistible dance track.

You Shouldn’t-Nuf Bit Fish (“I jus’ like da rhythm of it,” a cartoon figure on the jacket says of the title) is less exuberant, but it, too, argues that Clinton’s at his peak. Relying on the same players, from Junie Morrison to Eddie Hazel to Bootsy, the album’s cuts are like little rock operas — tiny, funny musicals. “Last Dance,” for example, is set in a disco where Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” is playing in the background and “some kind of psychedelic wallflower” is trying to get up the nerve to ask a girl to dance, while those little Martian voices from “Murphy’s Law” taunt him. Bootsy Collins supplies the rock-steady bass, and Clinton just layers the whole silly story on top.

The best cut, “Quickie,” kicks off like a heavy-metal anthem, then tells on a girl who “likes to spread her love around….All she wanted was a quickie.” Clinton wags a disapproving finger at this casual sex, but the track just bubbles along on the back of Junie Morrison’s synthesizer.

You Shouldn’t-Nuf Bit Fish is a little more earnest than the P.Funk album, its lyrics more abstract, particularly the stream-of-consciousness title cut, Clinton’s antinuke song. George backs the rap (“The fish on his line is bigger in his mind than the reality of the reel he has to reel it in”) with a lot of noises, some ominous and some funny. When the singer intones, “When we take the bait, we have to carry the weight,” a maudlin chorus comes in with the Beatles line, “Carry that weight a long time.” Clinton, obviously, will borrow from anyone — in other songs here, he pokes fun at Grandmaster Flash and nods to Kool and the Gang — but that’s just his way of having fun, making somebody else’s big hit just a tiny piece of scenery on his own canvas.

Of course, to Clinton, the big picture is always just getting everybody to dance. Throw down! Pump it up! Register! Vote! Think! Go wiggle! Clinton’s got more encouragements than a football coach, and he’s just made two albums that may save the world from what he claims to dread most: the repetitious mind-numbing cowlike moosick.

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The album Urban Dancefloor Guerillas was reissued on CD by CBS records in 1989, and then by Westbound Records in 1995 under the title Hydraulic Funk (CDSEWD 097). Hydraulic Funk includes the original album plus the 12″ remix versions of “Generator Pop” and “Hydraulic Pump”.

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George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic collective isn’t always posed as a leading candidate for greatest or most important band of the ’70s, but try and imagine what music would sound like without them. You’d still have Stevie pushing forward R&B’s artistry, Kraftwerk doing their thing to turn synthesized pop into a mainstream notion, Donald Byrd finding innovative ways to modernize jazz, Led Zeppelin taking heavy metal to exospheric new heights, the O’Jays hitting the zenith of close-harmony soul, Pink Floyd fusing musical intricacy with concert theatrics, the Ramones injecting pop music with rebellious pulp-culture irreverence, James Brown and Sly Stone and the Ohio Players turning out a fine succession of funk-defining records … and yet you wouldn’t have that one core of musicians that could do all of that, and did so to stunning commercial success without compromising their sound, their look, or an essential perspective on post-civil rights America that still carries through today.

P-Funk were geniuses disguised as weirdos, sentimental populists under the guise of freaky outlanders, and it is damn near impossible to think of some strain of popular music or another that they have nothing to do with. George Clinton grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey, immersed in doo-wop when he wasn’t cutting hair, and by the late ’60s, he and his vocal group the Parliaments had followed that rhythm & blues lineage through Stax and Motown with a revelatory detour through Hendrix and Sly Stone. By the time Clinton had begun to internalize the impact of rock’s new counterculture — his time in the late ’60s was just as often spent in thrall to Cream and Jethro Tull as it was to Smokey and Diana — he was more upfront than anybody about his desires to shake down the “black group = soul/white group = rock” dichotomy. Soon enough, Funkadelic became just the band to crumble those barriers, recruiting Clinton’s Parliaments co-singers — Fuzzy Haskins, Calvin Simon, Ray Davis, and Grady Thomas — into a group that would eventually encompass one of the era’s most down-for-whatever ensemble casts. Throughout their peak, both Parliament and Funkadelic would feature a versatile show-band drummer who could play heavy or jazzy and all points in between (Tyrone Lampkin), a keyboard player with a thing for hi-tech experimentation who could sound like Mozart and Booker T. at the same time (Bernie Worrell), a succession of guitarists who took the precedent of Hendrix’s future-soul psychedelia into even further reaches (Eddie Hazel and Michael Hampton chief amongst them), and a bass player who started out stealing the show from James Brown and just got more spectacular from there (Bootsy Collins).

What Funkadelic and Parliament eventually accomplished in their initial 11-year prime was staggering: Imagine if a band that started as weirdo-niche as the Stooges somehow went on to become as big as Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, without having to compromise to go platinum and notch crossover radio hits. And almost as soon as they disbanded — a side effect of label woes and personnel frustration that only served to make Clinton’s vision even more modular — their effects started shaping the next three decades’ worth of music. Talking Heads, Uncle Jamm’s Army, Prince, Dr. Dre, Mike Watt, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dinosaur Jr., Fishbone, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Prince Paul, Snoop Dogg, OutKast, Missy Elliott, Meshell Ndegeocello, D’Angelo, Dam-Funk … those are just the artists who are the most obviously indebted to P-Funk in some way or another — stylistically, thematically, philosophically, or otherwise. And with Clinton still keeping the P-Funk spirit alive as a rapidly shifting ensemble cast of both original players and younger musicians who came of age looking up to them, it’s become nearly impossible to imagine even a contemporary pop music culture that would be unvisited by the Mothership.

Just as a forewarning, this list doesn’t cover every single album featuring a significant portion of Parliament, Funkadelic, or some mixture thereof. (If it did, we’d be here all week.) Individual members’ solo albums like the Bootsy’s Rubber Band LPs or Hazel’s Game, Dames, And Guitar Thangs are excluded, and that covers solo George Clinton records, too — though exceptions are made for the scattered post-’81 releases that are actually credited to Parliament-Funkadelic or the P-Funk All Stars, whether or not they follow the word “and…” There are no compilations or works featuring the band from multiple years (cf. the archival odds-and-ends Funkadelic collection Toys). And with as many P-Funk concerts as there are floating around out there in bootleg, semi-bootleg, or micro-indie form, we’ve had to limit their live releases to three — though they should provide a strong cross-reference of what made them such a spectacular live act in their various incarnations. With that said, let’s get started — there might be a roof over your head that hasn’t been torn off yet, and that should probably be addressed.

The general feeling among fans who bootlegged the bejesus out By Way Of The Drum was that MCA shelved the album in 1989 because the label didn"t get what they expected. And with the masters found a couple decades later, when the legacy of P-Funk felt far deeper than any late-"80s comeback attempt would hint at, you could say most fans who"d only heard rumor of it didn"t get what they expected, either -- at least not unless they expected an overproduced, laminated funk record that sonically lagged six steps behind Prince. The band"s vitally raw freakiness is tamped down by edge-dulling gloss; even the logo on the title track"s original "89 12" release omits the skull over the "i" in "Funkadelic".

This vault exhumation is technically more of a legit Funkadelic record than the infamous 1981 FINO hijack job Connections & Disconnections, thanks to the actual presence of George Clinton and a few P-Funk vets like Garry Shider and Dewayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight in the ranks. But with no sign of either Bootsy or Bernie, it"s still something of a ringer, especially in the moments Shider"s guitar isn"t wailing; the rest of the time it sounds like a bunch of hired hands concocting some okay-I-guess boogie funk driven by the kind of drum machines people like to invoke when they claim drum machines have no soul. A go-go take on Cream"s "Sunshine Of Your Love" is one of those unprecedented moments they stoop to the nostalgia-cover game, "Freaks Bearing Gifts" fails to dredge some party vibes from warnings of child-kidnapper come-ons ("little girl, do you want some candy/little boy, do you want to go for a ride"), the opening lines to "Yadadada" lifts the "Ricky Ricky Ricky, can"t you see" hook from Slick Rick"s "Mona Lisa" and turns it into an annoying, nasal ode to fancy liquor, and "Some Fresh Delic" is merely a string of uninspired chants and noodly shredding over an unchanging go-go beat. Weirdest of all is the title cut, which would make for a decent electro/New Jack Swing hybrid under a lesser group"s banner but sounds significantly further away of any right-minded notion of what a turn-of-the-"90s Funkadelic would sound like. Thank god Digital Underground were around to fill that duty for a while.

The title of this double-disc set comes from the fact that this was the first album Clinton put out in nine years, largely owing to his difficulty at the time in trying to balance making music and schlepping through court dates trying to reclaim ownership of his recordings. So, hey, absence and the heart"s fondness capacity and all that, right? Yet there"s a lot of slapdash stuff here, an accumulation of work he"d recorded since 1996 but felt unmotivated to release due to his frustration with the record industry. There"s no real theme, not much of a consistent aesthetic throughline, and not a lot worth nominating as career highlights -- it"s a two-CD snapshot of nearly ten years spent in limbo, careening from gangsta rap crossover to noodly hard rock and hard-to-grasp points in between. Even the promise of Clinton and the All-Stars collaborating with Prince (the bouncy if chilly "Paradigm," which plays like a Musicology outtake) and Bobby Womack (the processed bar-band rock of "Whole Lotta Shakin"") falls a bit short, and the wafer-thin lyrics actually somehow find the breaking point for how long the average person can tolerate Clinton singing about butts. One song, "I Can Dance," is basically a stripper"s comedic monologue over a loop of well-worn sample source "Nappy Dugout" -- and it goes on for more than 15 minutes.

Still, there"s enough decent material to glean an hour"s worth of not-that-bad from two-and-a-half"s worth of eh-whatever, and a lot of it comes from the women in the All-Stars" ranks. Singer Belita Woods, a Detroit-area veteran of "60s soul and "70s disco, joined up with Clinton around "89 and became a regular in the ranks; her sharp yet soaring voice elevates the watery production of ballad "Saddest Day" and pop-R&B cut "Don"t Dance Too Close" into something sneakily resonant. And Kendra Foster, who became an integral piece of the collective in the early "00s before going on to co-write much of D"Angelo"s Black Messiah, brings a welcome dose of that Brides of Funkenstein spirit -- g-funk torchy one moment ("Bounce 2 This"), sweetly sultry the next ("U Can Depend On Me"). Even if Clinton wasn"t at his best here, he at least made an effort to ensure some of his most unsung collaborators were.

There"s something remarkably deceptive about this record, which came out literally one year to the day after the fantastic Motor Booty Affair and, at least on the surface, has some of the promise of that simultaneously provocative and silly masterpiece, right down to its giddy Overton Loyd artwork. But there are a combined 19 minutes and change on this record that flash some deeper problems in vivid neon. The first is "Party People," an uptempo borderline-Hi-NRG cut with a pace/energy imbalance that makes it feel like the band"s obligated to rush through an empty-meaning "all about having fun" autopilot mission. Then they forget to stop -- it goes on for more than ten minutes, churning away like an example of what Funkadelic meant that same year when they invoked "that one-move groovalistic/ that disco-sadistic" on "Freak Of The Week." "The Freeze (Sizzleanmean)" is the other drag, a midtempo slog that squanders an excellent Maceo sax performance on maybe their most underwritten song ever ("Can we get you hot?/ Can we make your temperatures rise?" Now repeat 100x.) As clear a Beginning Of The End moment as you can find in the circa-"79 tangle of events that eventually led to P-Funk"s dissolution, Gloryhallastoopid still has just enough power to move butts -- even if the two most propulsive cuts, "The Big Bang Theory" and "Theme From The Black Hole," could be picked up on the same 12" single. But when Clinton wails "Nothing has changed/ Even the bang remains the same" at the beginning of "Colour Me Funky," it"s a case of tell-don"t-show that doesn"t have the proof to back it up.

P-Funk in coasting mode could still crank out a couple gems here and there, even with the threat of a dozen-ish side projects cutting into their full artistic potential and threatening to stretch Clinton"s empire thin. Things were on well on their way to snapping in the early years of the "80s, but while the last Parliament LP is merely under-inspired rather than an embarrassing burnout, it"s also pretty hard to love. Hopping on a groove and riding it out for a while isn"t the worst idea in the world when the core of said groove is notoriously strong, but this is one record that"s severely Worrell-deficient, and the ensemble-cast arrangements shake the foundations into question -- "Humpty Dance" sample source "Let"s Play House" aside, side 2 sounds like Parliament Lite compared to the more cohesive and characteristic set in the first four cuts. And that waters down an already lyrically flimsy vibe. The concept on the record hints at jokes surrounding P-Funk mythos antagonist reformed anti-dance zealot Sir Nose, his newly discovered ability to pick things up with his titular trunk (complete with some groaner coke-snorting nod-and-wink references), and his plan to use his newfound knowledge to attempt out-funking Star Child himself. But the idea evaporates like so much sneezed-away marching powder after track two, after which we"re left with a mish-mash of generic dance-move paeans, half-baked puns, and non-sequitur cliches (ad-slogan-derived and otherwise). Only "Agony Of Defeet" and its ten-toed wordplay funks like they did just a couple years prior; it"s just as well the Parliament name wound up semi-retired after this one.

The "90s would be a tumultuous and crazy decade for Clinton: He would be canonized as a forefather of hip-hop, given the Otis Day & the Knights role in frat-laffs flick PCU, and invited to collaborate with everyone from Ice Cube to OutKast. But he was still struggling to get his due royalties from managers and working his way through a crack habit that somehow never stopped him from being productive. All this, and he was using his famously open-minded musical sense to engage with sounds that didn"t always fit preconceptions of what P-Funk was -- which led to contemporary R&B production tricks, further use of drum machines and synth-horns, and sampling which often did their self-referencing tendencies one better by actually looping pieces of their old work. Dope Dogs is what happens when all those new ideas are coursing through the minds of Clinton and his crew, but haven"t entirely solidified into something strong just yet. Not even after multiple attempts at it.

Initially released in Japan, this bewildering record wound up with three different configurations on three different continents; it"s generally agreed that the UK and American versions are better than the Japanese one, but there"s not enough difference between the three to really mess with the rankings here. The important thing is that in any configuration, it"s the most dedicated conceptual record of P-Funk"s post-"81 stretch. In short, it starts with the premise of drug-sniffing dogs that become addicted to the product they"re trained to search for, and gets even heavier on the canine metaphors from there on out. That Clinton finds a lot of ways to apply his Big Book Of Dog Puns to an itinerary that covers government conspiracy (New Jack Swing-turned-batterram "U.S. Custom Coast Guard Dope Dog"), psychological manipulation (the Pavlovian club anthem "Just Say Ding (Databoy)"), and the cosmic origins of existence (the Blackbyrd shredathon "Dog Star" (Fly On)") is inspiring, even if there"s at least a few too many butt-sniffing metaphors.

That the jokes get a little redundant after a while is only part of the problem; it"s the budget-minded production flourishes that muddle things up. "Back Up Against The Wall," "Sick "Em," and "I Ain"t The Lady (He Ain"t The Tramp)" mix off-the-charts virtuosity with the kind of budget-Bomb Squad breaks and turn-of-the-"90s synths that make otherwise heavy-bouncing cuts sound a little too cheap, and the whole album suffers from the price of recording in a period where analog warmth was considered less important than digital efficiency. Look past that, and dive deep into the sometimes-wandering but frequently freaky lyrics -- including some close-falling-apple hip-hop verses from Clinton"s son Tracey "Trey Lewd" Lewis -- and it"ll feel a bit more forgivable.

Urban Dancefloor Guerillas, the first album credited to an entity called the P-Funk All Stars, was Clinton"s first major attempt to consolidate members of the assorted Parliament and Funkadelic entities into one headliner band (and circumvent name-rights issues in the process). This album gave them their first proper top-billing credit after 1982"s Computer Games, featuring most of the same personnel, was credited as a George Clinton solo album. If a circa "89 Funkadelic couldn"t get the hang of synthpop-infused electro-boogie and go-go rhythms, it"s not because they hadn"t tried -- Urban Dancefloor Guerillas, or at least its second side, was plenty proof they could pull it off. "Pumpin" It Up" and "Hydraulic Pump" are two distinct takes on where their sound fit in the "80s, with a squirrelly synth-bass provided by David Spradley in a fine pinch-hitting appearance for Bernie Worrell (presumably busy at the time with Talking Heads, who"d fit well on a less-segregated circa-"83 airwaves alongside these jams). "Hydraulic Pump" in particular is one of the Mothership"s best cuts of the "80s, a wall of machine-shop boogie funk that sets a thousand piston-churning hands clapping and is one of the decade"s few moments to catch Sly Stone still on his game. (If it sounds vaguely familiar to new listeners, that"s because it was later loosely interpolated by one of the Coup"s funkiest jams, "5 Million Ways To Kill A CEO.") And "Copy Cat" is more or less a self-answer to the canine counterpart "Atomic Dog," complete with ceaseless puns and harmonized meows in the service of calling out biters.

But something doesn"t quite click on the first side, and even with the talent involved -- scattered in all kinds of configurations throughout the record -- it sounds like they"re trying to work their way through other mutations of earlier ideas that don"t stick as well as the party jams on the flipside. "Generator Pop" and "Catch A Keeper" are decent if shaky melanges of "78 vibes that tailgate off some of their most transcendent moments; they respectively sound like a subtly reworked "One Nation Under A Groove" and an outtake that wasn"t wild enough for the undersea-themed Motor-Booty Affair. And while having DeWayne "Blackbyrd" McKnight handle all the instruments on "Acupuncture" but one is a slick feat, the instrument he doesn"t play -- a drippy lite-jazz sax seeped out by Norman Jean Bell -- sounds like it was airlifted in from a dentist"s office. Still, having one kinda-bad song isn"t this album"s failing: it"s that this record just isn"t outrageous enough. Aside from the Junie Morrison-driven duck-call/Moog-chirp R&B ballad "One Of Those Summers" and the sequel-itis-stricken "Copy Cat," there"s a noticeable shortage of the straight-up weirdness and conceptual depth P-Funk had made as much a part of their DNA as the instrumental virtuosity, hi-tech forward-thinking, and heavy commitment to the groove. Three out of four"s usually fine, but it"s a slump for a crew that spent the previous decade batting 1.000.

Not George Clinton, not the P-Funk All-Stars, not even Parliament-Funkadelic -- this is an actual Funkadelic record, something that nobody"d seen since 1981. Call it semantics if you want -- with the core members who"ve passed since The Electric Spanking Of War Babies (Garry Shider, Tiki Fulwood, Eddie Hazel, Glen Goins, and Cordell "Boogie" Mosson, to name a few), skeptics might consider this an All-Stars kind of effort anyhow, even considering the number of performances brought out from the vaults and stitched posthumously into the tracks. But as the most overstuffed and stylistically experimental thing to come out of the P-Funk camp possibly ever, pinning it down to any one idea of what"s previously been offered under the Funkadelic name is beside the point. It"s not out of the question to expect an uneven effort from a three-plus-hour triple album with thirty-three tracks (one for each year Funkadelic was in storage). And maybe it"s hard to cut through all that to separate the fine from the mediocre; there"s not much further on either end of the scale, whether it"s outright stinkers or mind-boggling brilliance. But it does successfully put forth the idea of a version of P-Funk that incorporates a lot of familiar trademarks -- beautifully dazed close harmonies, deathless roller-boogie bounce, a philosophical notion of funk that permeates everything, no matter how far away it strays from "One Nation Under A Groove" -- while remaining wide open to brand new ideas.

And no doubt, a lot of these new ideas are weird, which is just about right for a band that"s made weirdness one of their load-bearing structures. Clinton"s vision of Afro-futurism has always demanded taking in new styles and ideas, and he"s stated more than once that "whenever I hear people -- like older musicians -- saying about something new, "That ain"t music," I rush and find that music." So you get his weathered, gravelly voice filtered through Auto-Tune on multiple tracks, there are excursions into trap beats ("Get Low") and groove metal ("Dirty Queen", featuring his grandson Trafael Lewis"s band God"s Weapon), and the plentiful moments that feel like archetypal funk are deliriously warped into 21st century forms. A few cuts could be slipped into a playlist alongside current-gen heirs from Janelle Monae to Thundercat to Dam-Funk and sound like their contemporaries instead of their forebears -- soul-jazz fusion flight "Fucked Up," the floaty house-adjacent boogie slide "In Da Kar," the Organized Noise/Future-ist vamp "The Wall," and the Michael Hampton-laced g-funk ballad "Where Would I Go?" prove as much. The old-school cohorts from back in the day (including a game Sly Stone) generally pull cameo duty, while the prominence of 808 beats and guest MCs foreground the here-and-now focus. And if that sounds like an admission that it"d be impossible to perfectly recapture the spirit of Cosmic Slop, it"s just as well, since what they stir up here is its own kind of immersively sprawling 2010s kind of thing. Underrated upon release and overshadowed by the concurrent release of his essential autobiography Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain"t That Funkin" Kinda Hard On You?: A Memoir, this record"s a valiant, usually successful effort at proving that a man who was one of the sharpest creative minds of the "70s could still flourish in his 70s.

The irony about this album being Clinton"s last before his extended hiatus is that it"s a record rooted in his idea of legacy. That unwieldy acronym stands for "The Awesome Power Of A Fully Operational Mothership," and it comes from the fact that it"s the first record to feature most of the original P-Funk core since the crew drifted apart in the early "80s. It wasn"t cheap -- it reportedly took $40 grand apiece to bring Bootsy and Bernie back into the fold -- and their role on the record is brief at best, their warbling, burbling presence floating through gelatin on the woozy "Sloppy Seconds." Not that it matters much; T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M. really feels like more of a synthesis of (and response to) what P-Funk had become after the likes of Dr. Dre and DJ Quik got ahold of it, a recursive answer to their own phantom presence in other peoples" work.

Of course that presence was all over g-funk, and P-Funk"s repayment slides into that mode with comfortable familiarity -- they"re not quite impersonating themselves, but they do feel refracted through the knowledge of what they represented in the "90s and subsequently play up their most hip-hop friendly traits. "Summer Swim," "Hard As Steel," "Funky Kind (Gonna Knock It Down)," and "Rock The Party" all lean on the meandering Minimoogs and handclap-garnished, woofer-throbbing low-end rhythms that begged to be sampled (but, somehow, never really were). But Clinton"s willingness to collaborate with hip-hop artists gives us another angle: the lead cut and first single "If Anybody Gets Funked Up (It"s Gonna Be You)," co-produced by East Coast legend Erick Sermon and featuring featuring Flint, Michigan"s MC Breed, both of whom had their own acknowledged debts to the P-Funk. The bounce doesn"t rise far above waist level, and the most transcendent moments are its slower ones -- like the gorgeous "New Spaceship," featuring guest vocals from none other than Uncle Charlie Wilson -- but this album"s possibilities of a reinvigorated, contemporary-minded elder statesman George Clinton engaging fully with the two-way integration of hip-hop into his music only made his subsequent absence that much more frustrating.

Clinton admitted in his autobiography that the final Funkadelic album for 33 years "wasn"t exactly what I wanted." His coke-addled misadventures with musical collaborator Sly Stone, his struggles with getting his own ill-fated Uncle Jam Records label off the ground, and his squabbles with ship-jumping bandmates turned what could"ve been a fantastic concept record into an underfocused wind-down. Considering how massive his solo cut "Atomic Dog" was the following year, and given the overall strength of Computer Games as an album, Clinton clearly wasn"t out of ideas and hadn"t lost his commercial appeal. But there"s a reason that album was billed as a solo joint: the P-Funk empire was falling apart, and keeping it all together was more of a strain on the once-strong entity than it could withstand. It didn"t help that Warner Bros. lost their faith in the band -- they short-sold the LP (less than 100,000 copies were pressed) and made the unprecedented move of censoring Pedro Bell"s suggestive cartoon sleeve.

That"s tragic, given how right-place-right-time The Electric Spanking Of War Babies should"ve been -- a flirtation with New Wave that nailed every "80s corporate-government, mass-media manipulation shock doctrine fear while the decade was still in its Reagan-deregulated infancy. And it"s still strong enough to make a decent endcap to a stretch of decade-spanning wire-to-wire career greatness. First there"s the title track, an examination of the still-popular charges of Baby Boomer sellout syndrome, where a two-man operation (Hampton on guitar, Junie on everything else) bring up the formative experiences of nuclear fear, Vietnam, genetic science, and the Moon landing as media-mediated programming to mess up young minds."Oh, I," despite being originally slated for Parliament"s Trombipulation, fits the vibe well, too; Shider-wailed lyrics about escaping into memories of a lost love over a staggering blend of cocktail-jazz sax/piano and from-the-gut Hampton guitar give the album its wistful heart. The two-part "Funk Gets Stronger" stays defiant in the face of encroaching cultural defunkification, loping Mudd Club twitchiness giving Sly his most enigmatically compelling vocal performance since There"s A Riot Goin" On. Even the musically off moments have merit; hearing Funkadelic do extended pan-Carribean drum solos ("Brettino"s Bounce") and Blondie-adjacent reggae ("Shockwaves") feels out of character, but the communication to other reaches of the diaspora ("the third world is on the one... sending out shockwaves throughout the world") is worth the effort. And maybe the smutty satire "Icka Prick" is a bizarre note to go out on, but tweaking prudes years before the PMRC were a glint in Tipper Gore"s jaundiced eye is as good a legacy-cementer as anything.

There"s a reason this transitional Westbound contract-obligation release is generally considered an afterthought by fans, even with "Undisco Kidd" becoming a part of their set list during their legendary "76 and "77 tours. With material recorded concurrently alongside Hardcore Jollies (which is several clicks further along on this list), but not actually saved for their Warner Bros. debut, Tales Of Kidd Funkadelic is a misnomer in both album and song title. Guitarist Michael "Kidd Funkadelic" Hampton had his big coming-out moment with the astounding Let"s Take It To The Stage, as definitive an introduction as any newly-christened band member could hope for, while his instrumentation is relatively backgrounded compared to Bernie Worrell"s synthesizer. (That goes double for the wandering, thirteen-minute title track, which is the closest P-Funk"s come to the more indulgent Rick Wakeman-y side of prog.) In fact, the whole record feels weirdly enervated -- when you run across a song like the anthemic "Take Your Dead Ass Home! (Say Som"n Nasty)" or the truncated mini-jam "Let"s Take It To The People" and the immediate impulse is to think, "Man, I bet this sounds amazing live," it"s easy to fixate on how first-draft and b-side most of this record is. A little more polish, a little more oomph, and a little more getting in the ears of WB higher-ups, and this could"ve made a fine second LP in a Hardcore Jollies double-album set. As it is, it"s leftovers served lukewarm.

The first album to be released under the P-Funk aegis was a drastic break from the late-"60s singles that the Parliaments released on labels like Revilot and Atco, and the title signified as much: Osmium is the densest element on the periodic table, a transition metal found in platinum ore named after the Greek root word for "smell." Considering how much of a transition their early-"70s stank-riddled, heavy metal sound represented -- the platinum would come later -- it"s difficult to think of a more apropos title for the LP that would introduce the world to Parliament as we know it. Or at least somewhat know it: the last album released as Parliament until 1974"s Up For The Down Stroke thanks to a label dispute with Revilot, Osmium feels like a short-term hitch in George Clinton"s vision of a complementary two-band dichotomy. In other words, it"s a lot more similar to a circa-"70 Funkadelic record than tandem Parliament/Funkadelic LPs would be in, say, 1975; the main distinction is that it"s willfully, absurdly eclectic to the point where it"s clear they"re still getting their identity together.

You know that twangy yodel from De La"s "Potholes In My Lawn"? That"s from "Little Ole Country Boy," which features an honest-to-god steel guitar and a full-tilt wailing lament of a monologue from Fuzzy Haskins freaking out about being busted as a peeping tom after trying to find out if his girlfriend was cheating on him. "My Automobile" pulls Clinton and Haskins" doo-wop origins by the collar right into the thick of a down-home, uptempo rockabilly-blues shuffle (with a little bit of what sounds like a sitar for twangy flavor). And cuts like the booze-brewing, family-supporting bootlegger tale/"Cosmic Slop" quasi-prequel "Moonshine Heather" and dirty-drawers goof "Funky Woman" ("she hung them in the air/the air said "this ain"t fair"/ she hung them in the sun/the sun began to run") are in keeping with the kind of oddball heaviness Funkadelic were concurrently cranking out. There"s still room for headier concerns -- the gospel lament of "Oh Lord, Why Lord/Prayer" is easily their most reverent and straightforward cry against racial injustice, and there"s an unbeatable series of koans running through "Nothing Before Me But Thang" ("There"s good, there"s bad/ But a thang is a thang/ And there is nothing before you but thang"). And if there"s more weight than usual in the closing one-two of spiritual-minded sincerity -- the Jesus-invoking environmentalism of "Livin" The Life" and the afterlife reflections of "The Silent Boatman" (the only P-Funk cut to feature bagpipes!) -- they"re strong early indicators that Clinton and company had more to them than just party jams and psychedelic freakouts. (Later CD pressings, including the retitled First Thangs, tack on outtakes, rarities, and a few expanded versions of "71-"72 Invictus singles like "Breakdown" and "Red Hot Mama," that adds some excellent music but dilutes the original album"s character a bit.)

After three consecutive knockouts, it"s easy to think of Funkadelic"s fourth album as a bit of a mess in all kinds of ways. Its double-LP breadth is weighed down by a transitional and exploratory sound that wouldn"t fully gel until Cosmic Slop. And a liner-notes association with the Process Church Of The Final Judgement had queasy critics chiding them for potential Manson and occult connections, inferences that wound up getting read into what were actually more acute social-justice-oriented lyrics. But this really is a defiantly rebellious record in a lot of ways, from its literal cannibal-Liberty/funky dollar bill album art to the message in the music itself. The seventeen minutes of Album One Side One are enough to leave a lasting impression, even through the lighter moments to follow: "You Hit The Nail On The Head" shouts down complacent power-mongers under Bernie"s most fiery keyboards to date ("Just because you win the fight don"t make you right/ Just because you give don"t make you good"), "If You Don"t Like The Effects, Don"t Produce The Cause" chides a fair-weather underground stuck in a protestor-as-consumer mode ("You say you don"t like what you"re country"s about/ Ain"t you deep, in your semi-first class seat"), and "Everybody Is Going To Make It This Time" plays out like the recouping effort of a revolution that fell to a circular firing squad ("There"s not a doubt in my mind/ If hunger and anger place the blame/ There won"t be a country left to change").

From there, things flit around both thematically stylistically -- "Philmore" and its Creedence-via-James Brown energy (brought by Bootsy and Catfish Collins, fresh from the JB"s themselves), a woozy-carnival update of "66 Parliaments swooner "That Was My Girl," string-stung demi-spiritual "A Joyful Process" -- but each song points to an intriguing direction rarely, if ever, taken by the band from "73 onwards. The best moments may be the most familiar ones, whether it"s a serrated acid-rock soul ballad where Black Sabbath bleeds into Sunday service nodding to previous maggot-brained heaviness ("Miss Lucifer"s Love"), or the rubbery pre-shocks of Bootsy-bounce future (the deceptively sunny-sounding junkie-punchline rawness of "Loose Booty"). Paring this down to a powerful single LP"s worth might not be that difficult, but aside from the weepy-woo sentimentalism of masculine-sadness anthem "We Hurt Too," it"s harder to figure out exactly what to discard.

Dropped somewhere in between Disco Demolition Night and the beginning of the Iran Hostage Crisis, Uncle Jam Wants You parks Clinton in Huey Newton"s chair, flanked by a flashlight and a bop gun, ready to do his part in recruiting an Army for the nation he aimed to put under his groove despite every sign of resistance cresting over the horizon. Some self-styled recruits, the Los Angeles collective known as Uncle Jamm"s Army, would soon heed that call and start building the West Coast electro and hip-hop sound -- which, along with the decade-later incorporation of giddy dance marathon "(Not Just) Knee Deep" into De La Soul"s "Me Myself & I," helped ensure this album"s historical impact on both coasts would last a lot longer than most malaise-era listeners could"ve even dreamed. Let"s hear it for not-so-small victories.

But impact on history"s one thing; impact on the ears (and the feet) is another matter. And no matter how deep its core is, the truth of the matter is that Uncle Jam Wants You is an exceptional three-song album not-so-heavily concealed in an uneven six-cut LP. That seems like a bad ratio without factoring in timing: Why not cut some slack to a record with ten kinda-frothy, inessential minutes when the remaining 31 are some of the most diabolical grooves put down at the sunset of the "70s? "(Not Just) Knee Deep" you either know or damn well should know, a monolith of Junie Morrison synth-pulse power rendered even more transcendent with one of the greatest vocal-group ensemble performances in P-Funk history. (Give a good amount of credit to Philippe Wynne, the ex-Spinner making his first appearance in a sadly cut-short career of P-Funk membership.) Leading into that, you"ve got "Freak Of The Week," P-Funk"s highest-profile answer to disco"s domination of the circa-"79 dancefloor; its midtempo dip-stride strut isn"t so much a damnation of the genre on the whole as a condemnation of the materialistic conformity overtaking it, with "(Not Just) Knee Deep" rescuing it from the blahs. And then the wigged-out "Uncle Jam" takes the funk to boot camp, with Clinton and Wynne chiming in as "thrill sergeants" ("disturbing the peace at the bridge of the river quiet!") egging on the trenches with hot-footed marching orders. Shrug if you want through the short instrumental "Field Maneuvers," the drastically out-of-place solo-piano ballad "Holly Wants To Go To California," and the dippy little reprise "Foot Soldiers (Star Spangled Funky)" -- you"ve already heard them at their peak.

"Y"all got to kinda bear with us," apologizes Clinton at the onset of a loping intro to "I"ll Bet You." "We got a new drummer here tonight... Tyrone. We gonna get it together anyhow, and go pee on your afro." This show should have been a complete disaster, and almost was. One of the only non-bootleg recordings of the original early "70s Westbound-era P-Funk -- there are a couple other scraps on Live: "The Funkadelic Collection" Greatest Hits 1972-1993 -- it happens to catch P-Funk with their pants down, and not the usual pants-down business that Clinton liked to get up to in concert when he was feeling streaky. Westbound owner and future sample-troll Armen Boladian figured he"d picked a good night to record the band for a potential future live LP release, overlooking the somewhat pertinent fact that drummer Tiki Fulwood and rhythm guitarist Tawl Ross jumped ship days before the concert and their replacements were in the process of being integrated into their new band. Stax sideman and guitarist Harold Beane, who"d stay with Funkadelic just long enough to contribute to America Eats Its Young before leaving, did all right. But Tyrone Lampkin, who"d stick around with P-Funk all the way through The Electric Spanking Of War Babies, had a problem. Fulwood was a strict on-the-one rhythm machine of a drummer, frequently powerful and prone to some heavy flourishes but otherwise rode right inside the pocket. Lampkin was an Apollo house band showman known for his jazz and big band "showtime" style. This conflict might have been possible to circumvent if these two new members had a chance to rehearse for the show. They hadn"t.

And yet somehow, they pulled it all together -- not enough to overcome Boladian"s after-the-fact assessment that the recording wasn"t "commercial" enough, and not enough to convince Eddie Hazel and a particularly frustrated Billy Bass Nelson to stick around for the recording of Cosmic Slop (though Eddie"d return with a vengeance on Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On). But for a band that was maintaining a rep for out-of-control freakiness, the push-and-pull between Lampkin"s drumming and Nelson"s bass isn"t enough to torpedo a hell of a set, one that captures a transitory mutation of Funkadelic in a particularly rare configuration. "Alice In My Fantasies" makes for a thundering opener, Hazel revealing new twists and heights in a six-minute jam that had previously only been available in its 2 ½-minute Standing on the Verge studio version. And even if the backbeat on concert staple/cosmic out-of-body experience "Maggot Brain" is a little more upfront and flashy than usual, Lampkin"s measured intensity is a surer sign of things to come than the wild-hair-up-the-ass overplaying that temporarily derails "I Call My Baby Pussycat" completely. Things eventually start to gel the further the set goes on, with more opportunity to give the rest of the band -- and the singers in particular in the intricately harmonizing "All Your Goodies Are Gone (The Loser"s Seat)" -- some much-needed breathing room. By Cosmic Slop, Lampkin had gone from sticking out to standing out, and getting to hear him make his first steps towards becoming one of the great rhythmic backbones of a peerless rhythmic band makes this concert oddity a priceless document.

After a few seconds of heavily reverbed lipsmacking slurps, the voice spills out in wild panning stereo: "If you will suck my soul, I will lick your funky emotions." Starting a new and definitive phase of a career with a declaration of pornographic metaphysics is how "50s doo-wop singer and "60s Motown aspirant George Clinton launched an empire of funk, and there"s no mistaking his band"s debut for anything other than the first salvo in an already characteristic assault on tired morals and square-assedness in general. Even if Funkadelic hadn"t fully established who Funkadelic were -- Bootsy and Bernie hadn"t made their mark yet, and many of the songs feature Motown session players (including uncredited appearances from Funk Brothers alumni Dennis Coffey, Bob Babbitt, and bandleader Earl Van Dyke) -- just what they were is clear from the get-go. "By the way, my name is Funk," intones Clinton in that opening cut, elliptically answering the titular question "Mommy, What"s A Funkadelic?", adding on the well-that-explains-it statement "I am not of your world." Even while rattling off come-ons while floating along to a riff that doses "Whole Lotta Love" with some Real Good Shit, the wordplay-laden digressions and trickster sloganeering reveal a wise (and wise-ass) depth that one-upped every ad sales pitch on TV ("Let me play with your emotions/ For nothing is good unless you play with it"). By the time you"re faced with "What Is Soul?", the other question bookending this album, answers like "a hamhock in your Corn Flakes" and "a joint rolled in toilet paper" make all the sense in the world.

Between those two queries lie two of P-Funk"s earliest triumphs. "I Bet You" was a foot in the door, lent to the Jackson 5 that same year as an ABC album cut as an offering to Motown"s post-Cloud Nine psychedelic dabblings but pushed here to its canyon-deep, in-the-red limits through six minutes of fevered intensity that established the colossal neck-snap thump of drummer Tiki Fulwood and slyly hinted at the future virtuoso depths of Eddie Hazel. The other watershed moment, the Fuzzy Haskins-penned "I Got A Thing, You Got A Thing, Everybody"s Got A Thing," is like watching a volcano erupt: a burbling glow of harmonic soul calling for solidarity despite social differences crests into a thousand-degree explosion of Fulwood-propelled funk power. Add on some powerful connections to the old blues roots -- "Music For My Mother," "Good Old Music," and "Qualify & Satisfy" slot neatly somewhere between Wilson Pickett and Cream -- and it epitomizes the notion of the all-killer-no-filler LP for the R&B world. Psychedelic soul had been done before, but never so heavily, so wildly, or so deeply in tune with a future few were so committed to both seeing and creating. Even at this early stage, Funkadelic perfectly split the difference between Jimi Hendrix and Sly & The Family Stone in a year where both artists were lost to tragic death and studio solitude respectively. They didn"t just fill that gap, they carved their own niche. And it"d only grow wider from there.

Behold: the rare example of a band leaving a regional indie for a massive corporate record label and somehow not missing a step. Well, not a big step, anyways -- precursor Let"s Take It To The Stage is a damn sight wilder, and the first Funkadelic LP on Warner Bros., Hardcore Jollies, is light on both politics and raunch. Don"t go in looking for a conceptual hook, a surplus of scandalous slogans, or a great leap sideways into a new and revolutionary way of twisting your head around -- it"s just a pretty good funk album with most of the core "73-"75 personnel. But considering what Funkadelic wound turn into nearly two years later, it"s good to think of this last blast of original-flavor style as a high note. Even if it is fairly slick.

But there"s grime beneath the gloss, and if songs like "Comin" Round The Mountain" and "Smokey" get a little Sloofus with it, the heart of the album (or the butt, if you will) has a spring-loaded motion. With the de-emphasis on heavy lyrics -- "You Scared The Lovin" Outta Me" and its "eat this for me" innuendo are as out-there as it gets -- the real draw of Hardcore Jollies is in the musical technique. Sometimes that means in a vocal sense, like when the repetitive chants of "Comin" Round The Mountain" gradually and wonderfully spill out into freewheeling vamps. But this one"s really for the guitar fiends -- the record is dedicated, simply enough, to "the guitar players of the world" -- with Michael Hampton in charge of what the credits refer to as "Superhyperbolic Definite Guitar Spastics." That"s one way of putting it -- and probably the best way, really; getting a live redux of the then-still-recent "Cosmic Slop," filler in any other context, is gloriously justified by its elaborately Hampton-ized guitar-shred turbocharging. The keening Hampton-Worrell guitar-synth duel on "Adolescent Funk" is all the message its wordless structure needs, and the title track instrumental is Exhibit A for justifying all the weedly-weedly-wow noodling you want just so long as you channel real euphoria through it and there"s a heavy motor of a beat to back it up (take a bow, Bigfoot Brailey). And to think the kids went for Ace Frehley instead.

While Funkadelic were getting used to being in the Warner Bros. ranks, Parliament had found their association with Casablanca Records to be a gigantic windfall: all that KISS and Donna Summer money was enough to give them the freedom to do their own super-elaborate concert set-up, inspired in part by their face-painted labelmates and stadium-filling peers like Pink Floyd. What this meant, naturally, was a philosophy that if people were going to pay big bucks for a concert, they deserved more than a concert. The Casablanca higher-ups were fine with this, what with Clinton being more of an inspiration-filled, image-savvy idea man than just about anyone in the label"s marketing department. So they gave him a spaceship.

The Mothership became inseparable from the image of P-Funk, even if the original article wound up lost and/or sold for scrap. But its centerpiece presence in P-Funk shows -- Clinton emerging from its massive structure through walls of dry ice as Dr. Funkenstein -- doesn"t really translate in audio form. Neither do the interstitial animated cartoons, the costumes, the shiny plush limousine, or the dozens-strong crowd of musicians and singers flooding the stage. So to call Parliament"s "77 live album Live (P.Funk Earth Tour) an incomplete experience is kind of a truism. Of course the legendary Earth Tour is even better seen than heard, which is thankfully a possibility if you can get ahold of the DVD, George Clinton: The Mothership Connection, that features a videotaped performance of an early tour stop in Houston on Halloween 1976. But that"s not what makes this live release feel a little out of joint.

The thing is that the Earth Tour was a Parliament-Funkadelic tour, which means putting it out as an album meant Casablanca had to stick solely to the Parliament bits. This set, pieced together from two January "77 stops in Los Angeles and Oakland, does a decent job of it, at least. That owes to a quartet of giddy peaks: an opening slow burn to a lightning-strike powerful rendition of "P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)," the Mothership sequence and its breath-snatching "Swing Down, Sweet Chariot" coda (cruelly split and put on separate sides), a deranged fifteen-minute extended vampathon version of "Dr. Funkenstein," and the closing salvo pairing "Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)" and a revved-up "Night Of The Thumpasorus Peoples." And the show as a whole -- or at least the whole we get -- is rousing from start to frequently-interrupted finish. But rough, Funkadelic-excising edits chop up the setlist"s flow, as does the insertion of a couple OK-ish studio cuts ("This Is The Way We Funk With You" and Invictus-era Parliament remake "Fantasy Is Reality). At least "The Landing (Of The Holy Mothership)" is a neat novelty if you"ve ever wanted to hear the classic Parliament catalogue in Dickie Goodman-style cut-up newscast form.

Parliament"s second album for Westbound is remembered for two particularly distinct reasons. The first is that title, and the title track, and all the implications thereof: Its moment arrived at the crest of post-Nixon government disillusionment, and drew vast imaginative power by combining a corruption-ousting power-to-the-people agenda with an envisioning of a completely new hierarchy of cultural leaders. Inspired by hearing a news report highlighting Washington D.C."s 80% black population, Clinton"s slyly outlined grab of the governmental reins and visions of a power long denied ("They still call it the White House, but that"s a temporary condition, too") is simultaneously optimistic and absurdist. His leaders of tomorrow include a President Muhammad Ali and First Lady Aretha Franklin rather than a Harvard-educated community organizer turned law scholar, but christening Stevie Wonder secretary of fine arts was a right-on notion given the man"s musician-activist role in getting MLK"s birthday recognized as a national holiday. And even among all the punchlines ("Richard Pryor, Minister Of Education!") was the acknowledgment that "We"ve got Newark, we"ve got Gary/Somebody told me we got L.A/And we"re working on Atlanta" -- all of a sudden, "you don"t need the bullet when you got the ballot."

The political insights largely vanish after that stirring intro, but that"s where the other great thing about Chocolate City comes into play: Bootsy Collins goes nuts. This is the album where Bootzilla discovered the Mu-tron III, a synthesized envelope-controlled filter that, in layman"s terms, was capable of creating what has come to be known as Space Bass. So an already liquid-smooth, heavy-as-a-lead-elephant playing style was channeled through a seething, sizzling electronic warble of a wah-wah, and thus you get this huge chunk of rowwrrrrr with every resonant note of bass in the low end. Once it sinks its talons into the motion of "Ride On" it doesn"t let go, giving an already bottom-heavy bounce this spaced-out state of seeming cranked to the point of being blown out but actually gliding nice and smooth, a hovercraft disguised as a monster truck. It"s such an arresting element -- slicing its way through the spring-stepped "Together," rolling its shoulders like a stalking big cat on "Side Effects," dislodging floorboards with every emphatic stomp on "What Comes Funky." Factor in Bernie Worrell"s increasing contributions to the songwriting and composition, and the core of what would become Peak Parliament was just a little more refinement -- and about eight months -- away from unstoppable greatness.

In a lot of ways, Funkadelic"s second album feels like an echo of the first. In the heart of the record, you get some single-worthy acid-soul cuts with hit potential, spanning both ends of the R&B-psychedelia continuum while making it feel less of a straight line than an Ouroboros. And the first and last tracks are both wigged-out journeys through a fully dilated third eye, all reverb and yelling and pitch-tweaked creature voices and phantasmagorical prayers. There are some crucial differences, however. One of them is that the band personnel is more centralized and sans session players; Bernie Worrell, having charged his way valiantly through Funkadelic highlight "I Got A Thing," is now the full-time keyboard player. Another difference separating this album from its predecessor is that Clinton reputedly got the band to record the whole thing in a day or so while tripping on LSD. So this is one of those special instances where, if somebody experiencing this album claims that "they must"ve been high when they came up with this," you can at least nominally confirm their suspicion.

And what do you know -- it worked. The titular opening track isn"t the most coherent thing in the world: it segues from a Forbidden Planet synth-burble soup into a stereo-panning nightmare of spark-throwing instrumentation so overdriven it"s easy to mistake Worrell"s organ for Hazel"s guitar. All the while, Clinton and Ray Davis howl maniacal liberation urges in an attempt to escape their mental traps ("I can"t feel me, I can"t live me, I can"t be me/ My mind, it does not belong to me/ I"m so confused"), and Tiki Fulwood"s metronomic drumming is the hand that stays on yours to make sure you"re not setting a panic-driven route to the window. But en route to "Eulogy And Light" and its ingenious Psalm 23-warping deconstruction of ghetto-capitalist mentality -- "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of poverty/ I must feel their envy/ For I am loaded, high and all those other goodies/ That go along with the good god big buck" -- there"s a staggering amount of soul-searching intensity, almost all of it harrowing, beautiful, damning, and life-affirming all at once.

The pendulum-vertigo sway of "Friday Night, August 14th" and the buzzsaw blues of "Funky Dollar Bill" pair up for a clever stretch of internal struggle -- splurge your income tax return one moment, think over just how that process corrupts the people around you the next -- in one of their first stabs at intra-album thematic unity. "I Wanna Know If It"s Good To You" is a love song heavier than almost any heart can handle, riding on both astounding soul-sonnet lyrics ("You make my heartbeat sweeter than the honey that replaced the rain since I met you") and the grimiest desert-sun distorto-rock that Jimi Hendrix never got the chance to be humbled by. And "Some More" fantastically corrupts contemporary soul by rearranging 1966"s Clinton-penned Debonaires single "Headache In My Heart" into a lurching liquid-brained nightmare with the kind of aluminum-cavern production rarely heard until King Tubby sat at the controls. Stay away from drugs, kids -- if only because there"s no way you"ll do anything under the influence as revelatory as this.

While Funakdelic were a powerful fusion of rock and soul on wax, they were near-nonentities on radio -- college and freeform FM rock stations dug "em, but they weren"t reaching all the audiences that Clinton had hoped. He wanted pop and R&B airwaves, too, and once he got the Parliament name back from crumbling former home Invictus, he used that as his ticket to the top ten. A fortuitous meeting with Neil Bogart of Casablanca Records gave them a home, a few old-school Parliaments singles reworked to more ambitious standards gave them a kick-start, and Up For The Down Stroke put them in record stores, a new branch of the expanding George Clinton artistic empire that would bring Funkadelic"s creative nucleus straight into a Top 40 spotlight. It was something of a paradigm shift, but its success hinged on the kinds of things they"d already been doing; all they had to do was shine it up nice, dial back the freakout stuff, and drop in some horns.

Which kind of understates just what they pulled off with Up For The Down Stroke. Of those three re-recordings, one of them, "Testify," stands as a particularly joyous highlight, a revamp of the band"s harmonic roots that put their ensemble of voices front and center. (At least for the early pressings; later versions revealed somebody must"ve caught on to how potent that clavinet/horn section exchange was and pushed it up in the mix, whittling it down to a Clinton solo vocal on the verses.) The other two, the slinky, sizzling Tiki Fulwood-vs.-drum machine tour de force "The Goose" and the whispery, piano-driven head-nodder "All Your Goodies Are Gone," pull off the same feat of making the still-strong originals feel like redundant first drafts. Then, of course, there"s the title track, a top 10 R&B hit that gave P-Funk their first notable brush with the charts since (ironically enough) "(I Wanna) Testify" in 1967; in a year when bottom-heavy, slogan-chanting funk jams were flooding the airwaves from MFSB to B.T. Express, Parliament went above and beyond with their own; the way the song turns on the "when you"re hot, you"re hot" bridge and the horn section soars into the stratosphere is the kind of controlled-launch euphoria that hadn"t been possible with Funkadelic"s sprawling, guitar-driven sound. There were a lot of other chances for Parliament to infiltrate the pop consciousness further down the road; this was just the one filled with the most possibility.

Clinton"s enthusiasm for science fiction was a long-in-the-making part of his identity, whether it made its way into his sociological philosophy or informed his on-stage persona -- pardon the redundancy. In 1975, as the only passenger on the Dallas airport"s shuttle train, he found a sci-fi novel about clones that held his attention and started stirring the creative process. Once his next flight landed in Portland, he hit the library on a mission to learn as much as he could about genetic engineering and the battle between mortality and science -- enter Dr. Funkenstein. Where Mothership Connection first floated the idea of an overarching P-Funk mythos, helmed by an extraterrestrial traveler bringing funk to planet Earth à la The Day The Earth Stood Still gone Wattstax, The Clones Of Dr. Funkenstein revealed that this Star Child answered to a galactic emperor with a Boys From Brazil lab, except with funkateers instead of Nazis.

It is, on the whole, goofy as all hell in the best ways. After all, musicians might age, but cartoons never do, and Funkenstein"s crew put forth a looney toons version of themselves that dialed up the outlandishness of their alter-ego history to preposterous levels. In the words of the prelude track: "Funk upon a time, in the days of the Funkapus, the concept of specially-designed Afronauts capable of funkatizing galax