Parliament – Mothership Connection

I have a not-so-secret weak spot for the genre of Funk. Perhaps it’s my penchant for all things bass, maybe it’s my desire to listen to music that is weird, fun, or some almagamation of the two, or maybe it’s because of a certain game on the Sega Genesis.

Either way, I love Funk, and there is nothing funkier than Parliament, particularly their fourth album, Mothership Connection:

True story: one of the concepts for this album is that George Clinton thought that it would be a funny idea to have black people in space. When I was a little kid, for some reason I always assumed that Neil Armstrong was a black guy, I still have no idea why. Now, here’s the thing. I have wanted to talk about this album and how groove-tastic and other appropriate portmanteaus this album is, but I do not intend to delve too deep into the album’s history. Here’s why:

Basically, Parliament is one of many bands, featuring all the same members (which is some mystery number between 10 and some hundreds of people), that fits under the umbrella band name P-Funk. To give you some idea of how complicated this band’s personnel is, Mothership Connection has 17 credited singers across its 8 tracks. You can really tell too, particularly with the song “Unfunky UFO”, where there’s gotta be about 5 people singing at the same time at any given time.

The common denominator to all of this madness, right in the center, is the master of all things funky, George Clinton. Not only did he sing lead (exactly how one sings lead among 17 other singers is beyond me) but he also managed this whole debacle. Of course, while this sounds impressive, apparently he wasn’t entirely good at it. For one, members kept dropping out or forming other bands around this one, and for another, just about everything about Parliament and the whole P-Funk thing is more convoluted than their actual music.

So yes, there’s absolutely no way I’m going to go into the band’s history and… oh wait.

Well, it doesn’t matter anyway, because the whole point of this writeup is that Mothership Connection is the go-to Funk album, at least as far as I’m concerned. So let’s get into it:

The whole thing starts off with a false radio station ID for “W.E.F.U.N.K.” by an extraterrestrial, especially funky MC called “Star Child” who, along with Lollipop Man, spend about 7 1/2 minutes preparing you, whether you like it or not, for funk. On top of the insane dialog (containing lots of repeated lines so as to become incorporated into the national slang) we’re introduced to one of my favorite elements of funk, the funky bass-line, provided (perhaps) by Bootsy Collins, who had 1 or 2 bands under the P-Funk umbrella on his own, apparently. The bass for this track is being run through an envelope filter, which is basically the effect that makes instruments sound squishy, and there’s probably some wah (the effect that makes instruments sound like “wah”, if you didn’t know) in there too.

After the first song does its job of “doing it right in your eardrum” (an uncomfortable metaphor if you really think about it), the “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” song starts up the party. The song basically features more of the same narration and squishtastic bass, and a different chorus. The ideas of aliens coming to earth and bringing the funk always takes me back to my childhood, where one of my favorite games was Toejam & Earl on the Sega Genesis. There were two of the games, and both of them played very different, but were both really difficult, very strange, and superbly funky as far as music goes. Clearly, this album was a huge influence on the design of the game, and this song in particular reminds me of the game so much that I could swear I’d heard the actual song before getting this album. That, of course, is impossible, I lived a very sheltered life, I was lucky to have the Genesis.

Speaking of aliens, the song “Unfunky UFO” kind of speeds things up and feels more like a proper song rather than a long, funky narrative. What’s it about? Who cares, it’s the proverbial jam. Anyway, most funk song lyrics are pretty much about funk, especially on this album.

Some funk songs, however, may only concentrate on one or two phrases, and such is the case with the “is there anything besides a chorus in this?” track called “Supergroovalisticprosifunkstication”, a clever play on the old Mary Poppins song, for those who aren’t familiar with Disney’s butchering of the English accent. This song features some pitch-bending synth-tastic solos courtesy of one Bernie Worrell, whose funky synth credits would include songs made up of single words even longer than this one.

Another polyphonic adventure, perhaps the most intense on the album, is “Handcuffs”, which features many vocals, most of which are really great, as the song begs the question “Do I have to put my handcuffs on ya, mama?”

Even if you are personally not too into Funk or just haven’t heard much of it, I am still willing to bet that you have heard “Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)”, mostly due to it being the national anthem of funk. Its simple command of “We want the funk, give up the funk” is about as well-known as a phrase can be in music. In fact, the Wikipedia entry for this song alone is easily the same size as the entry for the whole Mothership Connection album, and nearly the size of the article about Parliament. The song is arranged by basically taking 3 different phrases and having them kind of take turns for the song’s 6 minutes.

Finally, we get the final jam of the album, “Night Of The Thumpasorus Peoples”, which despite the band’s credited 17 singers, is closer to being an instrumental than anything. All the song’s phrases are kind of in the back, far behind the synthesizer, which seems only interested in making farty noises. The vocals, besides the one line (which I am too lazy to look up) is soon replaced in favor of tribal chanting, which is just fine with me, to tell you the truth.

So that’s the album. It’s really quite the experience for when you’re in the market for a funky good time. It’s thankfully devoid of any slow R&B jam-style hits and mainly focuses on weird sounds, awesome rhythm, and keeping it funky. Certainly Star Child and his whole crew at W.E.F.U.N.K. did a fine job of accomplishing their stated intention, which is doin’ it to ya in the earhole.

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