Review Summary: P-Funk warm up by helping you to rise above Disco; their eventual goal is to lift you all the way into space.
One major disservice done to young listeners by the modern critical narrative comes at the expense of P-Funk. After all, if the ten minute Floyd and Fudge-inspired blues-rock solo of "Maggot Brain" is really their highpoint, how special can they be? The truth is that P-Funk are just as essential as P-Floyd - just as progressive, just as conceptually adept, just as socially relevant to their contemporary audiences and, most importantly of all, just as musically mind-blowing.
George Clinton, once a singer in a barbershop quartet, is the collective's conceptual and vocal leader. He is the star child. He keeps the band focused with the beat of his right foot. He likes heavy swung grooves and the beats two and four. Bernie Worrell, a conservatory-trained composer, swells those grooves with persuasive Moog and clavichord lines. He plays sparingly, often modest when asked to solo. Other members come and go, mostly emancipated from more conservative Motown outfits - and soon found wearing some bizarre, LSD-informed outfits! - sometimes musically present on the latest record, often times just spiritually present. This sounds chaotic, but the groove carries from disc to disc. Sometimes it is communicated in a joyous and immediate fashion, a simple one-chord jaunt 'n' vamp, anyone carrying a guitar playing it high up the neck, carrying soulful singing and care-free, approximately tonal choir work. At other moments, P-Funk can envelop you in a swampy, down-tempo, minor key stomp, getting progressive and downright nasty with the bass and keys interplay. Everyone on the stage sings in whatever register suits them and, when they're performing as a character in a concept, they rant, joke, sloganeer and lay down manifestos of awakening in sly, playful voices. In an era when successful black musicians were dressing in matching suits and doing matching dances, this was revolutionary.
"Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome" comes a little later on, in '77 after they'd been to space and, as periodically appropriate, the album's theme is George Clinton's major frown at disco and consumerism. A character is introduced in a sarcastic, ten minute cut of drugged-out funk darkness; "Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk", the very smug music business magnate who will never dance under any circumstances and whose costume involves a particularly protuberant prosthesis. This is the choice pick of the album, a cleverly composed slow jam which wanders around its home chord and plunders cartoon motifs at weirdly opportune moments. Of course, Sir Nose dances in the end. That's a running theme in the P-Funk mythos - when they tell you to dance, you dance. "Bop Gun", the opening number, is brighter and more compulsive, more horn filled and more proclamatory, like James Brown in a tie-dye space suit. George Clinton was a big fan of science fiction; the lyrics describe Larry Niven's TASP, a device that when activated delivers pleasure to its implantee's nerve centres. "Funkentelechy", the other heavyweight cut here, is a conversational two-chord vamp with an imaginative bass riff, the minor key sister to "Flash Light", the closing tune on the album, and a significant, sampleable R&B hit, featuring dense, walking portabass, a catchy yet wordless choral line and what sounds like around fifteen different keyboards being rotated past one particularly turned-on synthesizer wizard.
Taken at face value, "Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome" wants you to dance with your heart rather than with your image, and provides the perfect dance floor on which to distill the two. Yet there's a more spiritual vibe underneath throughout the work of Funkadelic, of Parliament, of George Clinton and of all their splinters - much like France's Magma, the space opera trappings conceal a much more earnest message to the listener, a spiritual and uplifting vibe meant to inspire brotherhood and aspiration. At their best, that particular cosmic ray hits home hard.