Review Summary: As mind-blowing as it was on its release day, Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain" represents the final step towards acid-funk perfection and the mystic keeping of the musical construction's secrets.
There is a suite of albums that sound good from the first note and continue with the same splendor until the last chord progression. Such records are "Abraxas," "There’s A Riot Goin’ On," and "Maggot Brain," three rhythmic masterworks that shed new light on the beginning of the seventies. Blending multicultural harmonies united with a solid thread constituting the infectious beat, these three works of art influenced a new musical acceptance, enriching the classic rock texture with a remarkable series of nuances. Of all these three, my personal favorite remains “Maggot Brain”, not because it is the most technical provoking or the most coherent one, but because it’s the record that represents the best the imminent innovation, the pulse of the new funk current.
Led by the highly original musician George Clinton, Funkadelic debuted in an era when the druggy psychedelic influences began to dissipate, proving that acid harmonies were still a viable thing in a moment that tended toward realistic-inspired currents like folk or blues-rock. With their unique approach, Funkadelic provoked a renaissance of past harmonies among a multiracial audience and laid the groundwork for the future progressive soul.
In 1971, the band was on the verge of total homogeneity and the brink of musical madness. So, they were prone to release one of the most accomplished funk-rock records ever conceived. With "Maggot Brain”, Funkadelic opened a trippy dimension into a hallucinogenic musical labyrinth and delivered a gut-wrenching collection of songs, amazingly built and conducted by Clinton’s native charm. Even if today the album may seem too connected with the classic rock sound, "Maggot Brain" has an unusual freshness in its musical approach, which makes it a journey through a creative mind conducted by some of the finest musicians of the genre.
"Maggot Brain," like any other album that triumphantly resists the past, has a concept. I don’t use the term "concept" to refer to a narrative thread or a subject that connects every song (although all the lyrics share the same socially implied character). The conception of "Maggot Brain" resides in its ability to maintain an occult musical unicity in seven rhythmically varied tracks. Even if each song has its distinct flavor, they all fit into a mosaic composed of soulful moods and classic rock nuances, a blend that adds depth to the musical psyche that George Clinton explored with his excellent arrangements.
The title song immediately captures the attention of every rock fan, because it doesn’t feel like an orthodox funk. It’s one of the rare songs that achieve great complexity while focusing on a single performer's virtuosity. Even if the song is largely (or, better said, totally) founded on Eddie Hazel's lavish guitar ascension, the spirit of Funkadelic as a musical ensemble is truly visible. The moment uses brilliantly the formula of an extensive guitar solo, but the mixing does not put the guitar in the first place, creating a sort of union between the faded guitar tone and the rest of the instruments. Also, the plethora of stereo effects emulates the feel of complex work, making the title track not only a great introduction but maybe one of the most emotional moments in the history of instrumental pop.
The album will continue with the theatrical musical parade provided by the outstandingly memorable "Can You Get To That?" The vocal harmonies sound surrounding, gaining a perfectly crafted balance. "Hit It And Quit It" feels like a bridge between the echoic "Can You Get To That" and the soulful keyboard-heavy "You And Your Folks, Me And My Folks," giving a united character to the highly varied funk.
"Super Stupid" will enchant listeners who prefer the rhythm over melodic structure, representing a sample of pure funk mastery. "Back In Our Minds" is built on an ironic dissonance and has a hint of madness, which prepares us for the electric culmination constituted by "Wars Of Armageddon”, the album’s second exercise in complexity after the title track. The ending represents a gleeful contrast with the beginning. The band shows here a new face, one inclined to hyperactive harmonic successions, which leaves the listener with that glossy funk feel and with a sentiment that he needs to return to this strange, but powerful record.
What remains stunning about "Maggot Brain" is that it never fully unveils itself to the listener, keeping its inner secrets undiscovered despite massive listening sessions. As a result, it’s everything but boring and shows a band that made a musical innovation without unveiling the musical essence. So, the album feels like a total masterwork, but if we try to analyze what makes it a masterwork, we strictly fail because the band keeps every sound drowned in mystery and mysticism.
Finally, I think the term "innate innovation" fits the best with the music because Funkadelic provoked a revolution in sound and texture without unraveling the ingredients that constituted their musical center. Although the vocal and instrumental individualities of the band were often found in many funk bands, the resulting music remains distinct and doesn’t sound like any album made in its era (and after), proving a wondrous musical flair.