Saturday, August 29, 2009

481. The Smiths- An appropriately bland title.





Album: The Smiths.

Artist: The Smiths.

Year: 1984

Genre: Jangly pop.

Tracks.

1. Reel Around the Fountain
2. You've Got Everything Now
3. Miserable Lie
4. Pretty Girls Make Graves
5. Hand That Rocks the Cradle
6. This Charming Man
7. Still Ill
8. Hand in Glove
9. What Difference Does It Make?
10. I Don't Owe You Anything
11. Suffer Little Children

Every review I read of The Smiths made reference to the fact that this release is an album you have to spend time with. The many charms and delights of the Smiths debut aren’t immediately apparent but reveal themselves gradually, like a rosebud or a slow-motion stripper. Fans of the Smiths maintain their music is not instantly accessible but an acquired taste although it’s possible this is just a cunning ruse put forward by the band’s fanbase who firmly believe they’re devoted to the greatest band in the world.

Smiths’ fans are nothing if not dedicated. Reading their views in forums it’s clear that they think lead singer Morrissey wasn’t born instead he’s the spontaneously created residue left behind after a group of gods got together to compare awesomeness. He arrived on the planet and after creating laughter, the internet and oral sex he proceeded to reinvent art and prove that all musicians up to that point were just John the Baptists to his messiah. Morrissey is famously celibate but has clearly been giving Smith’s fans orgasms for his entire recording career. They love him so much that they’re not at all afraid to commit gross acts of exaggeration in forums posts, something they can do secure in the knowledge that their idol is capable of absolving all sins. One such claim is the “their music is an acquired taste” which may just be a clever way of insisting that anyone who doesn’t like them just hasn’t heard them enough.

With that in mind I gave this album eight listens instead of my usual four. I feel I’ve given it ample opportunity to reveal itself but I’m not convinced.

The problem is basically Morrissey’s voice. While there are those who regard Morrissey as the greatest singer ever to clear his throat there are others who believe he managed to fool the music-buying public into thinking he was talented. I’m not going to enter into either side of the debate but I will say that he does nothing at all for me.

Voices are generally fairly subjective things. While there’s nobody who’s going to deny that Pavarotti can hit a note or two, when it comes to the world of rock and pop someone’s vocal chords are a bit like jokes- they either rock you or they don’t. Morrissey just doesn’t move me. It’s partly the monotone thing he does which suggests he’s not actually singing he’s just laying down a demo. It’s also that weird, screechy falsetto he comes up with sometimes, presumably so you view reassess his monotone as a blessed relief. I had a read of Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of 100 great singers suspecting that Mozza (as his fans call him) would be there somewhere. He scrapes in at 92, just above Annie Lennox and just below Levon Helm. Interestingly the key tracks they listed for him weren’t on this album so maybe I’ll revise my view when I encounter more of his work later in the list.

(By the way if you want to check out the full 100 it’s here but avoid the comments which are even more bile-ridden and invective filled than the usual Rolling Stone posting. Rock lists are one of those Liberal v conservative, Mac v PC, Buffy v Twighlight debates that ignite a disturbing degree of passion in the otherwise mentally stable. So you can only imagine what it does to the sort of nutters who bother posting on Rolling Stone articles.)

Aside for Morrissey’s vocal, the album contains tunes that didn’t strike me as especially memorable and instrumentation that you could easily label competent. The lyrics are also nothing that I could get especially excited by. The Smiths caused controversy with its references to pedophilia and child-murdering, which are definitely hot button topics and always going to cause a bit of an uproar. Even after all these years Morrissey’s sexuality is still in question. For years he declared himself a celibate but to this day people are still unsure whether the occasional relationship’s he’s owned up to have been with women or men. Presumably the other people involved have an inkling but they’re not telling. Consequently Smiths fans spend hours dissecting his lyrics to try and track down hints at which way Mozza swings. The general consensus is that there’s lots here that point to a repressed homosexuality. Ironic considering the next album in the list…


Highlight: What difference does it make. I’ve noticed I usually choose the up tempo songs. I wonder if there’s anything in that.

Lowlight: Some of those screechy moments. Stop it Morrissey, stop it now.

Influenced by:
Literature and crimes against children.

Influenced: Everyone who has ever lived, according to Morrissey’s fanbase.

Favourite Amazon customer review quote: “Buying this album is the first step to a brighter, happier future. You will never frown again (unless you are stupid, and don't "get" anything because you are a pseudo-intellectual with no REAL mind of your own who enjoys to slant your eyes and furrow your brow while needlessly carrying the weight of the world on one of your shoulders, and a Jansport backpack with your college "English Lit." textbook in it on the other.)”

-Bloody hell that’s a specific rant.

So is Morrissey the greatest singer/songwriter/lyricist/celibate who ever abstained from engaging with either gender or just a prat who couldn’t get laid? Let me know below.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

482. Armed Forces. The second Elvis and the Fourth Costello.



Album: Armed Forces.
Artist: Elvis Costello and the Attractions.
Year: 1978
Genre: Pop/Rock

1. Accidents Will Happen
2. Senior Service
3. Oliver's Army
4. Big Boys
5. Green Shirt
6. Party Girl
7. Goon Squad
8. Busy Bodies
9. Sunday's Best
10. Moods for Moderns
11. Chemistry Class
12. Two Little Hitlers


The only way to describe Armed Forces is to call it quirk-rock. It’s both quirky and rocky and a little bit poppy. Listening to it for the first time I thought it was recorded in the mid to late eighties and was surprised to find it was released at the end of the seventies. It’s oddly timeless, not in the sense that it could fit into any era but more in the fact that it doesn’t really fit anywhere.

The Attractions are truly a backing band, there are no solos, no instrumental breaks, they form a tight rhythm section with some melodic elements. It’s a tactic that only works if the lead singer can carry the album with his vocals and his lyrics. Most people couldn’t pull it off but Costello is one of those guys who is clearly as talented as his die-hard fans seem to think he is. The lyrics of Armed Forces get you involved in ways that not many can pull off. A combination of arresting imagery and clever wordplay made me focus on the words in ways that no other album I’ve heard on this project has so far. And his voice is perfectly suited for what he’s trying to achieve.


You can’t say the songs on Armed Forces are really about anything in the conventional sense. They’re not immediately accessible lyrics as much as they’re songs that you appreciate spending some time with. And it’s worth doing. There’s a strange World War Two theme that wanders through the album: The final track is called Two Little Hitlers, Churchill and Quisling get name checked (the latter with a misspelling) and the strange line “You’ll never make a lampshade out of me” recalls some of worst atrocities of the Holocaust. Odd images to conjure up in a pop record.

I was especially eager to listen to Armed Forces thanks to David Chase, the man who created The Sopranos. In an interview I saw in which he talked about the music he chose for his show he cited three artists whose body of work was so rich he could have relied on them exclusively for his soundtrack choices. Dylan and the Stones were the two I was most familiar with and Costello was the other. If you want a real trip try listening to this album and imagining Sopranos moments that could accompany them: Oliver’s army would work well over an opening montage, Tony could collect his newspaper to Green shirt and if they ever jumped the shark and went full comedy Goon Squad would work really well as intro music when the FBI appear.

Probably the only downside to this release is the appalling cover. What’s up with the elephants? Armed forces is an interesting choice for an album but a cover featuring a painting of rampaging elephants is beyond interesting and moves into strange. Did they commission the painting especially or was it something Costello saw and thought: “That would be perfect for my latest album about green shirts, Goon squads and chemistry classes.” After all nothing says Mood for Moderns like stampeding elephants captured in oils.

With the exception of the second track, which wears thin pretty quickly, this is as album that I can see myself returning to frequently. Many of the other albums that were new to me on the countdown have been deleted from my Mp3 player after I’ve finished writing about them but I’m going to let this one linger around. I’ve got no idea when I’ll have time to listen to it again but I’m glad it’s there if ever that happy time comes.


Highlight: Green shirt. A great song.
Lowlight: Senior Service. Not a great song.

Influenced by: Mods.
Influenced: Nerdy English people who felt empowered to make music.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: “You Haven't Lived Until You Hear This”
-I love that phrase, it’s so understated.

So is the Elvis the King or is Costello a tedious fellow? Let me know below.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

483. Life After Death- A spookily appropriate title.



Album: Life After Death.

Artist: Notorious B.I.G.

Year: 2000

Genre: Rap.

Tracks.


1. Life After Death Intro
2. Somebody's Gotta Die
3. Hypnotize
4. Kick In The Door
5. Fuck You Tonight
6. Last Day
7. I Love the Dough
8. What's Beef?
9. B.I.G. Interlude
10. Mo Money Mo Problems
11. Niggas Bleed
12. I Got a Story to Tell
13. Notorius Thugs
14. Miss U
15. Another
16. Going Back To Cali
17. Ten Crack Commandments
18. Playa Hater
19. Nasty Boy
20. Sky's The Limit
21. The World is Filled...
22. My Downfall
23. Long Kiss Goodnight
24. You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)



I’d struggle to find two musical genres more poles apart than Country and Rap. Anyone who lists both Merle Haggard and Notorious BIG in their top five artists is an odd packet of biscuits indeed. If you need any proof of the gulf between these two musical genres The Hag and Biggie are pretty good men to study.

Merle Haggard spent his early years in and out of juvenile detention and finally ended up doing a three year stretch at San Quentin prison. He was clearly a bad, bad boy who spent most of his time on the wrong side of the law and it held him down later in life. The title track of Branded Man talks about how a criminal past is like a branding that can never be overcome. Haggard uses his songs to express regret for his crimes and remorse at how he let himself be led astray.

Notorious B.I.G (otherwise known as Biggie Smalls and a host of other names) also spent his youth in and out of trouble, mainly for dealing in crack cocaine, an enterprise he apparently began at the tender age of 12. But unlike Merle the work of Notorious B.I.G. doesn’t express regret, shame or any form of repentance. In fact many of the songs on Life After Death openly discuss his previous life and make it clear that he’s far from left it behind. Songs like Ten Crack Commandments even outline helpful tips for prospective drug dealers. (Apparently rule seven is: “Keep your family and business completely separated/ Money and blood don’t mix like two dicks and no bitch”.)

The songs on Life After Death feature constant references to guns, drugs, violence, death and are often punctuated with gunshot sound effects. Songs like Somebody’s Gotta Die weave extended narratives about retaliation for the murder of a friend. The talk on the album is tough which immediately made me cynical. There’s something about male ego-posturing that I find intrinsically hilarious and easier to mock than a vegetarian with bacon breath. The cynic in me believes most street-cred in art is mainly hot-air and image creation.

What gives Life After Death added weight is that by the time it was released the man who created it had been gunned down by an unknown assailant. The album was released posthumously and Biggie’s murderer is still (ironically) at large. Nobody knows who killed him, except presumably Notorious himself but he’s not telling because the only way to contact Biggie Smalls is through a medium (sorry)

Knowing this makes the album more poignant. When Biggie makes threats and talks about his enemies he’s not referring to that guy in the next office who stole his stapler. A song like Miss U might sound like a lament for a distant lover but it’s actually Biggie’s farewell to friends who were gunned down in his drug dealing days. The album ends with a song called You’re nobody till somebody kills you.

Life after death was a look into a world that I know precisely nothing about and language I didn’t understand. One song featured the repeated question “What’s Beef?” and I thought: “Ooh Ooh I know this one, I know this one! Beef is a meat derived from domestic cattle!” Turns out that according to Biggie: “Beef is when you need two gats to go to sleep.” Shows what I know. A gat, by the way, is a gun. Notorious BIG talks about gats a lot. He also talks about Beef and dissing a lot because apparently he was engaged in a feud with some other rappers at the time. I’m guessing the dispute didn’t centre around anything as mundane as a borrowed lawnmower returned in less than ideal condition.

But don’t go thinking that Biggie is all about violence. There are songs about love on Life after Death as well. Another is a sweet duet with Lil Kim which beings thusly…

[Biggie] Yeah... fuck you
[Lil Kim] Fuck you too!
[B.I.G.] Fuck you bitch
[Lil Kim] Fuck you motherfucker
[B.I.G.] You ain't shit anyway, fuck you
[Lil Kim] You ain't shit, you fat motherfucker
[B.I.G.] Yeah, whatever whatever
[Lil Kim] Whatever
[B.I.G.] You wasn't saying that when you was sucking my dick
[Lil Kim] You wasn't saying that when you was eating my pussy!
You a nasty motherfucker!

And it continues in that vein for an entire song. Romance might not be dead but its losing blood from multiple gat wounds and fading fast.

Early on listeners are treated to a tune called Fuck you tonight which features the repeated line “I’m fucking you tonight,” which is nothing if not blatant in it’s honesty. I tried to work out if there was really any distinction between I’m Fucking you tonight and the Rolling Stones’ Lets spend the night together and decided there was. Mick Jagger is making a suggestion whereas Biggie is effectively issuing a command. The woman’s opinion is irrelevant, which you get the feeling is his attitude to the female gender in general.

Life After Death is a brutal album that introduced me to a world I knew existed but knew nothing about. It’s an audio equivalent of an episode of The Wire only without the heart or McNulty. If Biggie was alive today and enjoying a comfortable middle age I’d be a lot more snide about this than I am now. As a posthumous release it’s a tragically inadvertent suicide note and evidence folder all rolled into one.

Highlight: To quote: “Just the overall vibe of the thing.” Really. The album creates an appropriately dark mood.
Lowlight: The between-track talking. Especially the “just woken up by my road manager” skit.

Influenced by:
A short and brutal life.
Influenced: Lots of tragic, middle-class, white boys who bling up and talk like they grew up in the hood.


Favourite Amazon Customer review quote: “Im a PAC fan but this is just big to tha fullest. Ne one giving this album lower then 5 is wack. The production could be better but...............this should still be given 7 outta 5.
IF you dont have this............go listen to opera.”

-Did you get that? If you don’t own a copy of this album then you are hereby commanded to go and listen to some opera.

So does size matter? Can it get any bigger than Biggie or do you find Notorious Laborious?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

484. Branded Man- songs of an unhappy camper.




Album: Branded Man.

Artist: Merle Haggard.

Year: 1967.

Genre:
Country.

Tracks.

1. Branded Man
2. Loneliness Is Eating Me Alive
3. Don't Get Married
4. Somewhere Between
5. You Don't Have Very Far to Go
6. Gone Crazy
7. I Threw Away the Rose
8. My Hands Are Tied
9. Some of Us Never Learn
10. Long Black Limousine
11. Go Home
12. I Made the Prison Band


A few albums back I made lots of fun of the Smashing Pumpkins. I commented on the fact that Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was a two hour slab of songs that sounded pretty much the same and addressed the same theme. It was all basically depression at the same tempo. I’ve read lots of comments on the internet from people asking why teenagers need to listen to repetitive music about depressing themes. It’s a common protest but one you could level squarely at Branded Man by Merle Haggard.

The knowledge that despair sells more records than joy isn’t something that the Pumpkins realized one afternoon and no one had thought of before. The blues is all about feeling low and as I’ve recently discovered, a lot of country music is basically just moping with a guitar. Branded man contains 12 songs only one of which addresses a happy topic. All the rest are mournful laments about being in prison or losing a girl or just generally feeling lower than a muleskinner’s grits.

So why is it okay for Merle and not for the Pumpkins? Why do we knock bands who set out to depress teenagers and give doleful adults a free ride? Is it because we think teenagers don’t have anything worth getting upset about? Surely you can’t really have the blues when you’re 16, at most you could be suffering from a mild case of the aquas.

What’s really hypocritical about this is that Merle Haggard’s problems are largely of his own devising. He laments the fact that a girl might not wait for him while he’s in prison for armed robbery. Lots of his songs talk about the hardships of jail which he should know all about since Haggard lead a life of crime and served several sentences, one lasting three years. But nobody writes reviews at amazon telling Merle to get over himself and stop writing depressing music: “If you didn’t want the blues maybe you should have thought twice before you became a public menace you thug! Get over yourself jailbird!” You don’t read those comments on the internet, yet the Pumpkins, writing music for a generation who haven’t done much wrong and can’t really do much about what’s troubling them, are the target of vitriol and scorn. Middle-aged Middle America loves a convicted felon but hates the soundtrack to law-abiding teenagers with lots of homework and acne. Does that make sense to anyone out there?

While I’m on the subject of injustice- why is it that Merle Haggard is represented on this list by one album but Lorretta Lynn gets a best-of in the list? My big disappointment while listening to this album was that none of the Haggard songs I’d heard (Okie from Muskogie, Sing me back home and Mama Tried) were on this. If they’d included a best of he could have had the big hits from Branded man along with his other material.

Branded Man is actually as painful to listen to as Melon Collie only thankfully much shorter. It’s all the same tempo with lots of “woe is me” stuff. Haggard has a nice voice but his backing singers are cheesy as hell and deserve to be locked up. All the country music clich├ęs are there: pedal steel guitars, rimshot beats, honky-tonk sounding pianos, backing vocals supplied by three women who you just know are wearing identical dresses, and songs about roses. What is it with country music and roses? Has anyone written a thesis about C and W and it’s obsession with that particular flower? Nobody ever sings about jonquils. I’ve got no idea what a jonquil looks like but I do know it’s an undervalued flower in the lexicon of country music. Loretta Lynn had me rethinking country music but this just reaffirms everything I’ve always thought I hated about C&W as a genre. It’s agonizing stuff.

Highlight: The final track (I made the Prison band) at last has a tempo variation but it’s too little too late.
Lowlight: The clowns who provide backing vocals.

Influenced by:
Other inmates
Influenced: Garth Brooks and others like him.





Favourite Amazon customer review quote: “…the previous reviewer is a f***ing moron, and has no concept of good music”

-weird since the only other review on the site gave the exact same rating and agreed with pretty much everything you said.

So is the Hag your bag or should they have left him locked up? Let me know below.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

485. The Definitive Loretta Lynn- one of about a million Lynn Best ofs.



Album: The Definitive Loretta Lynn
Artist: Loretta Lynn
Year: 1968
Genre: Country.

Tracks.
1. Wine, Women And Song
2. Happy Birthday
3. Blue Kentucky Girl
4. You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man Loretta Lynn
5. Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)
6. Fist City
7. You've Just Stepped In (From Stepping Out On Me)
8. Woman Of The World (Leave My World Alone)
9. Coal Miner's Daughter
10. After The Fire Is Gone
11. You're Lookin' At Country
12. Lead Me On
13. One's On The Way
14. Rated "X"
15. The Pill
16. Love Is The Foundation
17. Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man
18. As Soon As I Hang Up The Phone
19. Trouble In Paradise Loretta Lynn
20. When The Tingle Becomes A Chill
21. Feelins'
22. Out Of My Head And Back In My Bed
23. Somebody Somewhere (Don't Know What He's Missin' Tonight)
24. She's Got You
25. I Can't Feel You Anymore


Sadly I couldn’t get my hands on the album I was supposed to be reviewing here because I think it’s out of print. For some reason Rolling Stone magazine decided to deviate from including album releases at this point and instead threw in a compilation. The problem with allowing best-of’s into their list is that they go out of print and get superseded by a new best of. So instead of All Time Greatest Hits I’m reviewing The Definitive Lorretta Lynn, which has the same tracks on it with three more added for good an extra hit of Loretta.

I’ve got concept albums on my mind having recently spent eight hours listening to one (that’s four compete listens to Melon Collie). Consequently I’m looking at almost every album that I see with a concept in mind. In the spirit of this somewhat demented worldview can I present to you the reworking of the Definitive Loretta Lynn into a narrative concept album called... I don’t know... “Loretta gets better” or “A win for Lynn” or something. All it takes is a few omissions and a reworking of the track order and you can turn this set of songs into a coherent story complete with compelling characters and a happy ending.

The first thing you would do is drop the duets. All the men who crop up on this album should bugger off and bother someone else, this is about Loretta so go and do your duetting on your own, I know that’s impossible but that’s how strongly I feel about it. With the men out of the way we’ve only got Ms Lynn telling us her story, which with a bit of a twisting around we can make as follows...

Start with Coal Miner’s Daughter, A factually accurate tale of Loretta’s harsh but happy upbringing as one of eight children in a poor southern household in which she was cared for by hard-working, loving parents. Track two would be You’re Looking at Country in which Lynn tell us that she is country and gives us a golden piece of sexual innuendo which is both raunchy but still morally upright: “This here country is a little green/And there's a lot of country that a you ain't seen/I'll show you around if you'll show me a weddin' band”

Continuing with our narrative: let’s assume the allure of Lynn’s undiscovered country is enough to snare her a man. But he’s not really all that our Coal miner’s daughter deserves. Songs like Wine Women and Song, Don’t Come Home a Drinking With Loving On Your Mind, and You’ve just Stepped in From Stepping Out On Me suggest he’s more interested in carousing than keeping his Southern girl happy. The good news is that Loretta isn’t prepared to take this lying down. She’s not moaning she’s taking control over her life and making it clear that if he’s going out getting merry then he’s not going to come home and get busy with her. She’s also not going to stand aside and let any woman steal her man away. You Aint Woman Enough to Steal My Man lays down the Loretta Lynn Law that says she’s not going to give him up without a fight, and when I say fight I mean it. Fist City is a fantastic song in which Loretta actually threatens physical violence. “If you don't wanna go to Fist City you'd better detour round my town/Cause I'll grab you by the hair of the head and I'll lift you off of the ground.” How cool is that? You go girl! You have to love Loretta by this point.

Sadly her man doesn’t shape up so Loretta gives him the big A. In Happy Birthday Lynn packs her bags and heads off into the sunset. She’s not gonna put up with his cheating ways anymore. And the crowd says hooray! Go Loretta go, find another man and make yourself happy.

All good narratives have to have the slump before the finale and the middle of this concept album doesn’t spell good news for our heroine. She’s lonely and tells us so in Somebody Somewhere Don’t Know What They’re Missing. And then finally the isolation gets too much to bear. Out of My Head and Back in My Bed tells us how she’s prepared to relent and let that no-good man back into her life. So he moves back in and the fight in Loretta moves out. She’s no longer prepared to threaten her rivals with a visit to Fist City, instead she resorts to begging (Woman of the world leave my world alone) and being the dutiful but world-weary housewife (One’s on the way). She’s even resigned to putting up with his cheating ways. There’s Trouble in Paradise is a disheartening song in which Loretta tells us that her man is cheating but that’s okay because he’ll be back by morning and she can put up with it. It’s really sad and self defeating and totally out of step with the rest of the album.

So is that how it ends? Is that the story? Woman ditches unfaithful man but then takes him back and lives with his philandering because she can’t bear to live without him? Is that the tragic narrative we’re left with? Thankfully no. In I Can’t Feel You Anymore she drops this bombshell on the bastard: “When he touches me, I can’t feel you anymore, He touches me with so much love, I never felt before.” So she finds happiness with another man and leaves the cheater to his women of the world. What a great concept album.

Of course that’s all just a construction that I put together from some of the songs on the Definitive Loretta Lynn but I felt compelled to do it because I found myself really liking the feisty, Fist City Loretta and so feeling incredibly disappointed with the gil who resigned herself to her fate with all the fight beaten out of her. When she’s not gonna take it she’s great, when she takes it then frankly I can do without her. Someone should put together an album called Loretta Lynn Takes No Shit- Just the Cranky Songs. Now there’s a compilation that would never go out of print.

Highlight: All the Grrrr songs.
Lowlight: The duets with Conway Twitty.
Influenced by: A genuinely unfaithful husband.
Influenced: Every woman who’s ever gone and sung country.

Favourite Amazon customer review quote: This is actually from a review of her autobiography but it’s too bizarre to let pass: “I really enjoyed reading this great book.And I am moved
by her devotion to nursing her husband for years who
had been ill with heart and diabetes related problems and
died in 1996.
It's a pity that they had not known about a herbal formula
that was discovered in 1994 and can cure diabetes. I really
wish Ms.Loretta Lynn could be informed about this message
and be happy to know that a cure for diabetes has been
found.”

-Huh?

So did Lynn score a win or could Loretta be better? Let me know below.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

486. Maggot Brain- The other Clinton’s other band.



Title: Maggot Brain.

Artist: Funkadelic.

Year: 1971.

Genre: Funk, Soul, proto-metal.

Tracks.

1. Maggot Brain
2. Can You Get to That
3. Hit It And Quit It
4. You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks
5. Super Stupid
6. Back in Our Minds
7. Wars of Armageddon


What a gloriously demented bundle of funked-up, weirdness this is. It’s less an album as much as it’s a soundtrack for the world’s craziest flashmob. It’s like the sum of a magnificent equation: talent plus drugs minus sanity multiplied by inspiration equals Maggot Brain. It’s a fair bet that if you’ve heard this once you’ve heard it often and love it. If you haven’t then hunt it down because it will blow your mind into a happy place.

Funkadelic is led by George Clinton, a man with so many ideas and so much talent he needed two bands to accommodate them. For years he was the leader of Parliament and also Funkadelic before he just merged the two entities into P-funk or the George Clinton Allstars, or whatever name he felt like using. Either way if you had tickets for a show involving Clinton you were going to be treated to the greatest funk players ever assembled behind an inspired madman. Whichever band he led he followed the same procedure which was to gather a large bunch of talented people together and somehow squeeze something out of them that was greater than the sum of their parts.

Maggot Brain is Funkadelic’s finest hour on vinyl (but one that they would regularly top in concert) and it’s typical of their work: Ten credited songwriters, a different lead vocalist on each track, cosmic themes and general weirdness.

Wars of Armageddon, the final track is definitely the epitome of the Funkadelic ethos, it’s not so much a song as an insistent groove augmented by a collage of nutbag-ness. Lyrics such as…

“God damn!
Look at that pollution!
It's a fat funky person”

…and…

“More peter to the eater
More power to the pussy
More pussy to the power”

…are recited over a soundtrack that includes cuckoo clocks, cows, cats, explosions and the sort of farting sound effects that would reduce a schoolboy to helpless giggles. Percolating underneath for the entire 9 minute running length is a funky groove that turns the track into a danceable version of Revolution #9.

Hit it and quit it gives one of Clinton’s regular sidemen Bernie Worrell a chance to shine on lead vocals and funky keyboards. While the other two singles are also short and sweet dance floor fillers. The middle tracks on Maggot Brain are all anthemic and rousing with beats that will force you to shake your funky groove thing. And most tracks are augmented by the fierce guitar licks of Mr Eddie Hazel, widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists who ever lived.


When people talk about Eddie Hazel’s talent they’re talking about the title track on Maggot Brain, undoubtedly Hazel’s finest moment and for many the greatest collection of notes ever squeezed out of a six-string. If you haven’t heard Maggot Brain then let me try and write some sort of description to do it justice. It opens with a spoken intro: "Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time, cause y'all have knocked her up. I have tasted the maggots in the mind of the universe...I was not offended, for I knew I had to rise above it all, or drown in my own shit." (The following track is 10 minutes long which still isn’t enough time to work out what that initial statement is all about). The rest of the song is taken up with a guitar solo played by Hazel over very minimal instrumentation. Apparently there were other instruments but producer George Clinton faded them out of the track when he heard what Hazel had produced. Legend has it that Clinton told Hazel to play as if he’d just heard his mother had died. The notes that pour out of Eddie suggest that he was extremely fond of the old girl and more than a bit peeved that he had to spend time organizing her funeral. When I was younger I used to wonder how people could argue about a guitar solo being “soulful” or “lacking soul.” Surely notes were notes and listening later there was no way of telling whether the performer was playing from his heart or his head? Maggot Brain kills that line of thinking deader than a guitarist’s mum. There is real passion in every note from Hazel’s guitar. I’m not going to wade into the best guitar solo of all time debate but there’s no doubt Maggot Brain is up there somewhere.

The title track alone makes Maggot Brain essential listening as far as I’m concerned but Clinton didn’t cruise for the rest of the sessions. It’s a fantastic album that personally I’d bump up a hundred or so places up this list. It’s also the second album I’ve encountered which I owned personally and didn’t need to find elsewhere. It comes highly recommended as does a lot of Clinton’s other work.



Highlight:
Every note Eddie Hazel plays.
Lowlight: The cover. Is that woman in pain, in ecstasy or just really, really embarrassed?

Influenced by: Substances and cosmic rays.
Influenced: Guitarists and dance floors in equal quantities. Not many albums can make that boast.

Best amazon customer review quote: “Eddie Hazel, mournful mind misty with maggotrocious memories of his majorly missed mum, takes that guitar and births both the acid-boiled stepchild of Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" and the blue-eyed son Hendrix never had, all over the studio floor in one long, painful, meandering squirt, slipping on the plasma in the process and just writhing in it”.

–who needs punctuation when you’ve got alliteration and genuinely unpleasant imagery?

So… Maggot Brain. Can you get into that or is it super stupid? Let me know below.