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Funkadelic’s out of this world epic ‘Maggot Brain’

George Clinton would funk people just to see the look and their faces. The P-Funk bandleader claimed to have descended from the “Mothership” from “Another Planet” bearing the gift of the party. With Funkadelic’s out of this world masterpiece, Maggot Brain, it’s not all that hard to view him as the most far-out delegate from a galaxy far, far away, because beyond the party poppers, and fanfare in the mix, there is the sonic adventure of a funk frontier pioneer.

This took a while to translate for Clinton and his various outfits, but Maggot Brain was the moment that the world was ready to lend him their ears. The weird and wonderful beginnings of P-Funk had finally been honed into a masterpiece. Here was an album with undoubtedly one of the greatest covers in history. That is important and shouldn’t be passed off as a fortunate caveat because Funk has a fair bit of artifice to it and the emblazoned imagery of Maggot Brain is instantly something that you’d like to party with—it offers up a curious allure beyond the bombast promised therein. 

And what resides beneath the sleeve is perhaps the best funk record ever made. It is an album that begins with the opening lines: “Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time, for 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.” Now there’s a colourful intro if you’ve ever heard one. 

Despite the absurdity of that opening stanza, there is an underlining satire to it all that the last sentiment delineates. With the world descending into dystopia, you had to seek exultation beyond the faeces-throwing carnage of racism, inequity, the Vietnam War, assassinations and every other element of the atrocity alumni that had circled around the brutalist concrete sprawl of the post-Woodstock prelapsarian death of the 1960s and its pipedream of peace. 

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The times they were a-changing and Clinton was about to step aside from the festering stream that has kept flowing like a reverse enema to find a different meadow to picnic in, somewhere just slightly leftfield of Andromeda. For the next nine minutes after that declaration, the opening title track delivers that exultation with the sort of guitar solo that could even squeeze a Sumo wrestler down the tightest of Sagittarius A-holes.  

Then comes the moment that got folks feeling comfortable enough to dance in this strange new world. ‘Can You Get to That’ is perhaps the most accessible moment in the whole P-Funk back catalogue and with good reason too. Not only is it more concise and coherent than some of their more free-form floor-fillers, but instrumentally everything seems to just fall into place as though the band simply found the song in the floating ether, hurtling through space like a sonic commit, expelled by the explosion of ‘everything that should be’ and it was always destined to be transposed into the 1971 track for the good of the continued human comedy. 

It’s the sort of song that you think you’ve heard before from the first second its hits you and soon afterwards it becomes a track you’ll never forget. Eddie Hazel’s guitar work is as flawless as ever and the simple harmonics whisked up by the piano sets up the sonic jigsaw nicely as every element tessellates like a tango. 1971 was the greatest year in the history of music and ‘Can You Get to That’ was one of the finest hits it offered up.

However, the beauty of the record lingers beyond the hyperbole of all that. It offered up hits and ear-worming oddities that were both seamless and entirely new. In an era that was searching for reinvention, it crashlanded out of nowhere and guided the way sonically and with soaring sagacity that often gets lost amid the swirling ‘good times’ on offer. 

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