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Album: Parliament - Motor Booty Affair
An underwater party - an 'aqua boogie' - is the setting for this appealingly bizarre 1978 album from George Clinton and his P-Funk team.
These words - in a lusciously low booming voice - introduce what is possibly the finest aquatic-themed P-funk album of all time. "Mr Wiggles", the first track, welcomes us to the underwater party and introduces to Mr Wiggles the Worm, the compere.
"I'm Mr Wiggles the worm
Bernie Worrell, the keyboardist, is quick to introduce us to the sorts of wiggly, watery sounds that will characterise the rest of the album, while Bootsy Collin's jazzy, walking bassline does pretty much the opposite, contrasting with the sorts of gloopy, liquid grooves that grace most of the tracks here. Fred Wesley's horns arrangement is tight, and the chorus immensely catchy:
"I got a string attached to my thing
It's worth bearing in mind that all of these above-named musicians, alongside Maceo Parker on saxophone, were all initially members of James Brown's backing band, the JBs. So as you can imagine, the funk credentials shine through...
George Clinton's vocal style is typically smooth, clever and dense, with lots of barely-heard whispers and comments off-mike - these often mean that Parliament and Funkadelic albums contain as many words as a novel, without becoming cluttered. "Mr Wiggles" features a lot of these - "I can slide between the molecules of wetness like an eel through seaweed... one slithering idiot!"
"Mr Wiggles" fades down, and we move into "Rumpofsteelskin", one of the album's more conventional tracks. The subject matter, of course, is far from normal - Rumpofsteelskin is a character with a metal arse. This ties in with the title of the album in a way - "He's got a motor booty baby and he's never gonna blow it up!" Although this is perhaps the most 'accessible' track on the LP, it's still funky as hell. "Like the goldfish said to the shark..."
Every P-funk album comes with a ballad attached, and while I never used to like the ballads I have slowly warmed to them. This one, "(You're a Fish and I'm a) Water Sign" is an enchanting love song with, again, an aquatic theme. The protagonist is a fish, and the object of his desire is a water sign - a perfect match.
"Aqua Boogie" rounds of side one. This is a piece of absolutely devastating funk, and has been sampled by so many subsequent producers that most people I play this one too recognise at least certain elements in it. The anthem of the album, "Aqua Boogie" brings the baddie of the P-Funk universe, Sir Nose D'VoidoffFunk, into play. Sir Nose has a problem - he is too cool to dance, or to swim. Not good when you've shown up at an underwater party! "Aqua Boogie", in its immensely kinetic, flowing way, tells the story of Sir Nose's harrowing experience.
"He never learned to swim
"Aqua Boogie" sees Bootsy's bass take on an organic, pulsing and subaquatic life of its own. Going back to the album's central metaphor, of the underwater party, "Aqua Boogie" is the point at which things seriously start cooking!
Side 2 opens with "One Of Those Funky Things", a bizarre track which is perhaps my least favourite here. I wouldn't go so far as to accuse the track of being filler material though - it's consistent with the aquatic theme (with a number of strangely gargled vocal parts) but doesn't get my juices flowing in the same way that others do. "Liquid Sunshine" comes next, and is a definite improvement.
"Sunshine, sunshine song
Bernie Worrell on synth is practically murderous in this track, with devastating little hooks and trills inserted with deadly precision in all the right places. However, this track, like its predecessor, isn't as conceptual as the others, and isn't one of my favourites.
However, we move on to the best track on the album now - "Motor Booty Affair". Very hard to describe - the liquidity of the bassline, its subtle, intricate interplay with the keyboards and drums, the delicate feel of the whole song... every musician playing on this track is playing with such feeling that even the most uninterested or ambivalent listener goes quiet while this is on. "Motor Booty Affair" features a central song, as well as a commentary on the song; the song is a touching attempt on the part of the protagonist to 'sell' himself to a girl ("Three days have passed, and I've had you on my mind / maybe we can meet after the dance?"), while in the intervals between verses and choruses we seem to be hearing a news reporter discussing the party. "I see there's some manta rays here, we're gonna go get an interview with one of them - oh! oh! there goes Moby Dick!"
And we round off the album with "Deep", a longer, almost disco-ish track (it's worth mentioning, by the way, that George Clinton and the P-Funk mob were very anti-disco - they saw it as a "placebo" for genuine funk, and even wrote a song, "Funkentelechy vs the Placebo Syndrome", about the phenomenon. P-Funk stands for "Pure Funk") aimed square at the dancefloor. Not as funky, IMO, as "Aqua Boogie", but very effective nonetheless. Here, we have another strange commentator, this time less of a news presenter than a salesman, or compere of a tacky commercial event ("Be sure to pay your money, for this dinner here tonight!"). The "Granny" character from some of Junie Morrison's old albums (he is playing keyboards on this track) puts in appearance too, sounding uncannily like Cartman (even when she is saying "yeah, yeah" to the beat!).
So "Motor Booty Affair" gives the attentive listener a subtly cinematic experience, bringing you down into the depths of the ocean, where the rhythm of vision is a dancer - and when you dance, it's always on the One. Inattentive listeners will still find themselves drawn in by one the funkiest and most rewarding albums they're likely to have heard. And people who have already dabbled in P-Funk, but have not yet come across any of these tracks, will feel as if they're home at last.