FUNKADELIC / “Cosmic Slop”
More than two years ago, I mentioned a Funkadelic song named “Cosmic Slop.” We never actually posted it, but I’m going to correct that oversight this week.
The best thing about Funkadelic’s music is you can never be sure what you’re going to get. They’re the virtual opposite of artists that find and stick with a successful formula. The song “Cosmic Slop” is a good example. Musically, the record is all over the place. It starts with snare drums playing what sounds like a military-style march. I can’t think of any reason this beginning makes sense except that a couple songs earlier on the LP, there’s a song about the aftermath of the Vietnam war named “March To The Witch’s Castle.” I don’t know what one song might have to do with the other though. Anyhow, “Cosmic Slop” eventually eases into an R&B groove, albeit one laden with feedback and anchored by heavy metal-style power chords. And then the real action begins.
P-Funk’s lyrics are as unpredictable as their music. In this case, what we get is one of those first-person biographical sketches of “the artist as a young man.” The artist in question is lead vocalist and co-lead guitarist Garry Shider. Today, I seriously doubt that the song is in any way biographical, but it’s another strength of Funkadelic that one could never really be sure. Other than George Clinton, the members of the band were virtually anonymous. I don’t mean you couldn’t tell one from another – to the contrary, Shider’s buttery-smooth vocals are instantly recognizable. What I mean is, it was hard to put faces or names to the voices or instruments. To me, ‘Garry Shider’ the name in the credits, was never Garry Shider the person. He was just a voice and a guitar. So when Garry drops his childhood bio on us in the first lines of “Cosmic Slop,” who’s to say it wasn’t actually true?
I’m one of five born to my motherOf course there’s rough and then there’s rough. As the song continues, we learn that the mother is a prostitute trying to raise her five children by herself. She tries to hide her profession from the kids, but as one might expect, she’s not particularly successful. “She was well known through the ghetto,” sings Shider, “They neighbors would talk and call her ‘Jezebel.’” And if that wasn’t bad enough, Shider says he would often hear his mother calling out during the night.
An older sister and three young brothers
We’ve seen it hard, we’ve seen it kind of rough
The song gives us at least three ways to interpret the mothers calls. The literal interpretation is that the mother was calling out to God to “not judge her too strong.” An alternate interpretation comes up during the closing ad-libs when Shider sings, “I can hear my mother calling me.” We’re left to wonder if the mother was calling out to her oldest son for help, for comfort or if the whole thing is just wishful thinking on Shider’s part. And finally, there’s the cringe-inducing interpretation that the calls were work-related. I’ll leave you to ponder that last one on your own.
“Cosmic Slop” is a record that sometimes makes me want to dance and sing along or at other times, get all moody and depressed. As I said, Funkadelic isn’t the kind of band you can pigeon-hole. They also weren’t the type to let the listener off the hook. Elsewhere on the same album they revisit the prostitution theme not once but twice. “No Compute” opens with the prettiest of melodies before turning into a chugging road-song kind of thing over which George Clinton awakes “from a wet dream in which [he] was wetless.” Finding himself alone, Clinton “slid into [his] copping haberdashery” (you have to love P-Funk’s 70s-era ‘educated hustler’ street lingo) and hit the streets looking for some companionship. He winds up spending the night with a bewigged streetwalker who may or may not have been a professional and may or not have been a woman. The moral of the story (if there is a moral and I’m not completely convinced that there is one): “Strange what a man will go for when the hornies set in.” Funny, but nasty.
The second-to-last song on the album is “Trash A-Go-Go.” Clinton and vocalist Calvin Simon (I think) team up to deliver a junkie pimp’s courtroom defense. Accused of (among other things) “making her sell head for money,” Simon replies, “When getting over his high above your head and getting high can get you dead, what are you supposed to do?” That’s not much of a defense for pimping. The judge and jury react accordingly; the verdict is “10 to 20.”
The balance of the album is given over to humorous songs that harken back to Funkadelic’s roots as a doo-wop group. The band somehow manages to lampoon the lyrical tendencies and musical structure of typical R&B songs while actually performing darn good versions of the same kind of music they’re making fun of. For “You Can’t Miss What You Can’t Measure” Clinton and Co. came up with a Motown-worthy vocal hook but match it with absurd lyrics about a lonely guy who calls a plumber to repair his leaky sink only to find that the source of the water is his own tears. “This Broken Heart” is almost a conventional soul ballad but during the mid-song rap Calvin Simon informs his young lady, “I’m hip to all that Gemini material laying around. And I ain’t no Gemini.” Garry Shider and his flawless falsetto return for “Can’t Stand The Strain,” another nearly-conventional R&B tune in which an old man begs his young lover to stay with him less he go insane or drop dead from a heart attack.
Cosmic Slop may not be as well known as other P-Funk albums like Maggot Brain, Standing On The Verge Of Getting It On or One Nation Under A Groove, but in my opinion, it’s just as good as any of the others. If you like your R&B spiked with liberal amount of both rock and wit, check it out.
—Mtume ya Salaam
All I got to say is:
—Kalamu ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Saturday, October 13th, 2007 at 11:45 pm and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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