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- Catalogue Id:
- CDSEWM 235
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Cosmic Slop, LP (£10.99)
Appearing a year after "America Eats Its Young", "Cosmic Slop" appears to be its polar opposite. Where the former LP was recorded with a cast of nearly 40 musicians credited on the sleeve, and took nearly two years to record its many parts, "Cosmic Slop"credits only the five who were officially (at this point) members of Funkadelic. After two years of upheaval and the departure of the original members Tawl Ross, Tiki Fulwood, Eddie Hazel and Billy Nelson, only keyboard wizard Bernie Worrell was left from the line-up that had made the classic "Maggot Brain" two years earlier (although guitarist and vocalist Gary Shider had appeared on that album he had yet to join the band). The new line-up was Worrell, Shider, bass player "Boogie" Mosson, drummer Tyrone Lampkin and white Detroit guitar player Ron Bykowski.
Despite these well-signposted differences, not all had changed. Despite being hardly credited on the album sleeve, all the members of Parliament were on the record, with George Clinton and Calvin Simon taking solo leads, and Ray Davis featuring upfront with Clinton and Gary Shider on 'You Can't Miss What You Can't Measure'. Fuzzy Haskins thinks that the tradition of working up older material recorded at earlier sessions continued on this album, which is likely, given the appearance of the album so soon after "America Eats Its Young". This probably also explains why Tiki Fulwood is drumming on the album's opening track 'Nappy Dugout'. Fuzzy Haskins also believes that, although uncredited on the sleeve artwork, Eddie Hazel's guitar lines can be heard, not that radical a claim when you consider he co-wrote two of the tracks on the album.
"Cosmic Slop" marked a distinct phase in P-Funk thinking. Since the first album appeared in 1970 Funkadelic had consistently proved themselves to be more of a rock band than a soul band. They had deliberately made challenging recordings; despite the early success of these records, singles sales had started to drop off by the time of the release of "Maggot Brain". Between 1970 and early 1972 Parliament had recorded separately for Invictus, and though ostensibly they were supposed to be more commercially minded, one listen to the "Osmium" album suggests that there was simply too many good ideas (and possibly drugs) around to worry about their chart placings.
When Invictus stopped working with George Clinton and the crew, all the various strains of music went into "America Eats Its Young", creating a wild, eclectic double album that almost stands outside the Funkadelic canon in its absurdity. It saw the working-in of various new members, not only the new Funkadelic line-up but also members of a Cincinnati-based band called the House-Guests, which included brothers Bootsy and Phelps Collins who would become central to the Parliafunkadelicment Thang in the latter part of the 70s. (Frankie "Kash" Waddy and Phillip Wynne, the remaining House-Guests also played their part in the story.) The album was recorded in three different studios in three different countries. The finished album was worked down from a stack of mixes whose tape boxes stretch from floor to ceiling in a Detroit lock-up.
It was immediately after this that the multiple-act P-Funk mothership started to take shape, with Parliament signing to Casablanca for the 1974 album "Up For The Down Stroke" and the new Funkadelic sound of "Cosmic Slop". From now on the difference between the two acts would be defined by the use of horns on Parliament recordings, whilst Funkadelic were to play down the rock angle and replace it with some tight R&B-based vocal harmony.
For Gary Shider this new direction appeared to be relentlessly commercial; interviewed by Rob Bowman in the early 1990s he recalled his view of the changes "that's when George and them decided, now we got to take this crazy stuff and get it played on the radio I was into the rock stuff all the nasty stuff. That's what the old Funkadelics, the older heads were really into By the time it got to "Cosmic Slop" it was about, Do you want to make some money in this? George was ready to make money." Ironically the 'Cosmic Slop' single didn't really do what it was meant to. On the BBC Radio documentary One Nation Under A Groove about Parliament and Funkadelic, broadcast in February 2005, Shider remembers that the record was big success in Washington DC and that they even had a dance to go with it, but the single didn't chart, only the second Funkadelic 45 that failed to do so.
However Calvin Simon, Fuzzy Haskins and Bernie Worrell all share the view that the album and the single were a distinct effort to make a more commercial sound. It shows how far away they were that they should start the campaign with a song about a mother who had to work as a prostitute to provide for her family as the start of their journey towards commericalisation. It was a brilliant piece, built around an angelic vocal from Gary, backed by a ghostly chorus of Parliaments, but its deep lyrics didn't make it any easier to get radio airplay. "The melody is like a spiritual hymn. If you take away the words and just hum it, it sounds like down on the plantation I get chills still when I hear it" were Bernie Worrell's thoughts on the tune, which he co-wrote with George.
Although the album has a cleaner sound overall, it contains many elements that would be familiar to earlier fans of the group, such as George Clinton monologues, and reworkings of older Parliament tunes. Side One opens up with the one track that features the original Funkadelic drummer Tiki Fulwood, the largely instrumental with some wordless vocals - 'Nappy Dugout'. This is then followed by a reading of Parliament's 1966 single 'Heart Trouble', retitled 'You Can't Miss What You Can't Measure'. The song is totally restructured, with a new bridge to take the new title, and a call-and-response feel from George Clinton, Gary Shider and Ray Davis that is reminiscent of late 60s Temptations or Sly and the Family Stone. It was the second time that Funkadelic had attempted to update 'Heart Trouble'; an earlier take from 1970 remains in the can and offers a fascinating comparison between the new and old Funkadelic. The 1970 version sees Eddie Hazel and Billy Bass alternate lead vocals, and the band get progressively heavier throughout the performance. Hazel is typically wild on guitar, but then so is Worrell on keyboards. The new-look Funkadelic were much more drilled.
George Clinton's monologue comes in 'March To The Witch's Castle' where he becomes probably one of the first people to speak out about the horrors that the returning soldiers were discovering on their return from the Vietnam War, a sobering moment, and a continuation of Funkadelic's ability to comment on the realities of ghetto life. 'Let's Make It Last', a George Clinton and Eddie Hazel co-composition, ends Side One; a soul song with a fluid guitar line running through that could quite easily be Eddie Hazel's playing. Whoever it is, they are in full control of their instrument.
After the title track kick-starts the second side, the oddest number on the album, 'No Compute', makes its appearance, telling the story of a man on the prowl who might just have ended up with a transvestite. 'This Broken Heart' is almost a traditional soul ballad it's a cover of a song by a New Jersey vocal group called the Sonics, who had released it in 1959 on the Harvard label with an astounding lead vocal by Calvin Simon, and a subtle arrangement of vocals and instruments led by Worrell's piano and organ. Simon also has a spoken part in the middle where he tells us he's "hip to all that Gemini material going down", and raps like a warped Isaac Hayes.
'Trash A Go Go' has a rocky edge which hints that Funkadelic weren't completely out of the heavy guitar business, and its lyrics again tell a pretty strange story, as Clinton plays the role of a man up in court accused of prostituting his girlfriend in order to pay for his drug habit: "the judge and jury they just frowned at me". The final track 'Can't Stand The Strain' is another remake this time of the 1968 Rose Williams, George Clinton and the Funkedelics (sic) single 'Whatever Makes My Baby Feel Good'. The melody is the same, however the lyrics are completely different and the feel is far smoother, with the blistering Eddie Hazel guitar solo of the original replaced with a less frantic arrangement.
Of course there was one final, but perhaps most obvious change in Funkadelic with this album: the cover art. George drafted in the young graphic artist Pedro Bell a Funkadelic fan - to create the artwork. Pedro's unique cartoon style, and his ability to represent George's mythologisation of the band would play a major part in the success that would overtake Funkadelic in the latter half of the 70s.
"Cosmic Slop" may well have failed to be the commercial step forward that it was intended to be, but it placed the whole Parliafunkadelicment crew on the sort of war footing which made the success that was now desired possible.
Dean Rudland, 2005