That familiar warm light from 1970s movies drifts over the street. Men strut, somehow in tune with the music. Smooth, soulful rhythms complement the sunshine. Hippies in shades of beige and psychedelia roll joints as a cop car circles around and drives away.
This is the land of big sunglasses and honeyed voices that the new album “George Clinton and His Gangsters of Love” evokes. It’s a shame that it wasn’t released earlier in the year, but in a way, it feels like one of the last pushes of summer before the winter settles down.
The self-titled album does have its ups and downs. It seems like each song has been crafted separately, and the whole is a little disjointed; it’s hard to listen to it in its entirety; and it shifts from smooth funk to collaborations with Shavo of System of a Down (probably the worst song on the album) and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The album is mainly comprised of song covers and has an astounding array of artistic influences, not least of which is Clinton’s earlier, pioneering work as member of Parliament and P-Funk (the funk bands, not the cigarette brands) in the 1970s. However, artists such as the RZA lend a up-to-date feel to the album — raps such as “I was in the shower outside the World Trade Tower before they blew ’em in the park before the Mayflowers” demonstrate the lyric brilliance that goes beyond the classic in this album. Despite this, one can still be left in a funk.
The main asset that Clinton has to combat this disarray is his voice, which oscillates between a gruffer tone and a caramel texture, creating an effect not unlike Serge Gainsbourg. That said, some of the tracks can sound a little sleazy (think porn movies and you’re almost there). Clinton exercises his voice best in “As In,” a smooth tribute to 1960s lounge music. The song starts a little slow, but builds to a showy crescendo.
Fans might be astonished to hear the robotic voice at the beginning of the opening track, “Ain’t That Peculiar.” Indeed, even though this Daft Punk-esque effect fades away with the song into a warmer sound (the influence of Sly Stone is particularly prevalent here), the electronic influence gives a discordant quality to the song which prefigures the album’s messiness. However, this dissonance is harnessed and the song thereby manages to remain exciting and innovative without losing the classic funk sound.
Indeed, the album can be seen as a crisis of structure, but it can also be seen as a showcase of different directions. The most exciting direction and the best song on the album is the cover of “Gypsy Woman” with Santana. The combination of Clinton’s huskiness with Santana’s guitar creates something that’s new and varied and really a delight to listen to. Clinton peaks at “All through the caravan / She was dancing all around/ Waiting for the rising sun/ Everyone was having fun,” words and music melding fantastically.
Clinton’s doo-wop roots come through most in “Let The Good Times Roll.” However, the Chili Peppers lend a whiny quality to the song — their guitars are a little too strong, and they obfuscate the rhythm, creating another chaos of fragmentation which does not, this time, pay off.
There is no doubt that Clinton’s huge experience and natural rhythm come through in this album. If you like disarray punctuated by moments of brilliance, buy the album. But you might want to stick to individual songs.