The Perfect Album at the Perfect Time
by Iryna Byelyayeva
Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time,
for y’all have knocked her up.
Sometimes I wonder if there is a higher power which sends certain albums to us at certain times. Perhaps not God himself, I can’t imagine he’s much of a funk fan, but maybe an angel or secretary. A couple of months ago I knew exactly the kind of sound I wanted to hear—pure, revolutionary funk. I wanted a beat and a bass line but I also wanted feeling. I wanted that funk that had urgency, as well as a good vibe to bring 70s sunshine to your day. I have a vague memory of listening to Funkadelic years ago but inattentively and without passion. I listened to an album and forgot all about it. With my strange craving getting desperate, I started ransacking my brain for what I knew would suffice. I thought of War, but they had been my go-to for long enough. I wanted something new. Deciding that my knowledge of 70s funk just wasn’t what I wanted it to be and not having the energy to search online till I found the perfect thing, I skipped a couple of decades. Fugees came to mind. Again, I remembered enjoying an album a couple of years ago—Lauren Hill’s take on ‘Killing Me Softly’ was mesmerising. But what the album was called … Maggot Brain, right? That name stuck out at me. It must have been it. I had a vague recollection of a black and brown palette and (maybe) Lauren Hill’s face coming out of the darkness. Of course, when I typed up Maggot Brain I didn’t see Lauren Hill, I saw Barbara Cheeseborough. And the album wasn’t from 1996 (the album I thought I was thinking of was The Score, my memory had deleted the other two faces on the cover), it was from 1971.
Surprising turn of events but perfect.
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.
The first, mournful note of Eddie Hazel’s guitar solo had me. The eponymous first song felt like a gift. This album was exactly what I wanted to hear. Hazel’s playing is soulful and dirty, the effect he uses evokes such a wonderful sense feeling like something is past a point of return. Something happened and now he’s letting his raw grief out through a musical translator. I later found out that, apparently, George Clinton, leader of both Funkadelic and Parliament, told Hazel to play like he had been told his mother had died and then it turned out to not be true. This song was recorded in one take. Knowing this adds to the beauty in some way. The point when the solo seems to calm down and then just rips back up like it’s not going to let you go that easily is perfect. Emotion doesn’t just leave you after a couple of minutes.
And yet, the release you feel with the beginning of ‘Can You Get To That’ is wonderful. My favourite saying I was taught as a child is ‘morning is always wiser than night’—meaning that sleep is the best remedy for any emotional turmoil (to note: does not work with naps, it’s worse if you take a nap). This is how I see the transition. Hazel finishes; he trails off into the night and morning comes, bringing with it funk and sunshine, and God, this albums coming to me out of nowhere when I wanted exactly this sound is miraculous.
While this album pioneered a genre, through the immense talent of George Clinton, there hasn’t been anything quite like is since (then again, maybe there has and the Funky Secretary just hasn’t sent it to me yet?) Perhaps what I like about funk is how different each album or band’s interpretation of the genre sounds. They all have roots in the same sound but funk allows you to open up and experiment with genres or warp them to sound like funk. While ‘You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks’ is pure and political, the following track ‘Super Stupid’ invites prog-rock vocals and instrumentation onto album. Not to mention, ‘Back In Our Minds’ is reminiscent of Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band.
That’s not say that George Clinton was ripping off anyone’s sound. P-Funk was music which originally allowed Clinton and the rest of the ensemble to play with sounds, lyricism and sampling which then evolved into a whole genre of its own.
Come on maggot brain. Go on maggot brain.
Incredibly, although this genre was not something I had delved into and I had such an immense and sudden craving for it. Perhaps subconsciously I had placed into a room in my mind when I had first listened to it and hidden the key, only to be found when I was truly ready for it. Whether it was the Funky Secretary, or my handy subconscious, something brought Maggot Brain to me at the perfect time—now I find it a perfect album.
Iryna is a creative lady living in Melbourne, Australia. She is the editor of The Wall Mag and gets published here and there. She can be followed on twitter @irynabyel