If you asked George Clinton ‘where’d you get that funk from?’, the answer could range from his mother to those who control the mothership to James Brown. Wherever it came from, Clinton and Parliament delivered funk to the moon and back. Funkentelechy vs the Placebo Syndrome is often considered the peak of P-Funk along with their other classics Mothership Connection and One Nation Under a Groove, and with good reason. The entire album is held together with a space-age narrative of Star Child defeating Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk by instilling him with the funk. Even the least funky would struggle to be D’Voidoffunk by the end of the album.
Funkentelechy Vs The Placebo Syndrome ends with the quintessential P-Funk song “Flashlight”. An outlier in their discography with the legendary Bootsy Collins delivering strong but simple drums as the driving bassline comes from Bernie Worrell’s synths. “Flashlight” pulses for around 6 minutes as Worrell’s synth dances in your head. With memorable chanting vocals featuring lines such as ‘everybody’s got a little light under the sun’. As the song progresses, we get more and more elements coming in, more vocals, more synth, horns, and a relentless groove that keeps the dancefloor on fire throughout. Their most successful song and a live staple until Clinton’s recent retirement, the song matches the deepest of grooves with the funkiest of melodies to deliver the highlight of their career.
This isn’t to say that the 5 songs that precede this aren’t full of magic. As they describe themselves, this is heavyweight funk and the rhythm sections plays simple, restrained but pulsing grooves throughout. Musically, this is far from the fastest or wildest P-Funk album there is, but what it lacks in chaos it more than makes up for in pure funkiness. With a huge cast of legendary musicians, including Clinton, Worrell, Collins, Garry Shider, Fred Wesley, Jerome Brailey and vocals from The Brides of Dr Funkenstein, we are treated to quality in every second.
1977 was the year punk broke as disco penetrated the mainstream. The album was a comment on disco and the difficult time of the late ’70s where the world was seemingly more and more devoid of funk. Forever fighting this, Clinton and Parliament doubled down and the depth of their grooves and level of their narrative. With a trademark voiceover, we are driven through a story with the depth of any Hollywood film of the time. One could get lost in the narrative, fighting against the ‘nosiest computer I know’, putting all of their funky power behind Star Child as he uses the ‘greatest invention of all time’, the Bop Gun, to fight against the myriad of forces Sir Nose employs against him. One could also get lost in the grooves, blown away by the quality of the instrumentation, layering, production and the forward thinking nature of this funk classic.
Parliament’s sense of humour and playfulness is fully on show here, Clinton employs lyrics full of puns, childlike wordplay and a generally admirable level of goofing around for a man who can orchestrate an album like this one. The vinyl version of this album comes with a mini-comic (brilliantly written and illustrated by artist Overton Lloyd) of the narrative as well, giving more insight into the inspirations, ideologies and sense of humour that influenced the group. The afro-futurist influence is clear to see, as they continue with pyramid imagery and the alien conspiracy of Ancient Egypt. There is plenty of sci-fi imagery showing African-American characters, something that goes against Hollywood’s sci-fi. Clinton once stated that they had to put black people ‘in places where they had never been perceived to be’, including outer space. This is just a small example of the underlying politics of P-Funk, while playfully creating afro-futurist music, he supported the black freedom movement and while making jokes about being a wizard of finance he takes on the strangeness of an increasingly neo-liberal economy creeping in during the late ’70s.
Parliament-Funkadelic had an incredible run of albums during the ’70s, releasing a plethora of genre-defining albums including this one. The music speaks for itself, but the magic of P-Funk lies deeper. The stage shows were huge, the narratives were massive, and the funk was even bigger. Funkentelechy vs The Placebo Syndrome still sounds fresh in 2022, and inspires me to move like little else before or since.
‘Would you trade your funk for what’s behind the third door?’ Not if you dived into the funky masterpiece that defines this cult of musicians, the genre of funk and the year 1977.