Why Aren't You Listening? Funkadelic - Maggot Brain

There are guitar heroes and then there are guitar heroes. You get my drift?

Funkadelic - Maggot Brain

 

There are guitar heroes and then there are guitar heroes. You get my drift? Eddie Hazel is one of the latter, and there's no better showcase for his talents than the opening track on Maggot Brain, Funkadelic's classic 1971 LP*. After the immortal opening giddy fake- cynicism/underlying Utopianism of the lines; "Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time, 'cos Yaweh has knocked her up. I have tasted the maggots in the mind of the Universe, and was not offended. For I knew I had to rise above it all, or drown in my own shit", Hazel effectively steers this meditational title track to unbelievable heights. It is a patient guitar build up, maybe hippy in tone at times but always possessing an incredible focus and inner strength. The wall of guitar noise has moments of abstract, sometimes very brittle, sometimes non-existent, at other times too full a sound, but nearly always underpinned by the nursery room piano run. It can be too much at one listen, or if you're not in the right mood. Still, on this evidence I wonder why Hazel's name isn't mentioned as common "guitar hero" currency alongside Hendrix, say...

 

After the sublime trip that is Maggot Brain, the juddering, souped-up preacher funk of Can You Get To That comes as something of a shock. Still you get the slightly weird, uber normal backing singers that are such a Funkadelic trademark, and there's that fabulous spacey feel that you get on the band's early 70s recordings. Hit It and Quit It is a marvellous slice of low-down funk, with the screeching harpy backing vocals, offset by a mammoth organ-led refrain. The great thing about early Funkadelic is, despite their apparent structural looseness, and apparent inability to leave any musical idea out of a song, they are so on-the-fucking-ball (and serious with it) with their message of peace and love and human harmony. Hazel adds a vicious guitar break near the end too...

 

You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks is a loose arrangement that is just begging to be picked up and given direction. There's a bass rumbling that's incredibly low on the register, like having a drunk pneumatic drill going off under your house. Yet again there's a marvellous gospel-style refrain that briefly gives the song focus (and – tho' this may be spurious on my behalf, belies the band members' Motown/Atlantic roots). And you can't beat the bonkers grand piano butting in near the end, as if they've asked Gershwin round to add to the mix and given him acid. Super Stupid is a fantastic slice of hard edged guitar funk work-out now and again broken down for extra effect with a great swirling Hammond organ run. This is Funkadelic whipping up a no-nonsense storm. Back in Our Minds takes us down from the giddy heights in time for the band to regale us in the court jester role they so loved. A daft high pitched twangy noise (sorry no other description does it justice I'm afraid) dominates and informs proceedings, whilst slightly paranoid vocals strain to tell us how good it would be to live together. The brass section always reminds me of Jugland Blues. Maybe it's that track's US cousin...

 

Bernie Worrell's existentialist daftness is seen on Wars of Armageddon, a good ten minutes of daft hip shakin', replete with crying babies, screeching noises and "bathroom noises". I love this track because it really shows just what Funkadelic could get away with. The canned laughter and the cuckoo clock chimes are such a good sonic moves, you can't hate it because in no way does this track take itself seriously. And another thing, it takes hold of Frank Zappa's stilted muse (as seen most unappetizingly on... Suzy Creamcheese) and kicks it high into the stands. It all ends in a huge bomb, a heartbeat and a lightening quick drum sample. Great stuff.

 

*Well the first four are well-nigh untouchable. Get Funkadelic, Free Your Mind & Your Ass Will Follow, and America Eats Its Young too. You won't be disappointed.