PARLIAMENT – Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome (1977)

Review by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez
Album assigned by: Ali Ghoneim

Boys and girls, it’s yet again George Clinton armed with a set of grooves. Put the record on and see if you can resist the whole 8 and a half minutes of “Bop Gun (Endangered Species)” without at least bobbing your head. That was difficult, wasn’t it? It probably didn’t help that “Bop Gun” is not simply a groove (which it is), but is filled to the brim with nice touches and the most perfect combination of tightness and freedom. The guitar riff is unrelenting but excellent. Bernie Worrell’s keyboards are funky as hell but as limber and flowing as the best jazz (and his unexpected folk synth melody in the only break that the groove has is a wonderful surprise). This mixture of a totally “in the pocket” rhythmic feel and a free-flowing attitude are the defining traits of all the tracks, and they help to avoid the record degenerating into either flatlining banality with a beat or indulgent anything-goes anarchy.

The twin title tracks, “Funkentelechy” and “The Placebo Syndrome” are quite different from each other, not only because they are the longest and the shortest tracks respectively. “Funkentelechy” is a pure funk groove – an excellent one. No more but definitely not less. “The Placebo Syndrome” is a melodic song with incredibly heartfelt synth lines, mellow horn charts, a vocal tour-de-force and a rhythm section adamant on showing how you can turn a potential ballad into funk heaven. “Sir Nose D Voidoffunk” is another monster groove but in this case the mood is more oppressive and menacing, but with lots of humor (the horns are having a good time with the multiple quotes of Looney Tunes music). “Wizard of Finance” is an old-school R&B ballad where the vocals are hilarious and impressive at the same time and the interactions among the musicians are as tight-knitted as a good woolen jumper.

And then there’s the hit, “Flash Light”, which has dancefloor written all over it. The scratchy guitars, the singalong “da da da dee” refrain, Worrell showing the world how well he’s read the Stevie Wonder’s Book Of Cool Keyboard Bass Lines – it’s an ass-shaking masterpiece.

It’s well-known that Funkadelic and Parliament were basically the same band with two different recording contracts (a time-honored trick; what do you do when your band signs an exclusive recording contract as “Duke Ellington And His Orchestra?” Well, record for other people as “The Jungle Band” or “The Harlem Footwarmers”, of course!), but Clinton also liked to somewhat differentiate the output of both bands, Funkadelic being the more rock-oriented, psychedelic band and Parliament being the more dance-oriented, commercial band. This has had the effect that Funkadelic has always generated more praise than Parliament from rock critics.

I have expressed in the past the feeling that the current obsession of every outlet with “Best Of All Time” lists has created the phenomenon that some bands seem to only have one record, a situation that grows worse in time, since from one generation to another the situation evolves from everybody namedropping the same record to everybody listening to the same record. Parliament are a clear example of this, as here we have an album that went platinum in its day and nowadays you never hear about, because everybody is busy praising the also great “Mothership Connection” (and Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under A Groove”, which, while awesome, was also the point where Funkadelic started being undistinguishable from Parliament). Correct this mistake and listen to this good, if not revolutionary, collection. To paraphrase Mick Jagger, “It’s only R&B and Funk… but I LIKE it”.

Author: tomymostalas


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