You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish
Free your mind and your ass will follow" has always been George Clinton's foremost message to the world. But even while he campaigns to unlock your mind, it's clear his real goal is to shake your tail feathers. Which is why Urban Dancefloor Guerillas may be his most perfect record: Not only is it filled with the wonderfully hilarious wordplay of Clinton and his team, it's a whole LP of consistently great dance music.
Last year, Clinton had a huge hit, at least in the metropolises, with "Atomic Dog," whose thundering bass notes barked "Woof! Woof!" Urban Dancefloor Guerillas, by Clinton's P.Funk All-Stars, is more the follow-up to that infectious dance track than his new "solo" album, You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish. In fact, it's the P.Funk record that contains "Copy Cat," a reprise of the hit that moves from woof to meow: "Yakety yak, bring in the dog, let's put out the cat." The solo record is a fine album, too, but it's no match for the unstoppable good spirits of the P.Funk LP.
You'd think that the album credited to Clinton alone would be more of an individual effort and the P.Funk record more a collaboration. But everything Clinton does is a group project, and the same players, composers and themes pop up on both of the new LPs, which could well have been released as a double-album. The lines are so tangled that when Clinton goes "nuclear fishin'" on You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish, he "catches a keeper" on Urban Dancefloor Guerillas.
The P.Funk lineage can be traced straight back to James Brown, whose funk is the bottom line of Clinton's music. (In fact, P.Funk has long included players from Brown's own early bands.) Another influence is Sly Stone, and when nothing much was happening for Clinton a few years ago, he joined forces with Stone. The two went into a Detroit studio in '82, accompanied by musicians in the P.Funk axis (Clinton himself is a producer and vocalist, not a player), and came up with the '83 LP Computer Games and a couple of terrific singles, which are included on Urban Dancefloor Guerillas.
But Sly is just one catalyst for Clinton's genius. By now, the P.Funk All-Stars have some real stars, like guitarists Eddie Hazel and Michael Hampton, bassist Bootsy Collins and keyboardists Bernie Worrell and Junie Morrison, and they contributed as much as Sly did to the new albums.
Clinton teamed with Morrison on Urban Dancefloor Guerillas' "One of Those Summers," an incredibly lovely R&B ballad, to which Clinton adds his characteristic good humor. The song has a pretty, wistful melody and a nostalgic lyric: "Out of the window was one of those moons/On the radio playin' was one of those tunes/I was in one of my moods/And it looks like it's gonna be one of those summers again." But one of what summers, what moons, what tunes? The oddball vagueness about the memories becomes funny; and while the melody wafts from Morrison's synthesizer, Clinton has duck calls honking noisily in the background.
"Acupuncture," too, matches wit for musical canniness. A saxophone solo weaves all over the road with a sort of dippy but catchy melody, as the singer seems to be ruminating about acupuncture, "the unpill"; but you realize it may also be a junkie's lament: "Stick it where it feel good, stop the pain where it feel bad." You have to admire Clinton just for the risks he takes; that it all works is really sort of thrilling.
The rest of the album is the most straightforward dance music Clinton's ever made — free of those in-jokes that often forced you to wrestle with his songs. There's "Generator Pop," a bouncing bit of encouragement to "shake your big fat fanny"; "Pumpin' It Up," which floats sweet singing on top of a killer dance beat, until it all breaks into a stinging guitar solo by Eddie Hazel; and "Hydraulic Pump," a Sly/George collaboration and the best track here. Relentlessly pumping — "You pump up and down, you pump up and down, then you break it down," Sly Stone teases — and full of weird mechanical noises used offhandedly, "Hydraulic Pump" shows off just what Clinton does as a producer. Out of a toy box of voices and rhythm elements — the most interesting here, the sound of a stadium full of people clapping not quite in unison — he assembles a coherent, irresistible dance track.
You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish ("I jus' like da rhythm of it," a cartoon figure on the jacket says of the title) is less exuberant, but it, too, argues that Clinton's at his peak. Relying on the same players, from Junie Morrison to Eddie Hazel to Bootsy, the album's cuts are like little rock operas — tiny, funny musicals. "Last Dance," for example, is set in a disco where Bowie's "Let's Dance" is playing in the background and "some kind of psychedelic wallflower" is trying to get up the nerve to ask a girl to dance, while those little Martian voices from "Murphy's Law" taunt him. Bootsy Collins supplies the rock-steady bass, and Clinton just layers the whole silly story on top.
The best cut, "Quickie," kicks off like a heavy-metal anthem, then tells on a girl who "likes to spread her love around....All she wanted was a quickie." Clinton wags a disapproving finger at this casual sex, but the track just bubbles along on the back of Junie Morrison's synthesizer.
You Shouldn't-Nuf Bit Fish is a little more earnest than the P.Funk album, its lyrics more abstract, particularly the stream-of-consciousness title cut, Clinton's antinuke song. George backs the rap ("The fish on his line is bigger in his mind than the reality of the reel he has to reel it in") with a lot of noises, some ominous and some funny. When the singer intones, "When we take the bait, we have to carry the weight," a maudlin chorus comes in with the Beatles line, "Carry that weight a long time." Clinton, obviously, will borrow from anyone — in other songs here, he pokes fun at Grandmaster Flash and nods to Kool and the Gang — but that's just his way of having fun, making somebody else's big hit just a tiny piece of scenery on his own canvas.
Of course, to Clinton, the big picture is always just getting everybody to dance. Throw down! Pump it up! Register! Vote! Think! Go wiggle! Clinton's got more encouragements than a football coach, and he's just made two albums that may save the world from what he claims to dread most: the repetitious mind-numbing cowlike moosick.