George Clinton always seems to have more projects on the table than the CIA. His new album, Some of My Best Jokes Are Friends, might actually give the boys at Central Intelligence cause to hammer out a memo or two, for this is Clinton’s most barbed, overtly topical record yet — social protest couched in a wicked dance-floor groove. “Take cover in the groove,” he urges in “Thrashin’,” the steady-state pumping of his relentless funk offering sanctuary from the firestorm of war outside.
The whole mood of the album seems to be life during wartime: looking for fun in the shadow of a bomb without being escapist about the obligation to fight the powers that be. More so than usual, Clinton and crew are dealing the cards straight up in songs like “Thrashin’,” “Bullet Proof” and “Some of My Best Jokes Are Friends.” In “Bullet Proof,” for instance, percussion effects ricochet around like live ammunition, and an antiwar chant — “Whole world is on red alert/Believe me when I say no one has to get hurt” — mounts into a cacophony of voices as an air-raid-alert siren sounds a menacing alarm.
“Double Oh-Oh” is a sly commentary, at both the personal and political levels, on the lure of seduction for its own sake. The song is also the most fully realized composition on the LP, its bold, metallic drum accents banging out an international Morse code as an array of singers give it a near-operatic reading.
Since fun is three-quarters of funk, Clinton antes up his share of comic relief. “Bodyguard” is an outrageously funny come-on, begging for sex and promising protection (“For you/I’ll learn kung fu”). Irrepressible bassist William “Bootsy” Collins is the principal coconspirator here; elsewhere, on “Thrashin’ ” and “Some of My Best Jokes Are Friends,” Thomas Dolby turns up as Clinton’s unlikely sidekick. Somehow, it all works, particularly on “Jokes,” where Dolby plays a rapping space-limousine driver trying to guide Clinton and company to a safer corner of the galaxy.
On the remaining two songs, Clinton sets aside politics to play around with some of the sounds of the renascent psychedelia, incorporating them, as if by legerdemain, into his funk overview. Without surrendering one iota of funk power, “Pleasures of Exhaustion (Do It Till I Drop)” manages to include a breathy, meandering flute and a tape-reverse bass line that sounds uncannily like a sitar. “Bangladesh,” on the other hand, is simply spacey, played at a measured, druggy tempo and interrupted with Parliament-style horns and the only real burst of Funkadelic-type guitar on the record.
Some of My Best Jokes Are Friends is an album of angry polemics and defiant pleasure seeking, with timeouts for musical experiments and simple hedonism. George Clinton, abetted on these seven songs by a total of six coproducers, has done it again. Twenty-odd albums on, the ride aboard his P-Funk mother ship just gets better and better.