There are two distinctly different sides to George Clinton’s latest opus. Side one is best described by Uncle Jam Wants You‘s subtitle, “Rescue Dance Music ‘from the Blahs,'” and is mostly given over to an extended version (a little too extended to sustain interest, unfortunately) of “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” the new Funkadelic single and an example of the group at its funny, funky, infectious best. Side two — with the bizarre exception of “Holly Wants to Go to California,” a strained Clinton vocal accompanied by Bernie Worrell’s gospel-style piano — serves as an extension of the album’s title and of the mock-militarist, mock-nationalist motif that first surfaced last year with “One Nation under a Groove.”
If “One Nation under a Groove” was explicitly an anthem (as well as one of the most irresistible singles of the Seventies), the second side of Uncle Jam Wants You is a call to arms. Even though nobody’s telling me to go out and kill for the Funk, I confess to feeling just a touch uncomfortable at the martial (albeit syncopated) nature of the music and the manic glee with which a variety of voices urge me to get in line and “Move it!” Still, there’s no denying the characteristic cleverness of the words (“I’m your thrill sergeant… On groove maneuvers … Disturbing the peace at the bridge on the river Quiet”) or the equally characteristic pull of the rhythms.
The strongest material here — notably the first ten minutes or so of “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” with its snazzy synthesizer fills, razor-sharp Michael Hampton guitar solo, raucous vocals, and hook upon hook — is state-of-the-art black pop music. The weakest stuff (“Holly Wants to Go to California” and the aimless final five minutes of “Knee Deep”) sounds like filler. And some of the better songs barely last long enough to make an impression: “Field Maneuvers” is an inspired guitar jam that fades out just as it’s building steam.
Funkadelic seems to have suffered from the loss of Walter “Juni” Morrison, the singer-keyboardist-composer-arranger whose lively, quirky musical vision was central to the last two Parliament/Funkadelic records. Morrison left the band after helping create “(Not Just) Knee Deep” and doesn’t appear on the rest of the LP. But Clinton, one of the shrewdest talent scouts around, partly compensates for this loss with the addition of ex-Spinners lead vocalist Philippe Wynne, whose mellifluous tenor is first heard singing, somewhat incredulously, “Can this be me? Immersed in funk so deep?” and who fits into the overall ambiance better than I’d have expected. When the next Parliament album comes out, it’ll be interesting to see who else has enlisted in Uncle Jam’s army.