Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Feb 26, 2010
Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

In 1976, Parliament, led by the incomparable George Clinton, released chapters one and two of a trilogy that changed the landscape of contemporary music. Mothership Connection and The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein proved that Parliament were Masters of the Form by pushing the boundaries of what funk music could be.  1977 found Clinton and his funk mob touring the country in perhaps the most elaborate stage show ever produced by a black musician.  The tour reinforced the storylines of the two albums, and when the Mothership landed onstage each night, the band was lifted into the musical stratosphere. 


Mothership Connection had recast Clinton and his musical peers, Bootsy Collins, Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, and Bernie Worrell amongst many others, as otherworldly freethinkers descending from space onto a planet in desperate need of the free thought that funk music symbolized. The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein introduced their leader and his clones, who had come to help their listeners fight for this freedom.  In 1977, Parliament didn’t release an album at all; they released a war, a final stand, the third part of the trilogy and an absolute musical masterpiece called Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome.  It was the third album in a funk-tinged science fiction comic book trilogy that focused all of Parliament’s power, humor, and politics into 44 minutes of courageous musical climax.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Feb 11, 2010
Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

What exactly should a musician do after he and his band have recorded and released a masterpiece of musicianship and storytelling?  What should he do if this masterpiece had, almost immediately upon its release, begun to change the musical landscape of the day, clearly casting the band as Masters of the Form?  Basically, what should musicians do after they’ve landed a mothership?  Well, if you were George Clinton and the members of Parliament you would just “go back and get more of that funky stuff” and release an amazing sequel.


Mothership Connection was a musical game changer that made Parliament funk superstars, and they didn’t even wait a year to release its follow-up.  The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein, released a mere seven months after its predecessor, was something completely new in the world of popular music—a second chapter, part two of the trilogy that Mothership Connection had begun, and it deepened the Parliament mythology.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Jan 28, 2010
Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

By the end of 1975 it was clear that the Parliament-Funkadelic funk mob, headed by its godfather George Clinton, was anything but an ordinary musical unit.  Clinton had overseen the recording of two albums in 1975, the second of which, Funkadelic’s Let’s Take It to the Stage, was a simultaneous slap in the face and kiss on the mouth of R&B music.  Featuring screaming guitars, subtle politics, and a sound that blurred the color lines, it made Funkadelic Masters of the Form, and in 1976, with the release of the classic Mothership Connection, Funkadelic’s sister-band Parliament joined them.


Clinton had playfully made fun of James Brown on the title track of Let’s Take It to the Stage, but in doing so he had done more than simply “taken him on”.  He had suggested that he was the new godfather; that his was the new funk, and he utilized many of Brown’s own foot soldiers to win a funk turf war that most music fans probably never saw coming.  In 1976, Parliament was a frighteningly fierce musical unit.  Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker, on trombone and saxophone respectively, had joined their former JBs band mate Bootsy Collins.  They helped Clinton improve upon Parliament’s previous experiment, 1975’s Chocolate City, and record Mothership Connection—a bible of groove that changed the course of black music forever.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Jan 14, 2010
Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

Some musical artists are able to move; others are a movement. Such artists tap into a need within a mass of people, musically feeding off of the axiom that there is strength in numbers. George Clinton has always had both, strength and numbers, and from 1975 to 1978 he led a funk movement that changed the landscape of popular music forever. For that four-year period he and the numerous members of his bands Parliament and Funkadelic, always two sides of the world’s funkiest coin, were Masters of the Form that traded masterpieces back and forth while creating a new brand of musical expression and black consciousness. It was a movement that any casual Funkadelic fan should have known was coming. The title track of their 1974 release, Standing on the Verge of Getting It On was a proclamation to all that would listen that Funkadelic should be listened to by all. The following year they released the amazing Let’s Take It to the Stage.


Let’s Take It to the Stage was part invitation, part challenge, part promise and all funk. It was the work of a group that had turned a corner, a combination of all the disparate aspects of Funkadelic’s music up to that point, the extended jams, aggressive guitars, smooth ballads, tight vocals, psychedelic flourishes, risqué sexual lyrics and dirty funk into the most concise songs they’d ever recorded. In 1974 they had asked listeners to, “Stick us in your ears and dig us”; in 1975 they promised, “to be good to your earhole”. On Let’s Take It to the Stage it’s a promise the group kept.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Dec 8, 2009
Some artists are more than merely great. There are some artists that for a period of years, a period that is finite, consistently produced music that, it can be argued, far exceeded the work of their peers. For that brief period of time they were definitely Masters of the Form.

“This is the new sound; just like the old sound.”
—Rage Against the Machine, “Ashes in the Fall”


It’s one of rock’s most apt paradoxes.


By 1999 Rage Against the Machine held a singular place in the rock and roll landscape. They had suggested a new genre, rap-metal, with their self-titled 1992 debut, and given the genre legitimacy with their 1996 follow up Evil Empire. Both were vivid, visceral works that made Rage Against the Machine Masters of the Form. 


The Battle of Los Angeles, which would prove to be the band’s last album of original material, was another step forward displaying a musical focus and strength of songwriting absent from their debut and only hinted at on Evil Empire. The album itself is a musical paradox, a work of sonic maturity burning with youthful fire that favors the force of textured subtlety over mere blunt force. The Battle of Los Angeles is an album of revolutionary new music that leaps forward while pointing back towards the band’s previous work, and upon its release it was a new sound that sounded just like the old.


“With precision you feed me”
—Rage Against the Machine, “Testify”


Rage Against the Machine and Evil Empire had both sounded unplanned, like works of musical spontaneity—the first of anger and the second of invention. There is nothing spontaneous about The Battle of Los Angeles, it is a measured masterpiece, a collection of songs that sound deliberately plotted and precisely performed without ever feeling deliberate or stale. The entire album still feels spontaneous because it continually yields unique sounds for rabid Rage fans to devour. Drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford play like pistons in an engine of fury. The album bristles with rhythm that is excessively heavy, increasingly funky and incredibly supportive of Tom Morello’s musical experimentation. Morello is in masterful form throughout, and much of the album’s entertainment value stems from how he coaxes new sounds from his guitar and effects pedals. 


Rage Against the Machine chased listeners through random speakers before violently attacking, but The Battle of Los Angeles puts listeners at the opposite end of the struggle. “Testify” opens with a swirling wall of guitars that listeners fight through in order to get to the song’s riff and the wall continues to swirl through each of the verses before giving way to the riff again when the chorus hits. “Calm Like a Bomb” is nearly consumed by the high pitched clean tone that weaves its way throughout the excessive crunch of the rhythm, like a fuse’s lit flame that inches its way closer to the inevitable explosion. Morello is more DJ than guitarist on “Mic Check” and “Sleep Now in the Fire”, which find him treating his guitar like turntables and scratching the solos, and part blues singer as he delivers an amazing “harmonica” solo on “Guerilla Radio”.


“Whatcha say, whatcha say, whatcha say what!”
—Rage Against the Machine, “Calm Like a Bomb”


If The Battle of Los Angeles has a flaw it lies in its lyrical content. Zack de la Rocha had clearly grown as an MC from Rage Against the Machine to Evil Empire and that growth continues on The Battle of Los Angeles, but as a lyricist it can be argued that he gives the average listener, even an incredibly intelligent listener, too much to handle.  He is incredibly verbose and he seems to go out of his way to point out every social injustice that angers him. So, as on the group’s first two albums, while it is abundantly clear that he is angry, it is just a bit difficult to keep track of all the things he’s angry about. However, his vocal performances on The Battle of Los Angeles are easily his best out of all three of the band’s releases. De la Rocha does more than simply scream as proof that he is impassioned. He whispers and growls. He utilizes volume as a vocal instrument on “Born As Ghosts”, “Maria”, and “Voice of the Voiceless”. More than anything though, his passion is so accessibly packaged that it becomes far more intoxicating than his anger. It’s invigorating to hear him take a stand even if you’re unsure exactly where he stands.


“I’m deep inside your children”
—Rage Against the Machine, “Sleep Now in the Fire”


The Battle of Los Angeles is angry, inventive, and exhilarating to listen to and it is a fitting final chapter for Rage Against the Machine. The band reintroduced anger to rock and roll, and in doing so, they connected deeply with teenagers who were angry and in need of music that would reflect that. Rage did more than connect; they penetrated the soul like a tattoo and became permanent. They were true Masters of the Form that roared with passion and prompted an entire generation of teenagers to do so as well.




Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.